Guide to Nighclub Dress Codes

How often do you see an invitation or hear a promotion for an event or venue that says “dress code strictly enforced” and wonder to yourself just what that means? Although it would seem logical for nightclubs, bars, and other social venues to provide potential partiers with specifics on attire, most do not. We can assume that the reason for this lack of how-to-dress details is because the owners of the establishment wish to give themselves some leeway in invoking their “right to refuse service to anyone” whenever they please. That’s an important right to remember when arguing with a burly bouncer who does not like your hat. However, we can also assume that “black tie only,” or even “black tie optional” indicates that it might be a good idea to bust out the penguin suits and evening dresses. Generally, the absence of the black tie stipulation indicates a more casual affair, but just how casual is up to the owners of the establishment. For the code clueless, here are a few general rules to keep in mind when dealing with a nightclub’s dress code:

  • Dance clubs frown upon flip-flops. This is more of a liability issue than anything else. No matter how fancy your flip-flops may be, no bar owner wants to deal with the potential lawsuit that could result from someone in foam shoes slipping on a spilled drink and breaking a limb.
  • Hats are a tricky issue. If you’re not going to a sports bar or outdoor event, it’s probably best that you leave your lid at home. Some clubs only ban ballcaps or hats with printed slogans or certain logos, but allow hats that are perceived as more “formal.” Others allow female patrons to wear hats, but not males. Add to that the fact that, on a busy night with the fire marshall on the prowl, the same bar that let you in with a hat on Wednesday may turn you away wearing the same hat on Saturday, and the issue becomes even more confusing. Also, some establishments that are trying to attract a more upscale clientele might just want proof that you can use a comb.
  • Baggy clothing is a no-no. Bar owners generally do not want patrons bringing anything in with them but their wallets. That may be all that’s in your deep pockets and heavy sweatshirt, but no one else knows that, so wear something that fits well and is not likely to conceal outside liquor, drugs, or weapons.
  • Jerseys and printed t-shirts can cause trouble. Many people think that the reasoning behind a club’s not allowing logos on clothing is gang-related. Although this may be true to some extent (some logos identify a person’s association with a certain group), there is a more basic approach to this rule. Let’s say your wearing your favorite college’s logo, you have quite a bit to drink, and another intoxicated patron approaches you and says “[your team here] sucks!” In the club owner’s eyes, the odds of a fight starting are high. Another way of thinking is that jerseys and tshirts are simply too casual for some places who want to see a sea of more discreet designer clothing on the dance floor.
  • When in doubt, don’t wear jeans. This is sort of like the hat rule. It all depends on the type of jeans and the crowd. Some clubs have a strict “no denim” policy, regardless of wash or color. Others might let you in with a decent pair of well-kept jeans with a darker wash. Still others might let a woman wearing a pair of jeans that are only held together by a thread, yet will turn away any man not wearing slacks or khakis.
  • It’s not just how you look, it’s how you look. Guys, how many girls are with you? Ladies, how many guys? The standard in the nightlife business is the more women, the better. Think about it, boys. How many times do you decide where to spend your evening based on how many gals will be there for the picking? Loads of pretty ladies means more men will spend money buying them drinks. It’s not sexism, it’s just business.

In general, bar and club owners want to run a place known for its good-looking, well-behaved clientele. Why? Because people will still spend money to look at the beautiful people in an environment where they’re fairly sure they won’t get jumped. So get in line, good looking! You know the basics now.

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