Sexy Female Dress Code Discriminatory?

Sexy Female Dress Code Discriminatory?

Sex sells. But should it sell food at your local restaurant? CBC’s Marketplacereleased a story covering some of the complaints over a sexualized dress code at restaurants such as Moxie’s, Earls, Joey and Jack Astor’s.

At Context, we wanted to get more personal insight on this matter. We spoke with James Tilden, a server at the Ottawa restaurant Union Local 613.  Along with a few colleagues, he took the initiative to adhere to the female dress code for one of his shifts. He fully committed to this experience, wearing the dress, the heels and all.

“What stood out the most was being the center of attention, but not in a good way. Eyes gazing, smirks and cat calls all coming my way while I was simply trying to do my job,” says Tilden. “Of course all of this was in jest as everyone knew the event we were holding and so they were obviously having fun with it. However the fun they were having with it was in parody of a serious issue: the instant sexualization that someone is forced through simply by virtue of the way they’re dressed.”

Should sexual attention be a part of the dining experience?  Is this what our society is demanding from restaurant establishments? Tilden’s experience gave him a distaste for this aspect of the restaurant business.

Pauleanna Reid, author and CEO of New Girl on the Block shares her struggle with dress standards in the workplace.

“I worked in finance for numerous years – a man’s world. The higher the heel, the bigger your bonus. That was the unspoken rule,” says Reid. This unspoken rule demonstrates that skill, intelligence and experience are not the only factors contributing to career opportunity, but also gender and specifically the outward appearance and sexualization in regards to gender. Reid’s concern is not only about being uncomfortable on the job, but for the message these kinds of standards express to today’s youth.

“It doesn’t set a good precedent for next generations. Youth will grow up thinking that this is the only way to make a dollar. That’s why it’s important to have this conversation.”


James Tilden serves customers while adhering to the female dress code at many popular restaurants (CBC). 

The national exposure has sparked debate from both sides. A current employee of Moxie’s who wishes to remain anonymous says that she has worked at the restaurant for a year and has never felt sexualized.

“I’ve never felt sexualized working here, other than when I watched the news report on Marketplace. I was never told to show more skin or pull up my skirt.” She says she feels equality between her and her male coworkers adding, “We all dress how we would if we were going out to a nice dinner.”

Another former employee of Moxie’s thinks that we shouldn’t be so hard on these restaurant businesses, after all, people know what they’re getting into.

“I don’t know I’d go so far as to call it gender discrimination.  I think anyone that hands in an application to Moxie’s, Earls or Joey knows what kind of establishment they are signing up for. I worked at Moxie’s for more than 5 years and while I chose to only wear pants, that choice came at a cost of working only in the restaurant, not in the lounge. I took at least $100 pay cut in tips a night, but again, this was my choice.”

Does this issue all come down to dollars and cents? For what other reason would women work in uncomfortable three inch heels, with the added pressure of inappropriate gazes from every direction. A former Moxie’s server sees the incentive of making tips as going far beyond a dress code.  “I guarantee even without a dress code, most servers would show some skin, because they feel sexy, they feel confident, they feel flirty – and that’s what usually rakes in the big bucks.”

Whether this is a positive or negative choice is a different question. Tilden weighs in on a different side of this: “If women choose to wear such clothing…it may be a choice to attract that male gaze to up their tips and that speaks for itself how unfortunate that is.”

In terms of the restaurants, their main business is to provide great food in a clean, pleasant atmosphere in a timely manner. Why does the outfit of who brings the food rank so high in this experience? Tilden who tried this outfit on for himself says, “If that’s how they attract their customers, they need to drastically improve their product, their food, their drink, atmosphere and service. Their product shouldn’t just be another woman to stare at or hit on.”

Whether this issue is deemed as discrimination, simply inappropriate or a successful business plan, we have to ask, is the clothing attire of restaurant staff important to the dining experience of all Canadians?  If so, perhaps our culture has allowed these superficial standards to be more prominent than they really should be. With a society that consumes ideals of image, beauty, sexual attractiveness constantly at almost every outlet of social media, entertainment and advertising; then naturally restaurant businesses would follow suit. It may need a counter-cultural shift away from an obsession with sexualized images and towards an emphasis on human equality, respect and dignity.

The solution could be summed up in one word: dignity. For the Christian, it’s the idea that all people are made in the image of God.  And if so they have a right to be treated with respect and not objectified as a commodity.   Then people can be given a choice, to choose the length of a skirt they feel comfortable in, the height of heel they can work effectively in, the manner of dress that causes them to feel dignified and not sexualized.

About the Author /