Disney (DIS) is loosening up its strict dress code for theme park employees.
Starting a week from Friday, Disney will allow its hires to sport beards and goatees.
That's a pretty bold step for the family entertainment giant. Disney has always had rigid grooming requirements. The rules governing the wholesome and clean image presented by theme park employees -- whom the company calls "cast members" because they are part of the show -- dates back to Walt Disney's tight standards for appearance.
Even a mustache like the one Walt himself sported was forbidden for guest-facing cast members until just a few years ago.
However, Disney has been relaxing its dress code in response to changing cultural mind-sets. For example, for the past two years, women have no longer been required to wear pantyhose if they're donning skirts.
It's a Big World, After All
Disney has also made exceptions overseas.
When Euro Disney (Now Disneyland Paris) opened in France 20 years ago, management's relationship with labor went downhill fast over the 13-page "Disney Look" manual, which dictated everything from the acceptable size of earrings to the maximum length of fingernails. In the open-minded French culture, Disney's restrictions on dyed hair or facial hair seemed barbaric, if not outright imperialistic.
The theme park operator eventually cut France's cast members some slack, though its stringent dress code lived on -- and in many ways continues to live on -- at its Florida and California attractions.
Getting Ready for the Show
Beards and goatees aren't the only new fashion statements being ushered in a week from Friday. Disney is following the example of many of its Fortune 500 peers by instituting a casual Friday dress code. However, that will only apply to employees who don't deal directly with park guests.
It's probably also worth noting that not all beards will be Magic Kingdom legal. Disney will only allow beards that are shorter than a quarter of an inch. In other words, six of Snow White's seven dwarves still won't meet the standard.
What else is mandated by the Disney dress code? Here are some interesting nuggets, culled from a recent Los Angeles Times article:
No visible tattoos of any kind are allowed.
Body piercings are limited to earrings on female cast members.
Extreme hairstyles and hair colors are not to be sported.
Women were finally allowed to wear sleeveless shirts in 2010, but the straps must be at least three inches wide.
Time's change, and Disney's dress code will evolve ... slowly.
Despite the strict standards, Disney has never struggled to fill open positions on either coast. In recessions or boom times, there's a romanticized notion of working for Disney. The pay may be meager for entry-level employees, and it doesn't get a whole lot better on the way up. The working conditions -- especially for costumed characters during the hot summer months -- can be grueling.
However, the opportunity to be at the other end of a positive guest experience is too potent to ignore for Disney fans who want to try their hand at being part of the show.
For guys at least, that no longer has to involve a daily date with the razor.
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article, except for Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney.
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