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Kohl's Black Dress Code Hurts Miminum Wage Employees

Original post made by Cathy, Old Mountain View, on Feb 10, 2010

My neighbor earns a little more than $8 per hour at Kohl’s Mountain View, which opened last August. She is grateful to have the job even though it is not a living wage. However, Kohl’s has now adopted a “black” dress code for all employees including “underpinnings.” These minimum wage employees must now purchase black clothing and have it approved by management by February 28th. To help, Kohl’s has offered employees a 30% discount off their prices. Assuming the employee purchased a pair of pants and top for $40 (including the 9+% sales tax), the employee would have to work 3.5 hours to pay for that single outfit, not including black shoes. That would be about 18% of their gross pay because most work less than 20 hours a week by management’s choice.

This dress code is bizarre in light of the fact that employees were given similar discounts last year to buy Kohl’s clothing without any color restriction. They were also told they "had to" get Kohls credit cards even though many were trying to avoid that black hole. Yet over several months, employees purchased and proudly wore Kohls clothing—a great advertisement--until the new black dress code was announced. The written notification omitted the word “mandatory” but employees were told verbally they “have to” wear black. Obviously, workers unable to comply could face the wrath of management in schedules of less than 10 hours a week, thus forcing them out.

Employees were heard in the store expressing quiet disbelief and hopelessness about how Kohls could do such a thing to these loyal employees. None of them thought it was illegal and, even if it was, would not run the risk of complaining. Employees, most of whom have no other source of income, were devastated and wondered how they could make already tough ends meet. More than a few of the employees would not even be able to purchase clothes there because of the lack of large-sized offerings.

Perhaps this is simply a way for Kohls to trim its hires from payroll. Perhaps a black dress code is a marketing technique to differentiate the chain from other retail stores. It doesn't matter. It is ironic that Kohls wants their workers to appear high-toned when they treat them so shabbily.

There should not be a color dress code for minimum wage workers period. Kohls should either rescind their proposed dress code or provide clothing from a uniform company at no cost to the employee. Until Kohls does one of the above, I will no longer patronize this 18th century sweat shop. Kohl’s defense may be the economy, but anyone shopping there knows that the problem is they have a 100% return policy no matter if the goods had been used or damaged. The store now looks like a bargain basement operation. No offense to the hard workers there, but dressing up the sow in black silk isn’t going to improve Kohl's bottom line. These employees deserve better.

Comments (20)

Posted by MV Shopper
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:28 am

How very bizarre to make employees wear black clothing. Maybe the company is in mourning over poor sales! However, if there is a practical reason, such as making employees on the floor more identifiable to customers, then the company should just provide a standardized over shirt and certainly not at the employees' expense. It always amazes me how corporations attempt to squeeze money from the lowest employees while always walking away with big bonuses at the end of the year.

Posted by Julie
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 11, 2010 at 9:42 am

This is just terrible. Kohls sales people are very visible because they always greet you right away as is their company policy. Also they wear Kohls identification badges around their necks on a Kohls necklace. I agree with the previous comment about how corporations attempt to squeeze money from the lowest employees. No matter how good a reason Kohls comes up with, if they want a color dress code, they should pay for uniforms for these poor employees.

Posted by los altos mom
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:56 am

I believe this is a violation of California Labor laws. If a uniform is required the company must pay for it. Calling this requirement a "dress code" doesn't get around the law. Sounds like a class action lawsuit ripe for the picking.

Posted by Kelsey Mesher
Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Feb 11, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Kelsey Mesher is a registered user.

Anyone wishing to follow up on this issue should email me at

Posted by Marvin
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Bloomingdales also has an "all black" dress code. The too are offered extra employee discounts and required to purchase either a store credit card or "prepay" card when buying items for the store.

My feeling is, if an employee doesn't want to follow those guidelines, go look for work elsewhere. Not sure why all these people are complaining.

There are more important issues to deal with.

Posted by Dee
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I agree dress codes/uniforms are not always easy for employees paid little more than minimum wage. Starbucks also requires employees to were very specific clothes, i.e uniforms. With that said no matter how much we don't like it it is legal. I for one will not shop at Kohl's; and plan to write the local store and Corp. to let them know why.

Here is part of the Labor Law on uniforms and dress standards.
If you require specific uniforms, tools, or equipment as a condition of employment, or if you are legally required to provide certain equipment, you must pay for and maintain them. You may not make deductions from an employee’s wages for normal wear and tear of uniforms, tools, or equipment.
Review the following section to determine if you must pay for your employee’s uniforms, tools, or equipment.
A uniform is defined as any wearing apparel and accessories of distinctive design or color.
Clothing which is standard in the industry and can be worn from one job to the next is not considered a uniform. For example, white nurses’ uniforms and black-and-white uniforms for food servers need not be supplied by the employer, since these uniforms are standard in the respective industries and can be used from one job to the next.1
You must pay for and maintain a uniform if it is not standard in the industry, even if it could be worn off the job as street apparel. For example, a restaurant with a tropical theme might ask servers to wear khaki shorts and any Hawaiian shirt. Although this might be appropriate street apparel, since it is not standard apparel for servers throughout the restaurant industry, it would be considered a uniform.

Dress Standards
You may require certain dress and grooming standards for employees, including different standards for men and women. However, all standards must have a legitimate business reason. You may require reasonable dress and grooming standards of employees. Appropriate business attire generally may be different for men and women where there is a clear, nondiscriminatory reason. For example, women may be allowed to wear their hair long while men may be required to have short hair, based on your need to present a professional business image. However, women may not be prohibited from wearing pants in the workplace.

Posted by Ken
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for the Labor Code--wish you had a cite. But I think some of the latest responders have missed the point about Kohl's requirement or frankly any retail industry that requires a color dress code. Retail workers in most department stores earn minimum wage. They don't have the benefit of tips and they don't earn nursing wages. Yes, they could wear black garments on the street, but if they followed this policy, they would either have to wear and wash the same black outfit for every day they work, or spend a lot of money on a week's wardrobe. Let's not forget that the stores must first approve the employees clothing. That seems to be a bit draconian to me. I agree with the others. I am going to collar managers at stores that do this and complain. Depending on their response to me, I will start boycotting stores like these.

Posted by To Marvin:
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Yes, Bloomingdales has the Black Dress Code as well; however, Bloomingdales hourly wages are double the amount than the ones at Kohl's. I personally don't shop at Kohl's because I don't like the quality of its products, although if I did, I would not support their policy by being a customer there.

Posted by Big Al
a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm

The City Council should step in and buy their uniforms for them. That's what activist city councils do. We could have had a Home Depot at San Antonio and jobs with good wages and benefits, but we got Kohl's. Abe-Koga wants lots of boutiques and walkability, but those types of business pay low wages and do stuff like this.

Posted by Coalkohlblack
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 6:08 pm

"kohl" is one of those fancy color names the cosmetic and fashion industries use when they mean "black". I have an kohl shade eyeliner and some kohl tights too. Not sure where I am going with this, but more on point: I had to buy the ugliest khaki pants and blue button down shirt for a waitressing gig once. I hated the job and quit after a week, but I was stuck with the ugly clothes. Anyway I listed them as a tax deduction for a non-reimbursed work expense.

Posted by Mary
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 15, 2010 at 9:09 am

Yes, other department stores have dress code like Targets, Bloomingdales, Trader Joes, but just because other retail stores have done this doesn't mean it is right. The stores will come up with a million legitimate excuses, like security, customer service, etc., but I would think a clothing store like Kohls would welcome their sales staff wearing Kohls clothes and not penalize them for wearing another company's clothes. Who do we stand for if not for eachother? Boycott Kohls and any other department store with a dress code. Sure it hurts the employees, but short of holding a charity drive for employees to get their colors of the store, I don't know what else could be done. Oh wait, Kohls could change their policy! Let's wait and see what happens by the end of the month when it is supposed to go into effect.

Posted by Mary
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

PS. The poor employees at Target have to wear red. Red is a gang color. Nice Target, good move for your community.

Posted by anon
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Anyone who thinks that a dress code is wrong is acting with complete ignorance. Write the damn things off on your taxes if you're that upset! There are plenty of places that you can merchandise and cashier if you are too lazy to abide by a dress code. Would you find it acceptable for CEO's to come to work in their PJs?

Places that require a uniform/dress code are well, hmm, practically every grocery store in the country, walmart, bakeries, just about any barista joint, Victoria's Secret is all black, and any office atmosphere, which let's face it there are thousands of, oh and what about scrubs?!?! I know plenty of doctors, eye doctors, nurses, dentists, who ALL have to buy their own scrubs.

A dress code is mandatory! If you don't enforce it, then lazy, ignorant, sloppy people will come to work looking terrible and present a bad image of the company. Might as well just weed all those people out from the start.

Kohls is a great corporation. They care about their employees, all of who when they are first hired are getting paid MORE than minimum wage. They feed their employees all the time, there are so many "food" days available. They care about the community, charity, donating time and money. In May 2009 at a So. IL store, corporate flew in a generator to power the entire Kohls building when an inland hurricane took power out for over two weeks. The store manager HIMSELF drove over 40 minutes (with all the trees down the 40 minute drive was actually 6 hours)to bring food back to feed employees and customers, even the non-paying ones!

And they DO NOT "require" you to get the credit card. They sometimes ask an employee if they have one if they are 1 credit application away from that day's goals.

Come on people. Dress codes are for our own good. Both employees and those who find ourselves customers. It makes employees visible, there's dignity there.

p.s. I'm not a manager of a Kohls, I have worked part time at one for a year, and love it. I would LOVE to have a black dress code. That way the business casual clothes I wear to work now could be saved for more appropriate occasions.

And in the long run, take a look at your closet, I bet you've got a whole stack of black just sitting in there.

So give it up. Next you'll be wanting restaurants to pay for their employee's water bill, shampoo, and detergent because they have to wash their clothes so much and take showers when they get home from work because they smell like food.

There's a risk in every job, there are QUALIFICATIONS. And if you're not grown up enough to dress a certain way, then I hope nobody ever hires you.

And about the RED Target is the color of Valentine's day hearts, brown in the color of my poop and the color of puppies and puppy's poop! Green is the color of peas, and money. Blue is the color of the sky and the sea, but it's also the color people turn when they are suffocating.

Get the point?

Posted by Becky
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2010 at 9:40 pm

In response to the comment above mine... I work at Kohls. I make minimum wage. Yes, I had to get their card. No, they have never fed me (food days??). I don't have a problem with the dress code though- plenty of thrift stores and consignment shops where I can find a decent shirt or two for a couple of bucks. It's retail, I for one have never been into a store that didn't have some sort of dress code.

Posted by Anon p
a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2011 at 7:14 am

i work for kohls, in florida, and as of now i have not heard of this new dress code, going to ask manager, plus its stupid, all my cloths is from kohls, free advertisement for kohls. also that thing about having to get a kohls charge is i lie, i dont have one, nor have they ever asked me to get one.... also if you boycott kohls and dont shop, i lose hours, duh... and to the person who said target uses gang colors, target isnt only on ghetto neighborhoods.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2011 at 11:35 pm

First of all, Bloomingdale's makes the same amount as Kohl's. I work for Macy's and we make minimum wage. It is pretty stupid on how we have to pay for our black dress code, but most people buy stuff from the store they work at anyways, because usually that's what happens. If you can buy regular clothes from the store you work at, you can buy black clothes also.But I'm pretty sure the reason why they do an all black dress code is to distinguish an employee from a customer even if the person has a nametag, sometimes you don't even pay attention.

Posted by Jay
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2013 at 8:40 am

I worked at Kohls for 5 yars. During that time I was treated with respect. When I was complemented on the good job I was doing there was never a "but" attatched. I had worked for national corporations before retirement and often treated with an attitude that they did not care about you. At Kohls they treat you well. We have a dress code that might be more business casual. Do not have to buy clothes from Kohls and have never been told to get their credit card. I had a 15% discount every day and about 10 times a year that would get doubled in Friends and family promotions. These gave me a chance to give coupons to my extended family for them to get 15 or 20% off without having to use a charge if they did not have one. If you get a chance try working at a Kohls even part time, or for the holidays.

Posted by skunk
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

I would not work at places that pay such low wages. I feel I would be wasting my time when I could work somewhere making better wages I know it is easy said than done, but if people did not work for these low wages these places would have know choice but to pay better wages.

Posted by Brojules
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I've never heard of that. At my Kohl's in Florida, we dress in business casual and they are very lax about most things. Our discount is minimal on its own, but it can be combined with up to six other offerings, including all our Kohl's cash. I also have two managers in store, both transferred from California (including the top store manager) and they've never heard of this policy in their combined 15 years with the company.

Our beauty associates wear black now. All Kohl's beauty departments were overhauled and included the creation of actual jobs in the beauty department. It is required and agreed upon before they get the job. They also make more than the average employee at Kohl's and earn commission, so I feel this isn't an issue.

Posted by Ajay's Wife
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 3, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Wow it's new to me that employees have to buy their own uniform! I work at Wendy's and we get our uniforms for free. I'm thinking of applying at kohl's and other retail stores; too tired of Wendy's for over 2 yrs -_-

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