In the 1960s and 1970s, many businesses placed signs on their shops saying “No shirt, No shoes, No service.” The main motive of this sign was to keep the long-haired hippies out of their stores and restaurants. There are no federal or state laws about the shirt or shoes but there are laws that allow businesses to make their own regulations. So “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” is a rule but not a law and it is enforced by the businesses only.
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Where Did “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” Come From?
When you visit a store or restaurant you might have seen the sign “No shirt, No shoes, No service” and might wonder where did that come from? There is no official information about the “No shirt, No shoes, No service” theory but it has an unofficial story. The rise of this sign was during the counterculture movement of the 1960s. This sign was the direct opposition of the counterculture movement. On the other hand, the Society for Barefoot Living blog stated that the signs didn’t even exist until 1970. However, when businesses started to use the sign it spread like the wildfire, and more business owners looked for ways to keep out those long-haired, tie-dyed, barefooted hippies. This is what Professor Terry Anderson noted in his book, The Movement and the Sixties:
“Citizens reacted to the hippie threat in many ways. Country-western singer Merle Haggard condemned the counterculture in his hit tune, “Okie from Muskogee,” and singer Anita Bryant held “rallies for decency.” Southern Methodist University officials attempted to stop mail posted to the campus address of “Notes from the Underground,” while a group of alumni and students threatened violence if the “filthy sheet causing embarrassment” did not stop publication. Businessmen across the country put up door signs, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service,” while Marc’s Big Boy in Milwaukee hired a cop to make sure that no one with beads, beads, flowers, sandals, long hair, or funny glasses was allowed inside to buy a double hamburger.”
Moreover, a columnist of Oregon paper wrote in 1972,
“Hippies have taken over the north end of town and the business people don’t like it. They have signs saying shoes and shirts are required – no entrance to bare feet. There were other signs like ‘No long hairs,’ One of the other things that started around 1970 was the ‘Please wait to be seated’ signs. Before that, only a very fancy restaurant might say, ‘Please wait to be seated,’ but in an ordinary restaurant, you just went in and sat down wherever you wanted. But once there were long-haired people, out came the ‘Please wait to be seated’ signs.”
So it is quite clear that the “No shirt, No shoes, No service” signs came into use in the early 1970s but we can’t guarantee that they were not used or existed before. A renowned historian Rorabaugh stated that the signs were everywhere when he was growing up in coastal Florida in the 1950s. At that time the culture of coastal Florida was very formal and they had a long history of dealing with shirtless and shoeless customers. He also said, during that time all restaurants, even beachside snack bars, required shirts, and shoes to order food. So it is quite clear that the sign never had anything to do with enforcing health codes and no U.S. state has a law requiring restaurant patrons wear shoes.
Civil Rights Act
In 1964, America made the long-awaited Civil Rights Act which ensured everyone has equal rights. So, because of the Civil Rights Act businesses could no longer turn away customers for the color of their skin. According to LegalZoom –
“the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits any place of public accommodation – which includes private businesses like restaurants, hotels, and stores – from refusing to serve a customer based on race, color, religion or national origin.”
Therefore, the business owners had to find other reasons to turn the customers away. They came with the “No shirt, No shoes, No service” idea. During that time, shoes were a sign of wealth and not everybody could afford them. So business owners were successful to keep the long-haired hippies out of their stores and restaurants.
If you think very well then you will notice that the business owners were trying to use the “No shirt, No shoes, No service” sign as a way to sidestep anti-discrimination laws. In fact, the business owners were not discriminating against marginalized groups, they were discriminating against long-haired hippies.
Magalie D. is a Diploma holder in Public Administration & Management from McGill University of Canada. She shares management tips here in MGTBlog when she has nothing to do and gets some free time after working in a multinational company at Toronto.