A Facebook post about one Louisiana bar’s new dress code has become about as heated as the recent battle over the U.S. House of Representatives’ sleeveless rule. The argument raises the question of who is allowed to refuse service to customers and on what grounds.
“News flash!! I’m not allowed in cause they said my shorts are too short! Wtf??” Yvette Comeaux wrote on Facebook on Sunday evening, posting a photo of herself in a floral halter top and a pair of white hemmed shorts with an inseam that appears to be about 4 inches long. She had been trying to enter Whiskey River, a live music venue and bar in Henderson, La., when the woman at the door and a security guard said that her outfit didn’t meet the new dress code requirements.
“I left there ashamed and embarrassed because I was critiqued,” Comeaux tells Yahoo Style of the experience. When she decided to post the photo, she said, “I was just venting.”
But by Tuesday morning, outrage over her treatment had reached full viral stage. At first, Comeaux received the expected comments from friends and friends of friends, who thought she was wearing pretty reasonable attire for a casual afternoon out.
“Were you at church?” asked one friend. Asked another: “Too short? Damn they want them at ur knees?”
Eventually, Whiskey River’s marketing manager, River Henderson, writing using the account of Kelly Mistric (because Comeaux’s post was initially private), began to respond to many of the comments. By way of explanation, Henderson posted a photo of the bar’s new dress code: “If we can see your butt cheeks hanging out of your pants (standing up or bending over) or if we can see your belly button (arms down or up) then you will not be allowed to enter our premises. We reserve the right to refuse admittance to anyone who is not properly dressed.”
Whiskey River does have this right. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents establishments from barring entry on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, or national origin, and the Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination based on mental or physical impairments, businesses can set rules about who can enter. They are legally allowed to set a (gender neutral) dress code and to refuse service based on behavior, intoxication, or lack of payment.
Unfortunately, things took a personal turn on Facebook, so the argument didn’t end there. “Must be that the old bar fly that owns it is jealous because she can’t pull off shorts!!!” wrote Bridget Comeaux Bowers. To which the bar’s marketing manager, Henderson, replied, “I would love to meet with you and discuss this problem you have with MY MOTHER…whenever you are ready love.” There were several other exchanges like this.
“She threw herself under the bus, but it has nothing to do with my attire,” Comeaux tells Yahoo, referring to Henderson. “It has everything to do with the way she handled herself on the comments.”
The comments also eventually teased out why the bar had decided to establish this dress code. It was not because of women wearing short-shorts, but due to one man who has been frequenting the local bars and music festivals in extremely short cutoffs, a midriff-baring shirt, a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots.
“He dances, people take pictures with him,” Lacey Bergeron, another patron, tells Yahoo Style of the man some have dubbed the Rhinestone Cowboy. “It’s almost like ‘Where’s Waldo?’ now. People post pictures of him — ‘He’s here!’ ‘Spotted him here.’ I don’t think anyone’s ever been offended by him locally.”
A statement that Whiskey River sent to Yahoo Style and then posted on its Facebook page alludes to this man: “Our dress code was implemented so as not to discriminate because of gender. We had issues with a male customer who insisted on his right to enter due to the fact that females were allowed to dress in scanty clothes, and he felt he was being discriminated against. The dress code was implemented by the owners (not the staff) in an effort to be fair to all customers.”
The statement also claims that Comeaux’s picture is not representative of what she looked like when she was trying to enter the bar. “One of the owners who was standing about 10 feet away also saw her shorts, and we can assure everyone that if they looked like they did in the photo then she would not have been denied entrance,” read the statement. “She was not singled out as there were other customers who were turned away at the door, including one who changed into different clothing and enjoyed her afternoon of dancing.”
Bergeron was part of another group of women who tried to get into Whiskey River and complained that the people at the door were being arbitrary. There were 12 of them, some coming in from out of town, to celebrate a birthday at the bar that they’ve been going to for 10 years. Before this weekend, the dress code was so casual that Bergeron and her friends often would get there by boat and enter in their bathing suits and cover-ups.
“When we got there, we saw the sign outside, and it specifically says if your shorts are short enough that we can see your butt cheeks, which we all thought was funny — we stood and laughed,” Bergeron tells Yahoo Style. “We didn’t even think anything about it because none of us was dressed inappropriately.”
But while the friend with the shortest shorts was allowed in, another was barred entry, so all 12 left the place disappointed. They posted this photo in a Facebook review of Whiskey River to illustrate, with the caption, “Girl on the left was let in, girl on the right was turned away.”
“They were so rude about it,” Bergeron says. “Our whole issue is not that they have a dress code. It was that they were so rude, so ugly about it, and ridiculous.”
While the experience has left Comeaux vowing not to return to Whiskey River, Bergeron and her friends aren’t as sure. “I think we would be sad to not go back,” she says. “I don’t think we’ve made the decision that we’re not going to go back. They need to be a little more regulated in their dress code.”
In their statement, the owners of Whiskey River appear to want to take a step back from this online bickering. “Offering the opportunity to discuss the issue was just that… not an invitation for confrontation,” reads one part of the statement, referring to Henderson’s comments to the post. “Not only is it heartbreaking but it is a waste of time trying to refute comments, which are totally false. … So we’re going to pick ourselves up, wash away the mud and do what we do best for as long as we can. We will continue striving to give you ‘the place to be on Sunday afternoon.’”
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