No singlet tops, no thongs, no ripped jeans and no hi-vis workwear — have you ever been refused entry into a pub or club because of your outfit, footwear or hairstyle?
In Western Australia patrons flouting the dress code in licensed premises have made for some controversial headlines over the years.
Back in 2011, a nightclub displayed a sign which stated: ‘no metrosexual attire’, refusing entry to patrons wearing skinny jeans, low-cut T-shirts, shirts with numbers on them, pointed white shoes and visible neck chains.
Earlier this year, a young man was refused entry into a Perth hotel for sporting an “impressive”, classic ’80s mullet.
Hospitality worker Andrew Verne was caught out a few months ago when he arrived at a Perth bar just after 6pm, when the evening dress code had kicked in.
“It was a warm, sunny Sunday evening — we came from another venue, and we were wearing nice dress shorts,” he says.
“There were also people inside the venue wearing shorts already, but they had a policy of ‘smart casual’ from six o’clock.
“The females in the line were allowed in with shorts. It’s 2022, what’s the difference?”
Around Australia, dress codes have long been accepted and enforced in licensed premises with the expectation that they ‘set the tone’ and reflect the theme and atmosphere of a venue.
According to Western Australia’s liquor licensing policy, dress standards should “reflect local community expectations”.
The policy states: “The dress standards which one would expect in the public bar of a remote country tavern may be quite different to a lounge bar of a five-star hotel in Perth.”
A licensee of a venue is required to display signage of their dress standards, and can refuse entry to a person if they are not dressed to those standards.
Enforcing dress standards isn’t an ‘exact science’
Lawyer Jessica Patterson has worked in the hospitality, liquor licensing and events area of law in Western Australia for 25 years, and says dress standards were open to interpretation.
“[Dress codes] are not an exact science. There’s always going to be discretion and there’s always going to be slight differences from human being to human being,” she says.
“What’s reasonable [dress] will always need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“Licensees will often provide their staff with particular examples of types of clothing that may not be acceptable. One recent example I have seen is heavy gold chains.”
Ms Patterson says most hospitality venues were generally good at keeping up with rapidly changing fashion trends.
“Every now and again, of course, there’ll be a customer that’s disgruntled, but I don’t receive many reports of real issues with dress codes from my clients.”
Do dress codes belong in another era?
Andrew, who was turned away for his shorts, says the idea of a dress code harked back to a different era.
“I think it all stems from when guys had to wear suits and ties and long pants, and women were wearing dresses.”
Listeners to ABC Radio Perth also had experiences of being refused entry:
“Me and my parents weren’t let into a rooftop bar in the city because we were wearing Birkenstocks. I tried to explain to security that they’re actually really expensive, but he wasn’t having a bar of it.” — Laura.
“My husband was refused entry once because his shoes were ‘too dressy’.” — Lindsay.
“My ex wasn’t let into a jazz bar due to wearing shorts and slip-on shoes.” — Erin.
“A while ago I went into a bar in Karratha in a nice, clean dress singlet and denim shorts and was told they wouldn’t serve me because I had a singlet on, even though there were women in the bar wearing singlets.” — Steve.
“My best mate wasn’t let into a bar as she was dressed like a giant Christmas tree.” — Hannah.
Ms Patterson says business proposals often included a style or theme of dress as part of the application to get a liquor license in the first place.
Crown Resorts venues, for example, have a “smart casual” dress code which considers any camouflage clothing, Ugg boots, Crocs, thongs, activewear or male singlets or tank tops as “unacceptable”.
Jeans are permitted, but those with holes or rips in them are barred. Soccer jerseys, however, are acceptable at the casino — because they have sleeves.
A Crown Resorts spokesperson said the dress code was similar to most “high-end” restaurants.
These radio listeners were in favour of dress standards:
“There must be dress standards, we aren’t Neanderthals. Yeah, OK, maybe not suits and dresses but certainly not shearers singlets and stubbies either. You can look nice while being comfy.” — Andrew.
“I agree you need to make an effort when you going out to the pub. I always wear brown boots with black pants.” — Anonymous.
What’s the community standard?
WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne says the commission had received sex discrimination complaints over dress requirements in the past.
The most well-known case dated back to 1998, when a male patron complained because he was barred from a pub for having ‘exposed arms’ while women were not.
“[The case] was dismissed by the Equal Opportunity Tribunal because community standards allowed for women to be admitted in attire exposing their arms but not men,” he says.
Dr Byrne says if a complainant could prove that community dress standards had changed since the venue’s dress standards were first enforced, then it could be found that a venue’s conduct was unlawful under the Liquor Control Act.
Anything but bare feet
The understanding of ‘community standards’ varies across venues.
Tom Fisher, the brand ambassador for Clancy’s Fish Pubs in Perth, says “no bare feet was basically the strictest dress code they enforced”.
“We like to think of our venues like your second lounge room. It’s completely up to the punter how they want to dress,” he says.
“We have a venue on the beach, if we were to not let people in [wearing] towels and thongs it would be madness. We actually have a sign at the front saying ‘sandy feet and thongs welcome’.
“It’s entirely venue to venue. You can’t paint all pubs with the same brush, everyone’s got their own direction and their own brand.
“You want your customers to feel comfortable whether that’s well dressed, or casually dressed.
“In my opinion, turning people away is never a good thing.”
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