Imagine that you’ve planned a night out with close friends, and your destination is the hottest club in the city. So, you’re dressed to impress in your best clubbing outfit, and told your friends to do the same.
But, one of your friends arrives dressed like they just rolled out of bed and into a mismatching ensemble with old running shoes!
So, when the doorman scans over your crew at the club’s entrance, your underdressed friend is denied entry. Your plans are ruined. And you all end up spending your long-anticipated night out at a local dive bar!
If you are an avid party-goer or a casual club-hopper, then you’ve likely experienced this before. Or, you may be that friend who always ruins the night!
But it’s not all your fault. Every club has a dress code. But, since most clubs don’t provide a detailed list of everything you can and can’t wear, you’re bound to get it wrong sometimes.
So, we’ll take steps to clarify these unwritten rules as I explain what I call, “nightlife anti-fashion.” Which is fashion that goes against the normal standards and best practices for nightlife fashion.
After working in the NYC nightlife industry as a club promoter for over a decade, alongside some of the best doormen (and door women) in the business, I’m an expert in nightlife fashion. So, in this comprehensive resource, I will list everything you shouldn’t wear to clubs, the reasons why, tips for bending the rules, and the potential consequences if you go against nightclub dress codes.
I will also expose a few nightlife industry secrets and style tips to help you craft perfect clubbing outfits that will get you into the best nightclubs with ease.
Athletic Shoes Or Sneakers
Typically, athletic shoes are not allowed at upscale lounge bars and nightclubs – especially flashy ones that draw attention to them. Colorful running shoes or basketball sneakers are easily spotted by strict doormen/doorwomen, which puts you at a higher risk of being denied entry.
Exceptions To The No Sneakers Rule
It is possible to circumvent the common “no sneakers” rule at upscale venues by wearing dark-colored and inconspicuous sneakers, trendy fashion sneakers, or high-end designer sneakers by luxury brands like Dior, Fendi, and Prada. These styles often get a pass or are overlooked by club management.
There are also many niche nightclubs and party bars that allow casual wear, including athletic footwear. But even then, your sneakers should always be clean, in good condition, and complement your clubbing outfit. Especially if a doorman/door woman is present.
Niche nightclubs are clubs that cater to specific audiences. Their music, entertainment, and policies are designed to attract and accommodate their target audiences.C. Nez Byrd – Expert club promoter and Marketing Executive
If you encounter a doorman while wearing a pair of run-down basketball sneakers, you could still be denied entry despite the dress code allowance. Never forget that entry is always at the “doorman’s discretion.” And part of their job is to maintain a good image in the club.
Generally, it’s best to avoid wearing sneakers to clubs. Instead, opt for dress shoes to comply with most nightclub dress codes. When you’re club-hopping, dress shoes provide the most flexibility to attend any spot, not just the casual ones.
3 Rules of Thumb For Wearing Sneakers To Clubs
If you plan to wear sneakers to clubs, then be follow these important 3 rules of thumb:
- Only wear sneakers to venues where you know they are permitted.
- Only wear sneakers that are in great condition and fashion-forward.
- Stick with fashion sneakers, low-top running shoes, or low-top training shoes with simple and muted colors – the less sporty and ostentatious the better.
Most importantly, make sure that the sneakers complement your stylish dance club attire, but are not its focal point. Even luxury brand footwear won’t save you from breaking dress code rules if the rest of your clubbing outfit is unfashionable.
Work Boots Or Construction Boots
Work boots should stay where they are intended to be, in the workplace. Since construction boots are common in mainstream street fashion, most nightlife venues specifically ban them in their dress code policy – but this restriction applies to all styles of work boots!
Exceptions To The No Work Boots Rule
There are limited venues where the prevalent “no work boots rule” may not apply. Which are primarily casual hip hop clubs and party bars that embrace street fashion, so popular work boots like Timberland construction boots, Clark desert boots, or Dr. Martens boots are acceptable.
Contrary to popular belief, construction boots are not banned by clubs simply for style preferences or racial biases. All work boots are typically prohibited and inappropriate to wear to dance clubs because they present unwelcomed risks to parties:
- The risk of direct injury; someone wearing construction boots could crush other guests’ feet, particularly ladies wearing open-toe shoes.
- The risk of indirect injury; work boots easily shatter fallen drinking glasses and beer bottles, making broken glass hazards more common.
- The risk of property damage; heavy soles on work boots cause excessive wear and tear to dance floors and nightclub furniture, leading to costly repairs.
Work boots are designed for personal protection, not the safety of others in a party environment. To protect patrons from injuries, and themselves from bar negligence lawsuits, it’s in club owners’ best interest to bar work boots.
So, to adhere to most club dress code policies, and for the safety of other guests, you should not wear work boots to dance clubs. And, despite their popularity, this includes Timberland boots and other trending styles. They will often close more doors than they will open.
Rain boots fall within the realm of work boots, as personal protective footwear, which makes them subject to similar nightclub dress code restrictions. Since rain boots are typically designed for function, not fashion, they should not be a part of any nightlife attire.
Even though rain boots are not often specifically listed in dress codes, they should never be worn to upscale clubs and lounges – no matter how stylish they are. The best alternatives for these venues would be waterproof leather shoes or fashion boots.
Exceptions To The No Rain Boots Rule
If you insist on wearing rain boots, then you should stick to party bars that allow casual streetwear. Or, you can try wearing stylish versions of rain boots, that don’t look like standard rain boots:
- Chelsea boot style for men or women
- Black Moncler Loftgrip Boots for women
- D-Major Boots for women
The rain boots listed above look similar to normal fashion boots and may blend in with a fashionable, smart casual clubbing outfit. Unlike a pair of Hunter high rain boots or Sperry duck boots, they have a good chance of making it past the doormen checkpoint.
It is important to note that women have a wide range of chic and fashion-forward rain boots available to them. Stylish options are very limited for men.
So, generally, even if it is pouring rain, fight the urge to wear rain boots to any club. If you do, then chances are, you won’t make it past the doorman.
Sandals Or Flip Flops
While they are great for the long walks between clubs, flat sandals are a bad idea for clubbing outfits. Most styles of sandals are not allowed at clubs and in most nightlife dress codes, primarily as a safety precaution.
Clubs typically ban guests from wearing flat-soled open-toe sandal styles like flip-flops, slides, thong sandals, and gladiator sandals.
Exceptions To The No Sandals Rule
Only in special cases, such as when a club features a pool party or is located on a beach, might any type of sandal may be allowed. Which is a dress code allowance that would be communicated to guests in its marketing promotions.
While working in the nightclub scene, I’ve seen tons of guests argue with doormen/door women about wearing flip flops and slides. But sandals are not restricted just because clubs want people to dress up – this is a common misconception.
Clubs ban flat sandals because they offer minimal foot protection, support, and traction. So, guests who wear them have a higher risk of injury:
- Their feet can be crushed by other guests wearing shoes with hard soles.
- Their exposed feet are at greater risk of cuts from broken glass and sharp objects on the floor.
- The lack of traction in most flip-flop soles increases the chances of slips and falls.
For these valid safety reasons, most bars and clubs don’t want to risk liability for injuries that could be avoided by simply placing restrictions on sandals.
So, generally, you should never wear open-toed sandals with flat soles to any clubs; sandals with high heels are normally the only exceptions. The less protection that is on your foot, the less likely you can get into a club. Also, you wouldn’t want to realize why some sandals are called “slides” when you are sliding on your ass down a flight of stairs.
Heels On the Feet, Flats in The Bag
In the nightlife world, first impressions will get you everywhere. Such as complimentary VIP sections with club promoters like yours truly.
So, if you want to turn heads, and have a chance for the doorman to skip you ahead in the line or get drinks on the house, then high heels are the way to go. Flats will rarely have the same effect unless you are either a model or a certified hottie.
But, after a few hours of stomping the room, heels will be killing your feet. So, although you can’t wear flats inside the club, tuck a pair away in your bag for the walk home after the party ends.
Any form of sportswear, activewear, or athletic wear should never be worn to a club. They are all commonly restricted by dress codes across the hospitality industry from nightlife, to entertainment, and even dining establishments.
The sportswear category encompasses a wide range of garments. But, certain sportswear garments are commonly prohibited in club dress codes:
- Sports jerseys
- Gym shorts or sports shorts
Most clubs, especially upscale ones, do not allow sports garments, like sweatpants and tracksuits, because more formal styles of attire maintain a higher image and status for the club. While sportswear represents the polar opposite of that desired image.
Clubs do judge books by their covers. So, no matter how fashionable your favorite hoodie, vintage basketball jersey, or best sweatsuit is, chances are they will not be acceptable club attire.
Exceptions To The No Sportswear Rule
There are, however, exceptions where certain types of activewear may be acceptable at clubs. For example, polo shirts are made for sports but are commonly accepted at many clubs as business casual attire.
Additionally, athleisure is a trending alternative fashion, which includes garments like yoga pants or fashion joggers that could pass at clubs that allow casual wear. But, even then, items like fashion joggers should be in dark colors and made with less sporty materials than cotton knit, such as woven fabrics made from a polyester blend, cashmere, leather, or denim. Essentially, the texture shouldn’t look similar to sweatpants.
Just note that flexibility for athletic wear often leans in favor of the fairer sex. Yes, sexual discrimination is commonplace in the nightlife industry, whether it is acknowledged or not.
Generally, it’s best to steer away from sportswear for club attire. Since club dress codes normally prohibit it, guests who wear it are often targeted by doormen and denied entry. Don’t paint that target on your back!
Wearing graphic t-shirts to clubs is a roll of the dice. Since they are a gamble that rarely pays off at clubs, they are best suited for party bars and are not recommended nightlife attire for upscale lounges or popular clubs.
Although graphic tees are not often specifically banned by club dress codes, they can make or break a clubbing outfit. There’s a strong chance that the images or messages they contain may not resonate with the venue’s brand, reflect the local culture’s views, or be interpreted as risqué and taken offensively by others.
And since graphic tees become the fashion focal point of your outfit, you should anticipate that if the doorman doesn’t approve of it, you will be denied entry.
A “fashion focal point” is the part of an outfit or garment that draws attention to it above the rest. It is the eye-grabbing center of interest that is created by the use of colors, patterns, or textures.C. Nez Byrd – club promoter and Marketing expert
Exceptions For Graphic Tees
Graphic tees could be a fashion statement and unique conversation starter if worn tactfully. For example, you could add some flair to your clubbing outfit with a picture of a pop icon. This could be well-received among clubs that are frequented by the generation that identifies with it.
But if you have a graphic tee with Darth Vader, a Japanese anime character like Luffy from One Piece, or vulgar and provocative messaging on it, that will likely seem juvenile and be rejected at most clubs. Unless, perhaps, you are a recognizable celebrity, model, or influencer on the cutting edge of fashion.
Generally, it’s best to just avoid a wearing graphic tee to clubs altogether, and not risk being rejected because it didn’t resonate with the doorman. Or simply cover it up until you get inside.
Bandanas are among the most commonly banned items at nightlife venues. They are nightlife fashion accessories that are not allowed in most clubs, and security is always wary of them since they often carry many negative connotations.
Clubs are always concerned about crowd safety. And since bandanas are often used as “gang flags,” that indicate gang affiliations, they are specifically restricted by most club dress codes. So, to avoid this miscommunication, and for your personal safety, it is important to avoid wearing bandanas and matching accessories in known gang colors:
Exceptions To The No Bandanas Rule
There are instances where bandanas may be allowed at party bars or casual dance clubs that cater to a niche urban audience. And bandanas that represent positive cultural trends, charitable causes, or social movements like the LGBTQ and Pride rainbow flag colors, might find broader acceptance as well.
Generally, to comply with dress codes and avoid problems with entry, bandanas should not be worn to clubs – especially for guys. And if worn, take extra care to make it a seamlessly fashionable part of your outfit to help disassociate from the stereotypes that bandanas often symbolize.
Hats are great fashion accessories, but headgear is typically among the restricted accessories in the hospitality industry and most nightlife dress codes. Most clubs, bars, and lounges have strict “no hats” policies in place and task the staff with actively telling patrons, both male, and female, to remove them – no one is exempt.
The no-hat policy may have roots in European tradition and etiquette from medieval times. But in today’s age, it is often claimed to be for security purposes. Most clubs have internal camera systems, and concealed faces impede visual and video monitoring.
Exceptions To The No Hats Rule
Typically, hip hop clubs and party bars that allow streetwear are the only nightlife venues that may allow hats. These venues often cater to young urban audiences and embrace street culture.
In time, the rules against wearing hats at cub may become antiquated since protective face coverings are becoming a social norm. But, since hats have no useful function indoors to justify wearing them, especially in social settings, don’t expect that policy to change anytime soon.
So, although hats like Yankee fitted caps or wide brim fedoras can be stylish additions to outfits, be prepared to remove them at clubs or just leave them at home. Hats will always be prohibited or discouraged in social settings, where you should be showing your face, flaunting your fresh haircut or balayage, and being a social butterfly.
Additionally, the “no baggy clothes” policy is commonly used as a blanket policy, or “catch-all,” to prevent guests from wearing any type of “ill-fitting” clothes. At which point, it is left to the doorman to determine if you are dressed fashionably or just sloppy.
Ill-fitting clothes are clothes that are too big, too small, and wrongly sized to the point that the wearer looks sloppy, unkempt, or distasteful. Although it is often considered a fashion faux pas to avoid, ill-fitting clothes occur in pop culture fashion trends, and among avant-garde designers and fashionistas.C. Nez Byrd – nightlife & Marketing Expert
While on the nightlife scene, I have seen guests get denied entry for wearing baggy attire, and even for clothes that were too tight!
Exceptions For Ill-Fitting Clothes
So, let’s bust a common myth here: Loose-fitting clothes, baggy clothes, and super-tight clothes are not necessarily bad fashion for nightlife. Many top designers have helped the trend with grunge fashion lines. So, although it is not recommended to wear grunge style to clubs, how presentable you make the look is ultimately the deciding factor – which comes down to the doorman’s perception.
Generally, to avoid breaking most club dress codes, do not wear any ill-fitting clothes that make you look sloppy and unkempt. Otherwise, your best bet is to stick to raves where your “ill-fitting clothes” will fit right in!
Light-Colored Clothes And Shoes
Light-colored clothes or shoes will rarely garner any objections from a doorman. They fit in perfectly for a smart casual style that clubs love, and are never among any dress code restrictions or rules. Unless, of course, it’s an all-white party and rule number 1 is to wear all-white.
Light-colored attire and footwear are not recommended to wear to clubs because they are prone to glaringly obvious staining. At clubs, where appearances are important, one big vodka and cranberry juice spill can quite literally ruin your outfit and your night.
So, to avoid heated arguments with clumsy drunken fools who knock drinks over when they walk by, stick with dark colors from head to toe. Although light-colored blazers can make your outfit stand out, clothing staples like black shirts and black pants are always ideal and safe choices for dance club attire.
If you can’t give up light color palettes, or your wardrobe is just full of them, then be mentally prepared for it to be permanently ruined. If you can come out of a whole night at a wild party with a white blazer unsoiled, please hit me up on IG with proof. I’ll give you a big shoutout for dodging bullets like Neo!
Expensive Garments & Designer Clothes
Expensive garments make for great smart casual or cocktail attire styles at upscale lounge bars, high-end nightclubs, and fashion parties that attract fashionista audiences. And since designer brands are typically in line with the latest fashion trends, you will rarely have to worry about violating any dress code rules.
However, generally, dance clubs are not the safest places to wear expensive garments. Because no matter how careful you are, you will often encounter drunken and reckless people in the nightlife. So, mistakes are bound to happen, and your luxurious designer clothes could be ruined by a well-placed cocktail spill.
And, since most clubs do not offer coat checks, you should not expect a safe place to store an expensive overcoat or jacket. Even when coat checks are available, clubs normally post disclaimers stating they “will not be held liable for lost or damaged items.”
I still recall when I tried to console a girl who was crying her heart out because the coat check “lost” her mink fur stole. So, don’t have high expectations for security.
In the nightlife, if you look great in what you are wearing, its brand doesn’t matter. There are no special benefits to wearing designer names.
So, it is best to avoid wearing expensive garments to casual dance clubs. Be very selective about where you wear expensive clothes, and don’t risk ruining, or losing, them for anything less than an upscale venue or formal affair that warrants them.
There are no rules against wearing clubbing accessories. And rave accessories like masks, belly chains, leg wraps, and even LD glasses are often welcome to clubs that play EDM. But wearing loose expensive accessories to clubs is a costly mistake that many partygoers make.
Although designer accessories like Gucci sunglasses, Hermes scarves, and Birkin bags are acceptable for any dress code, wearing them is not worth the risk of losing them at a club.
One well-kept nightlife industry secret is that thieves commonly go to clubs with the intent to steal valuable items. These criminals scout the room for unattended items left on seats, in corners, and hidden under jackets to snatch while their owners are distracted at the bar or on the dance floor.
It’s even happened to me many times; my Louis Vuitton scarf and multiple phones were all stolen in clubs.
This is a common criminal activity that nightclub security guards and staff are fully aware of, but is rarely communicated to the public. And since these thefts happen in part due to partygoers’ negligence, law enforcement normally won’t press an investigation into them.
So, save yourself the stress and refrain from wearing expensive accessories to clubs – stick with accessories that aren’t easily misplaced. The club is no place for items of great value that would be devastating if you lost them.
A Dirty Little Nightlife Industry Secret
Have you ever searched a nightclub’s website or premises for their full dress code policy, but it was difficult or impossible to find? This is evidence of a dirty little nightlife industry secret in action: Most clubs do not list everything that you can and can’t wear, on purpose!
This is a common practice in the hospitality industry that empowers the staff with the discretion to subjectively determine the guidelines for admission. Which is often referred to as, “Doorman’s Discretion” or “Management’s Discretion.”
With either minimal or unwritten rules, clubs can turn away guests under the guise of “breaking dress codes” that are made up on the spot! I once encountered this when a bouncer denied certain guests entry for wearing “ripped jeans.” This restriction wasn’t posted anywhere, except in the bouncer’s mind.
Alternatively, clubs will typically post broad dress codes like, “trendy casual” or “upscale chic,” which are open to interpretation. This ambiguity achieves the same effect and allows bouncers the flexibility to adjust the rules as they see fit.
While this may seem like a questionable practice, keep in mind that popular clubs and lounges are often sought after because they are hard to get into. This exclusivity elevates posh brands and is ideal for customers with high image standards who prefer venues that are just as selective. So, don’t expect this to ever change.
The General Rule of Thumb For Clubbing Outfits
The general rule of thumb for clubbing outfits is to dress to impress. business casual or cocktail attire styles are the ideal choices to comply with most club dress codes. So, you should only wear casual wear, such as sneakers or construction boots, to venues where you know for a fact that it is acceptable.
And always remember that admittance often comes down to “management’s discretion.” If your outfit fails to impress the doorman, then you won’t make it past the entrance.
Note that the nightlife fashion recommendations here are broad. Most of these dress codes and rules apply in NYC but are fairly universal. And while some rules may be flexible, others are strict, and exceptions to rules are possible depending on where you go:
If you are partying in New York City, construction boots are often acceptable at clubs in the Bronx. While, in Brooklyn, sneakers are acceptable at many clubs.
But most popular clubs in Manhattan NYC are strict regarding both construction boots and sneakers!
Local nightlife dress codes are often affected by or based on 3 things:
- The type of venue (e.g. clubs versus party bars)
- The target audience or local demographic
- The location
Further considerations could be made to fit the local cultures, tastes, and fashion norms.
If you follow these fashion tips for your clubbing outfit, you will be a step ahead of the rest. And now that you know what you shouldn’t wear, learn what you should, in my article, “What To Wear To Clubs and Why: The Definitive Nightlife Fashion Guide!” There I explain the best styles and more industry tips and secrets for club attire.
If this article was helpful, please share it to keep this blog alive. After all, I’m breaking nightlife codes of silence by telling you most of this stuff!
Cheers to your nights out!