Dress rules cause a little shirtiness

Revival bar owners are helping to develop a Victoria St dress code so there are consistent standards in the area.
Revival bar owners are helping to develop a Victoria St dress code so there are consistent standards in the area.

Head out to a Christchurch bar on a Friday night and the normal sights are still there - cold beer being quaffed, live sport on television and inebriated drinkers stumbling out to the street to hail a taxi.

Recently, eagle-eyed bar-goers may have observed another trend. Fewer people are wearing casual clothing as the city's bars take a harder line on acceptable dress.

Merivale bar Aikmans requires late-night male visitors to wear a collared shirt or otherwise risk rejection, while several bars now display their dress codes prominently near their entrances.

Nick Sepie, 24, is frustrated that his casual style no longer measures up.
Nick Sepie, 24, is frustrated that his casual style no longer measures up.

The Christchurch Casino started a campaign late last year encouraging patrons to dress up for a night out.

Casino chief executive Brett Anderson says the venue decided to lift standards after taking a more relaxed approach in the wake of the February 2011 earthquake.

"There was a period where people just wanted to get open and stay open, so standards did slip, but we had to look at the long term and the fact that we did want to have a welcome environment for people," he says.

Dress rules are enforced most rigorously late at night and at weekends.

Steve Holmes, the general manager of the Aikmans and Bardello bars in Merivale, says his bars crack down after 9pm.

Although higher standards may appeal to some, others are not so impressed.

Nick Sepie, 24, used to visit bars wearing a dress shirt, jeans and canvas shoes without any problems.

In the past year, he has found it more difficult to gain entry.

"The casino is close to me but I don't think I've got in since six to seven months ago, purely for not dressing sharp enough." He says the crackdown has been frustrating for him and his friends, particularly on warm nights when casual dress would seem more appropriate than a buttoned-up approach.

"I'm not a troublemaker by any means. I just want to go out for a few drinks and I want to be able to dress comfortably," he says.

This frustration is heightened by the murky guidelines on what exactly qualifies as unacceptable clothing.

Jandals, beanies and T-shirts are no-nos, but bars often have generic policies requiring "smart" or "tidy" apparel.

Anderson says clothing that falls short of the casino's dress code is often a matter of interpretation.

"It's a difficult one because we don't want to be the fashion police but it probably comes back to overall perception," he says.

"If your pants aren't pulled up, it looks scruffy, and that's a look that can intimidate other people."

Holmes says standards have to be different during the summer, when warm daytime weather means a dress shirt and pants are not always practical. "You have to accept that when it's a nice day, and we've had good weather in Canterbury, people will come out in shorts and jandals [during the day], but when people are coming in for a late night out that's different," he says.

Anderson says there has been a marked decrease in troublesome visitors since the casino upped its standards, while Holmes echoes the thoughts of several other bar owners when discussing the benefits of a hardline approach.

"The better we dress, the better we behave ourselves," he says.

The city's quakes, and their effect on where the punters go, have complicated the matter.

With fewer bars in the city, those that once had a distinct clientele have had to deal with a broader range of customers, many with different expectations of what they want out of their night.

"Many places had pretty much a defined crowd, but now there's a mix of demographics and that can cause some issues," Anderson says. "The issue is, how do you accommodate one demographic without alienating the other?"

That's where a dress code can come in.

Cargo Bar manager Henare Akuhata-Brown says the Addington container bar's requirement for "tidy smart- casual" attire helps it to keep out those who do not fit its target audience.

"Twenty eight-plus, that's our crowd, and the dress code enables us to stamp out some ground on that age," he says.

"If we've got 300 people, even if we've only got one, we stand our ground."

Construction workers flooding into the city for the rebuild are not exempt, with dirty work clothing also on the no-go list at the casino.

"They're working on a site across the road, they're covered in dust and they want a cold beer, so they come in, but they do need to tidy up," Anderson says.

Bars are presenting a united front against sloppy clothing.

Revival Bar co-owner Brett Giddens says bars and other late- night venues in the Victoria St precinct are working on a common agreement on acceptable clothing so visitors to the area know what to expect.

"We'd like to get our dress code reasonably consistent, so if someone doesn't get into a place and says, 'Bugger you, I'm going down the road', we can say that they've got a similar dress code too," he says.

Holmes says patrons should be striving to match the quality of the new bars popping up around the city.

"As a whole, we're being a little more distinguished and sophisticated in our choices, as we've seen post-quake in some of the new fit-outs, and everyone feels better in a nice dress shirt and trousers," he says.

The message is clear: fix up, look sharp - or move on.


The Press