Fashion police

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November 8, 2004 // UPDATED 4:37 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Warehouse District dress code rules are becoming common -- and complicated

Decoding the dress codes in the Warehouse District is a formidable task these days.

While most clubs have adopted a list of outlawed fashion, the dress codes vary widely and can confuse even the savviest of scenesters.

Bar bouncers say they are a way to keep out gangs, or "riffraff," and tighten security. Meanwhile, some club goers are skeptical of their effectiveness and say they single out for exclusion men -- particularly black men -- leaving women free to wear just about anything -- or nearly nothing.

At the posh nightspot Fahrenheit, 322 1st Ave. N., a lengthy "do-not wear" list weeds out the shabbier Downtown clubbers.

Before you see the sign, a flat-screen TV monitor posted at street level near the club's entrance rotates images of people you'll run into inside -- well-heeled, shiny faces with flashy, sleek outfits. It seems to serve as a repellent for the underdressed.

At the entrance, a posted sign is more explicit about unwelcome accessories and outfits. The "fashion-don't" list is exhaustive: no T-shirts, baseball caps, durags, skullcaps, jerseys, athletic apparel, excessively baggy clothing, sleeveless shirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, sneakers, ripped clothing, logos or exposed jewelry.

Tony Warren, a bouncer who works for Fahrenheit and its next-door neighbor, the Fine Line Music Caf/, 318 1st Ave. N., said most people pass the fashion test. For those who don't, they head for another club or get rid of their problematic accessories without putting up a fight, he said.

"Everyone understands," Warren said, adding Fahrenheit's dress code helps attract a "more mature and elegant crowd."

On a recent Thursday night, about a dozen classy dressers mingled in the cozy, dimly lit bar, sipping on martinis. Most people had the urban chic look and lived up to the high standards, save for one fashion scofflaw who wandered in wearing bright white sneakers.

Fahrenheit customers and North Dakota State fashion design majors Michelle Parker, 22, and Kayla Benning, 21, almost conformed to club's image with the exception of one apparent violation: Benning's lacy tank-top, though it was covered with a black camisole. (Tank-tops are technically not allowed, but no one seemed to care.)

Next door, The Fine Line had a more laid-back atmosphere as people waited to see singer Vanessa Carlton with the band Low Millions. Jeans and T-shirts dominated compared to Fahrenheit's fancier threads.

Fine Line Manager David Mann said the club does not have a specific policy against certain attire. Rather, the music venue tries to control crowds when it selects its acts. For instance, the Fine Line avoids scheduling heavy metal bands or rappers that have a reputation for drawing violent fans, he said.

The nightclub's owner Dario Anselmo, who heads the Warehouse District Business Association, would like to see the nightclubs adopt similar codes to avoid confusion.

Anselmo said clubs need to be sensitive in applying the codes so as not to discriminate against minorities. Most of the codes single out styles of dress most common to young black men.

"Everyone should try to have a dress code as universal as possible. Then it's just a lot easier to enforce it and for everyone to understand it," Anselmo said.

Luther Krueger, a civilian-crime prevention specialist for the 1st Police Precinct, agreed.

"We encourage bars to consider dress codes although we won't specify what to include in them. One year, baseball hats cocked to one side might mean gang activity and the next year it might not mean anything," Krueger said. "So we leave it up to them to figure out what kind of dress is inappropriate or which may provoke fights or other problems."

Krueger added that bars should apply the same standards to all patrons.

"As far as effectiveness, they have to be enforced consistently. Regulars shouldn't get exempted since someone who gets turned away, takes off his hat and then gets in will see that they were singled out -- fairly or unfairly -- and that can lead to fights and felony assault stats," he said.

Downtown's newest nightspot, Spin Nightclub, located in the Lumber Exchange Building, 10 S. 5th St., has a different approach to its dress code.

Instead of telling people what not to wear, a policy posted on its Web site, www.spinmn.com, lists some fashion hints under the heading, "Looks that Work."

The list is loaded with high expectations. Besides urging clubbers to look "clean, stylish, fun and clubby," Spin guests are asked to deck themselves out like rock stars, pop stars, porn stars and movie stars.

Under "Looks that Don't Work" category, Spin cautions clubbers against wearing baseball hats, "looking like you're going to a picnic in shorts," or "like you're coming from the gym in sweats and sneakers."

At Block E's Escape Ultra Lounge, 600 Hennepin Ave. S., a stylish club known for its salsa scene, patrons are asked to "dress to inspire," said the club's Vice President Chuck Gilbert.

The club doesn't have a specific code, but bouncers at times turn away people wearing flannel shirts, hats, durags or other casual wear when the club starts getting packed, Gilbert said.

"We're trying to raise the bar. Jeans, although they are nice in other places, at times you should put them away. Put on a nice pair of slacks. Ladies get out a nice outfit and come Downtown," Gilbert said.

At Daddy Rocks, 315 1st Ave. N., and Tabu, 323 1st Ave. N., dress codes are applied on certain nights.

At Tabu, bouncers enforce a dress code on Wednesday and Saturday when hip-hop acts perform, said Tony Govee, one of the bouncers. On those nights, the club bans gym shoes, jogging suits, athletic wear and hats, he said.

Daddy Rocks is about to change its policy, said bar Manager Chad Junker. For now, Daddy Rocks bans hats and jerseys on Thursdays -- a policy that went into effect a month ago.

"It's changing, though," Junker said, adding that the dress code will soon also be effective on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Everyone seems to be going in that direction," he said.

Two Daddy Rocks customers, Michelle Hemsworth, 24, and Vanessa Pugh, were critical of the policy. They said they believed clubs' policies were unfair to men while letting women get away with wearing provocative and revealing clothing.

"Jerseys and hats don't cause fights," Hemsworth said.

Pugh agreed, adding that she didn't feel safer in Daddy Rocks just because the bar banned certain clothing.

"That doesn't matter. It depends on the person," she said.

-- Britt Johnsen contributed to this story