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Corporate Cleanup

That well-groomed and manicured look at many O.C. tourist spots is no accident. Dress codes make sure workers' appearances suit the image.

May 09, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Come summer, tourists who descend upon Disneyland, South Coast Plaza, the Ritz-Carlton and other Orange County attractions will be greeted by clean-cut, well-groomed employees whose appearance has been scrutinized right down to their neatly trimmed fingernails.

To cultivate and protect their squeaky-clean images, these popular establishments have had to set up grooming policies, and some enforce their dress codes with military zeal.

Employees find that if they want to keep their jobs, they have to check their personal style at the door of their workplace. Everything about their appearance--the style of their hair, the length of their skirts, the presence (or rather absence) of facial hair, the size of their earrings, even the color of their nylons--is often preordained by a higher authority, usually a corporate personnel or human resources department.

The Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point ensures its staff reflects its polished image by issuing each employee a copy of "Standards for Professional Appearance."

Among other things, the guidelines require that hair be a "natural color," defined as a shade that could be grown naturally. No purple locks on the premises. Other forbidden looks: beards and goatees, "mutton chop" sideburns, dreadlocks, big hair (buns, twists or bangs higher than 3 inches from the top of the head), earrings larger than the size of a quarter, more than two rings on each hand, skirt lengths higher than 2 inches above the top of the knee and long fingernails.

"Guests staying at the property are paying for a nice ambience. They're also paying for well-groomed people," says Caryl Clark, director of human resources at the Ritz-Carlton. "We're very conservative and traditional, and our grooming standards reflect that."

Employees who show up with dirty fingernails or unkempt hair are taken off the floor and asked to fix their appearance.

"We've made appointments for them in our beauty salon," Clark says. "If they refuse, they can be terminated. We're so strict, we have employees rat on other employees."

The Walt Disney Co. has become so famous for its stringent grooming policy that when Disney made minor changes in its dress code in February, it was big news.

At Disneyland in Anaheim, women can now wear subtle nail polish and low-key jewelry, and men can wear a single necklace or bracelet--but no earrings. Bans remain in force on facial hair, Polo-style golf shirts, jeans, shorts (unless part of the Disney uniform), athletic shoes, leggings, flashy hosiery and revealing clothing. Employees, or "cast members" as they are called in the Magic Kingdom, undergo training to clean up their image.

"We work with all cast members so that every element reflects Disney standards," says Frankie Walters, image specialist with the Disneyland Resort. "We're known for a clean-cut environment."

Due to the influence of casual dress in the corporate world, the so-called "Disney Look" was relaxed to allow men who work behind the scenes at Disneyland to go without ties for the first time in park history. Walters, however, is spreading the word among employees that the casual look should not get out of hand.

"Business casual is not weekend grunge," she says.

Disney's grooming policy has been imitated by other companies seeking to develop a wholesome look.

"We get numerous calls from corporate America asking how we do it," Walters says.

While Disney's dress code is no secret, many people don't realize that grooming and dress are often tightly controlled at other establishments where image is everything.

At South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, which is visited by tourists from all over the world, many employees who work at upscale boutiques and department stores follow strict dress codes that often leave little or no room for self-expression. The very kind of fashion freedom these stores promote to their customers does not carry over to their staff.

Sales representatives at Escada, Calvin Klein and Chanel always look elegant--for a reason. Unbeknownst to many shoppers, their classy ensembles are actually store uniforms.

"They're very chic. The people on the sales staff walk around like fashion plates," says Billur Wallerich, communications director for South Coast Plaza.

Typically, these elegant uniforms are designed by the stores' corporate design team and change seasonally.

"Each season [sales reps] are given a choice of two styles," says Anne Fahey, spokeswoman for Chanel Inc. in New York City.

This spring, Chanel reps had their choice of a blue blazer and skirt with a white top or a black cardigan with a black skirt and beige-and-black-striped T-shirt. Come fall, they'll turn in their Chanel wardrobes for a different uniform. The reps are encouraged--not required--to wear Chanel jewelry.

Escada's sales associates are issued seven to 10 wardrobe pieces a season--two to three jackets, two to three bottoms and several tops, all created by Escada's design team in Germany.

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