A Dress Code That Suffers From Shoddy Tailoring

By Marc Fisher
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

"No Excessively Baggy Clothing. No Sweats or Athletic Wear. No Skull Caps of Any Kind."

The sleek new bowling alley next door to Abe Pollin's sports arena on Seventh Street NW aims to be a classy joint. Lucky Strike Lanes, which opened in November, is the kind of place where an hour of bowling can set you back $75, shoes not included.

"No Clothing With Offensive Writing. No Exposed Intimate Apparel. No Sports Jerseys."

Lucky Strike's dress code is "strictly enforced," as the signs warn. Like any dress code, this one's purpose is to establish an atmosphere and keep out the riffraff.

But who is the riffraff when the code says "No Excessively Long Sweaters or Jackets" and "No Chains"?

Do the 13 banned categories on Lucky Strike's list add up to one conclusion: blacks not welcome?

When Robin Stevenson and 12 of her friends decided to meet one Friday night for dinner and bowling, the sign on Lucky Strike's door stopped her cold. "My Caucasian co-worker told me that she and her friends had a blast" at the bowling place, Stevenson wrote in a letter to Lucky Strike management. "Looking at your dress code truly explains to me why she had a great time -- No colored people were allowed."

In fact, plenty of black customers go to Lucky Strike and seem to have a great time. The crowd is racially mixed, and the atmosphere is jovial. The dress code has its desired effect; one Washington blogger urged her friends to come out to the place because it's "swanky as hell, very posh."

But the dress code here and in other cities has raised eyebrows. As Stevenson wondered, "How is it that I do not see anything on your sign regarding long black Matrix-like trench coats or Goth-type clothing?"

In Chicago, Lucky Strike customers complained that a black man was asked to remove his hat while a white guy kept his on just feet away.

"I don't think the policy is aimed at any particular group outside of the gang influence out there," says Bill Scheidhauer, chief operating officer at Lucky Strike headquarters in Chicago. "We noticed we had a number of problems with gang members," so the company instituted the code at all of its 12 locations. (The rules in Washington have been relaxed to allow sports jerseys because the Wizards and Capitals play next door and some fans like to bowl after attending a game.)

Scheidhauer says the dress code gets specific to "save our guests any kind of embarrassment at the front door. This way, they know how to dress appropriately ahead of time." Complaints about the code pop up in every city Lucky Strike enters, but after a few months, "it goes away because people get used to it and see what kind of atmosphere we offer. In D.C., it's a great-looking crowd. The racial mix is a mix of everyone interacting together."

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