(Editor's note: After Fox59 published their story on Bella Vita, we kept up with the developing conversation on Twitter. We asked Marc Williams, also known as Mr. Kinetik, to expand on his thoughts in this space, specifically on the issue of dress codes. Many nightclubs in Indianapolis post dress codes entrants must meet before they're allowed in. But are they enforced fairly? And are they necessary?)
"You can't get in with that on." '
Nothing like hearing that when you get to a bar or club. You spend time at home putting the outfit together thinking you're about to style on 'em with your gear. You get a parking space, you get out the car and walk up to the spot. You stand in line watching people go in, and then it's your turn. Doorman checks your outfit out and starts reciting the dress code and the policies that management have laid out regarding "acceptable" attire for the establishment. Then you get the ultimatum: you can either change your clothes or you're not getting in.
What's a dress code anyway? It's a system designed to control the appearance of patrons in an establishment or members of an organization. Why do dress codes even exist for bars and clubs? Some would say that it helps set a tone for the space - and this is true (it also shows how much we are still hung up on what people look like). However, dress codes are still codes and they are codes that send other messages as well.
My experience with dress codes is simple: They're designed to keep certain people out. Yes, it defines who can enter, but mostly says who cannot. Past that, the dress codes I've seen impact a very specific group of people: black men and/or anyone who the club owners think are hip-hop fashion subscribers. No athletic gear (jerseys, mainly), no white or solid-colored tees, no shorts, no boots, no baggy jeans, no hats, no du-rags or wave caps. These are all items of clothing that at some point have been stereotypically associated with black men and hip-hop. These are also items that are worn by people who don't like hip-hop and are not black men. But in my experience, I've never seen anyone but Black men turned away because of dress code.
Bar and club owners have the power to decide who can enter their establishments simply based on what the potential patron looks like. What if the owners decide to prohibit the entry of redheads, or short people, or people with big feet? Sounds crazy, right? Well, that's because it is. It is just as crazy as dress codes aimed at specific groups of people via articles of clothing.
Some owners have seen news stories about disturbances in bars and clubs and immediately associate isolated incidents with entire groups of people. Does a fight or a shooting at a club that plays hip-hop music or country music or speed metal mean that anyone who likes that music or embraces the fashions associated with that music is a problem? In my opinion, absolutely not. I've seen enough to know that anybody can create a disturbance no matter what they're wearing, what they look like or what music they like.
Of course, some people would say "absolutely, they are a problem" and that's what these dress codes reflect: a paranoia generated by misconceptions based on appearance and preference.
A quick Google search provides a definition of code as follows:
a system of words, letters, figures, or other symbols substituted for other words, letters, etc., especially for the purposes of secrecy.
"Especially for the purposes of secrecy" is key for me. Dress codes represent more than codes for attire. People associate appearance with behavior, which is a very subjective decision to make. Unfortunately, some bar and club owners think that by controlling what people look like, they can control behavior. Instead of creating coded control systems such as dress codes, bar and club owners should take vocal and active roles in discussing and modeling the expectations for behavior in their establishments from all community members. Coded dress codes continue to create rifts in community, support a variety of prejudices and ultimately contribute to divisiveness in our communities. We would be better served by genuine attempts at understanding and communication by all parties.
Marc Williams is a teacher, rapper, producer and DJ living and working in Indianapolis. His latest album, Expressions, is available here.