“Last week, we may have been overzealous in redefining our dress code,” wrote Rick Dillard, the general manager of Southside Social, on Facebook Tuesday. “However, at the time, we felt that the atmosphere in our establishment had the possibility of becoming unsafe for our guests.”
On Feb. 8, the Chattanooga, Tenn.,-based entertainment center, which operates as a restaurant and bowling alley, unveiled its new dress code in a now-deleted Facebook page. According to the post, which was to be “strictly” enforced, the following clothing was banned: plain white T-shirts, sleeveless shirts, ripped or torn pants, jerseys (unless they promoted a sports team), “excessively” long shirts that hung below the bottom of back pockets, biker or gang colors, oversized chains, track suits, and sunglasses after dark, to name just a few.
Facebook followers criticized the venue for racism, sexism, and classism, especially after a Southside Social rep explained, “We are not allowing thugs in. We are being proactive to try to make sure it’s not a place [for them].”
Southside Social followed up with a Feb. 10 post that read: “We apologize if we have offended anybody or misrepresented what we are trying to accomplish. Our priority is only to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of you and the rest of our guests.”
Still, the apology didn’t suffice for many, who claimed that the rules unfairly labeled people as “thugs” based on their clothing and targeted African-Americans. As Facebook user Bill Cox put it, “Please give an example of a moment in history where a dress code has helped keep people safe. As the owner of an establishment, you have the right to make the rules. However, I think you should be honest about your reasoning, or don’t say anything at all.” Alyssa Goddard added, “I guess this is how you have to respond when you realize being racist makes you lose a lot of business … now that we know where you stand though, a lot of us won’t be back.”
When it comes to nightlife, dress codes have always been controversial. In April 2016, a bar called ICandy vetoed Timberland boots, a move that patrons deemed racist (the shoes have been associated with hip-hop culture); in 2014, the now-closed Hogan’s Beach (named after wrestler Hulk Hogan) generated backlash for outlawing low-hanging pants, do-rags, skullcaps, and bandanas. And in 2009, a Kansas City entertainment district came under fire for banning baggy clothing, sleeveless shirts on men, and work boots.