Friday, September 17, 2004

Dress Codes

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #243, September 17, 2004)

I just used Google to search on the web for “Leather Dress Code” and found that out of 218 results, the #1 hit was The Minneapolis Eagle’s website. Nice going, guys! (IML 2003 John Pendal’s “Guide to London’s Leather, Bear & SM Scene” was #6.)

Leather dress codes are a perennial topic of discussion among both those who are into leather and those who are not. Some people resent being kept out of a popular gathering place because they aren’t wearing the proper attire. It is their belief that this is America, and dress codes are an infringement upon their God-given right to go to any bar they damn well please. Others point to the regimented sameness of the attire and dismiss those inside as “clones.”

Then there are those of us who are grateful for our leather community’s spaces, such as The Minneapolis Eagle. We appreciate the effort that goes into creating the leatherspace and into formulating, maintaining and enforcing the dress code.

As dress codes at leather bars go, The Minneapolis Eagle’s is pretty typical. You can find it at <>, but I’ll save you the trouble. Headlined “because we said so,” here it is as presented on their website:

• Leather Jackets, Pants, Vests, Straps, Chaps, Dresses, Skirts, Shorts and Accessories
• Rubber, Vinyl, Latex and Plastic
• Law Enforcement and Fire Protection
• Military Uniform
• Construction Gear
• Western Wear
• You can also gain entry with a solid black, grey or white t-shirt, denim jeans (black or blue) and black leather boots.

• Dress Shirts, Sweaters or Polo Shirts
• Dress Pants or Khakis
• Dress Shoes or Loafers
• Sandals or Tennis Shoes
• Suits & Ties or Tuxedos
• Disco Wear”

The Minneapolis Eagle’s dress code is enforced Fridays and Saturdays after 9 p.m. and is encouraged but optional Sunday through Thursday nights. (Even if you are not wearing appropriate attire, if you are already in the bar when the dress code takes effect you will be allowed to remain—you will not be asked to leave. But see below.)

I’ve been thinking about the topic of dress codes quite a bit lately because the company for which I work (no, not Lavender—my other job, the one with a major national discount retailer) recently dropped their “Business Casual” code and ratcheted things up a notch to simply “Business.” That means that Monday through Thursday I have to wear either a sport coat or a tie, neither of which I have heretofore normally worn at work. For many years I was able to state proudly that my regular, day-to-day style of dress was such that at any given moment I could have met the dress code at any leather bar. One of the concessions I made when I started working at the major national discount retailer was to start wearing Dockers and polo shirts.

Under the new dress policy, should I someday show up at work without either a sport coat or a tie I can be “sent home to change.” To me that’s the same thing as being denied admission to the Eagle because I’m wearing dress slacks. I might not like it, but them’s the rules.

As one might expect, the change in the dress code has sparked a certain amount of grumbling among my coworkers. I even contributed to the grumbling—before heading off to the-department-store-that-was-recently-sold-by-the-major-national-discount-retailer-for-which-I-work and buying up a storm. If government statistics show that the nation’s economy improved in August, I’m the reason.

And why did I spend so much money to comply with the new dress code? Because I want to continue working there. That, and because I was able to take advantage of some really good discounts.

Why do I have a closet full of leather and related apparel? Because sometimes I like to hang out at the Eagle. That, and because I like wearing leather. I also like being around other people who are wearing leather. And I don’t like feeling like a tourist. (In leather parlance, a “tourist” is someone in a leather bar who sticks out because he or she is not wearing leather or other appropriate attire. If you are not appropriately attired and you stay at the Eagle when the dress code takes effect at 9 p.m. on Friday or Saturday, you risk being branded a tourist.)

Actually, now that I’ve been sensitized to the issue, I see that dress codes, both spoken and unspoken, are more pervasive than I ever realized. Just today, as I was walking from the parking ramp to my office at the major national discount retailer’s corporate headquarters, I passed a construction site. There, in big, bold letters, was the following proclamation, a “dress code” of sorts: “100% Hard Hat Area/100% Protective Eyewear/100% Fall Protection.” I was wondering what constituted Fall Protection, and what made Fall Protection different from Summer Protection or Winter Protection, until I realized that they probably meant “protection against falling”—like cables and harnesses, for instance. (Hmmm . . . construction workers . . . cables . . . harnesses . . . .)

But I digress. In a heavy construction area there are good reasons—like health, safety and protection— to mandate what workers wear. Mandating dress elsewhere, whether in a corporate setting or a leather bar, is done for other reasons—primarily to create an atmosphere that represents and reflects what is most appropriate for what takes place in that atmosphere.

After years of too often being inappropriate (and suffering the consequences), I have learned the value of appropriateness.

So if the management and customers of The Minneapolis Eagle support the idea of a leather dress code, I will wear appropriate dress to the Eagle. And I will be rewarded by being surrounded by leather, uniforms, and other butch attire.

And if the major national discount retailer decides that it wants to project a Fashion Forward image, I will appropriately spiff up my act. My reward will be that everyone else will spiff up their act, too, and I will be working in an upscale atmosphere with people who are nicely dressed.

On the other hand, thank goodness they’re keeping “Casual Fridays” so I can wear my 501s to work at least one day a week.

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