Business

Purple hair is OK: Starbucks relaxes dress code

Starbucks has relaxed its dress code. As of today, baristas in both Canada and the U.S. can dye their hair any colour and choose from a lot more clothing options, including funky socks.

Baristas can now dye their hair any colour and wear funky socks

Rowan Williams, store manager of a Toronto Starbucks, can now wear purple hair to work. (CBC )

When Rowan Williams discovered that Starbucks was relaxing its dress code, she immediately took action.

"I ran to Shoppers, grabbed myself some purply-blue dye, made a mess of my bathroom," says the store manager of a downtown Toronto Starbucks, showing off her new purple ponytail.

"I love the results. It's something I wanted to do for a few years."

As of today, Starbucks employees in both Canada and the U.S. are now free to dye their hair any colour they want. Before, they had to stick to natural hues.

The baristas can also top off their funky hair with a knitted beanie, a fedora or whatever kind of hat strikes their fancy. Before, workers were restricted to caps with the Starbucks logo.

Employees can also incorporate more colour into their attire. Before, the U.S. coffeehouse giant only allowed workers to wear black or white shirts with collars. Now they can choose from a range of grey, blue or brown hues and opt for patterns such as plaid or stripes.

The relaxed code also OKs dark blue jeans and colourful ties, scarves and socks. So along with purple hair, Williams today sports black and white striped socks and a pink and white striped bowtie.

"It's so nice," says the store manager. "It's just a really fun way to show off our personalities."

Express yourself

Since November 2014, more than 14,000 people have signed a petition on the site Coworker.org calling on Starbucks to allow workers to sport "unnatural" hair colours. 

The company says it cares about what its employees want and introduced the new rules to celebrate individuality and let their baristas express themselves.

"The new dress code provides them the opportunity to show the real person behind the green apron — their unique style, personality and individual flair," Sara Presutto, VP of partner resources, Starbucks Canada, said in a statement.

The move to make employees more relatable appears to be much more successful than a previous one launched last year involving its American workers.

Last year, U.S. Starbucks employees were instructed to write #RaceTogether on beverages in an attempt to spark conversations about racial issues with customers. (Nathan Israelson/Instagram)

Starbucks took an online beating after it launched a "Race Together" campaign in the U.S.  Employees were directed to write the slogan on cups while engaging in conversations with customers about race.

The company soon ended that campaign. 

Going casual

Starbucks follows other large companies that are downgrading their dress code. Earlier this year, Vancouver-based restaurant chain Earls introduced more options for its female workers to meet their comfort levels.

The move followed reports by CBC Marketplace covering complaints by female employees that they were compelled to wear outfits — including high heels, tight skirts and heavy makeup — that sexualize them for the chain's benefit.

The new dress code options at Earls include shoes without heels and black pants. Previously, the company suggested women wear skirts, and pants were apparently allowed on request.

At Starbucks, dress has always been casual, but now it's even more so. At Williams's location, a couple of her colleagues are also already taking advantage of the new rules — one wearing a plaid shirt and another, a denim top.

The store manager says she has another employee coming in later today who will also sport a new look. Williams explains that when she hired the young woman, she had to tell the new recruit to recolour her bright green hair.

But as soon as Williams broke the news to the employee about the relaxed dress code, "she ran out, bought a bottle of bleach and she's back to like a lime green."

The relaxed dress code affects about 20,000 Starbucks employees working at the company's 1,300 Canadian locations.

In 2014, Starbucks approved of visibly tasteful tattoos, piercings and black denim for employees.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris covers business and consumer news. She welcomes story ideas. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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