Dirty Jobs, Clean Clothes

The Weirdest New York City Dress Codes

From managing facial hair to prohibiting bikini tops, Emilia Petrarca on the wackiest dress code regulations for New York State employees.

07.11.13 8:01 PM ET

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 10:  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) prepares to remove his hairnet after distributing soup during a visit to Theresa House December 10, 2003 in Chicago. Durbin toured and helped serve lunch to the residents of Theresa House, Cook County Illinois' largest shelter for homeless families.  (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Tim Boyle/Getty

Think getting dressed for work is easy if you’re a New York State employee?

Think again.

Being a “quasi-military uniform force,” and having to “make house calls to every home in New York at least twice a day,” as Vito A. Turso, the spokesperson for the Department of Sanitation puts it, everyone from garbage collectors to taxi drivers have to follow strict policies, regulating everything from workers's hair to finger nails. 

Recent news shows that establishments like New York restaurants can’t keep up with Mayor Bloomberg’s rigorous letter grading system – with one of the most common violations being caused by something we all are guilty of: loose hair. Even the parents of Lady Gaga, the singer who’s known for being “as free as her hair,” were busted last year for violations regarding hairnets at their family restaurant. And while loose hairs in anyone’s food are a serious no-go, there’s one specific hair that’s causing rampant infractions – the beard. According to Part 14, Sub-Part 1.72 of the New York Department of Health Rules and Regulations regarding food service establishments, “All persons…are to use hats, caps or hair nets as restraints...” What isn’t made explicit though, is the fact that beards fall under the category of hair that must be covered with a hair net. A 2011 article in The New York Post titled “City Fines For Bakers' Fuzzin’” reveals that unsanitary facial hair is “rampant,” according to city Food Safety Consultant Marco Lebron: “I’ve seen ridiculously large beards,” he says. Because of this, strange-looking “beard nets” have become an easy solution. 

Behold, some of the city’s wackiest regulations for beauty and dress:

The Department of Sanitation:

Piercings: Earrings are permitted, but are limited to one per ear and only through the ear lobe. They should be small and unobtrusive. Studs or tight loops are allowed if the bottom of the loop touches the ear lobe. Body piercing is banned.

Hair: Hair should be neatly groomed and conform to the shape of the head. Uniformed employees should wear hair in a style that does not fall below the bottom of the shirt collar. If it's longer, ponytails are allowed as long as they do not extend longer than 6-inches. Hair can be dyed, tinted or frosted any color which could occur naturally in human hair. Hair may not be cut, shaved or worn in a way that results in unnatural patterns, designs or styles.

Nails: According to a New York Times article, employees’s “fingernails [should be] clipped to no more than a half-inch from the fingertip.”

Taxi and Limousine Commission: There are three simple rules for taxi drivers, beyond maintaining a “professional appearance”:  no tank tops, no bathing suits, and no underwear as outerwear.

Manhattan Transit Authority: Some employees recently filed a lawsuit regarding the MTA’s requirement that Sikh and Muslim employees must either remove their head coverings or attach an MTA logo to them. Last year, the MTA ammended their policies to permit head coverings, but not without a catch: they have to be blue.

It’s unlikely that a conclusion will ever be reached regarding the exact definition of what it means to look “professional,” but according to the regulations above, as long as you manage your mustache and stay away from bikini tops, you should be in the clear.