There is a dress code for New York City cabdrivers. Seriously. It is right there on Page 23 of the 62-page manual the city issues to cabbies detailing the rules and regulations regarding their conduct and comportment.
No tube shirts; no tank tops; no bathing trunks. Sartorial scofflaws face a $25 fine. Truth is, though, the rule has come to be regarded as at once overly specific and underenforced.
Now, the city’s taxi regulators want to change that. The Taxi and Limousine Commission is issuing a new dress code — broader in language, in the hopes it can be more widely followed: all cabdrivers, the new code states, must “present a professional appearance.”Taking on the issue of cabdriver attire may be an ambitious task for a city agency that still struggles to meaningfully impose basic, arguably more pressing rules of the road: keep to the speed limit; hang up that cellphone. But officials said they were committed to enhanced vigilance.
“Proper dress is not something that we can enforce very easily,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Nonetheless, we want to communicate to drivers that there is a standard of behavior, and that’s what the rule should get across.”
“Apparently,” Mr. Yassky added, “the original draft also prohibited wide ties. No, just kidding.”
Many cabbies, accustomed to the come-as-you-are culture of the front seat, said they were unaware that their dress had ever been regulated. No wonder: since 1996, the taxi commission has issued only 42 dress code violations to drivers, or about three per year.
In interviews, drivers said they tried to dress neatly, if comfortably, for a job that requires them to spend 12 hours a day on the streets. That has often meant a wardrobe of loose-fitting clothes, sweatshirts and blue jeans.
But some of the better-dressed cabbies said the rules were a positive step for the industry.
Zack Doganay, a cabby for 32 years, drives his fares around the city in an orange Ralph Lauren wool sweater, a blue checked scarf and a pair of cap-toe oxford shoes.
“I respect myself, and I get more respect,” he said the other day, filling up his cab at a gasoline station on 10th Avenue. Or, as Jimmy Hyacinthe, a cabby in a plain white T-shirt, put it: “A suit and tie is unnecessary, but comfortable and clean is important.”
For decades, the cabby rulebook referred to the matter of dress with a terse, simple rule: “A driver shall be clean and neat in dress and person.”
But in 1987, prompted by complaints about unkempt and discourteous cabbies, the city amended the code to include a ban on certain items of clothing. Open-toed sandals, shirts with no sleeves, and trousers that stopped above midthigh all were prohibited, and holes in pants were strictly forbidden.
The beefed-up dress code proved more aspirational than practical; only 10 summonses were issued in the six months after it took effect. The city later relaxed the rules, dropping most of the requirements, including a detailed instruction that drivers “must wear a collared shirt or blouse, without holes, that if it has buttons, must be buttoned except for the top two buttons.”
But a sentence that banned tank tops and bathing wear, among other items, never went away, even as some of its specific restrictions faded in relevance. Cutoff shorts, for instance, fell out of favor (for men, at least) sometime around the start of the Clinton administration.
The revised code, which is expected to be approved at a public hearing next month, drops any mention of specific types of apparel. Mr. Yassky, the taxi commissioner, said the change was part of an effort to simplify the city’s mammoth rulebook.
“Trying to have a rule that applies to fashion trends is a losing game,” he said.
Mr. Yassky said there was no talk of a formal uniform for cabbies, although the idea has been proposed from time to time.
The earliest New York cabbies wore immaculate uniforms modeled after cadet clothes at West Point. By 1925, the city required cabbies to wear a knitted cap, white linen collared shirt, coat and necktie. Drivers were also expected to be “temperamentally fitted for the job,” according to the book “Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver.”
That book’s author, Graham Hodges, a former cabby himself, said he once drove his taxi shirtless on a particularly hot summer day in the 1970s. His excuse? No air-conditioning. “I was told by a cabby that if I didn’t put a shirt on, I’d get a ticket,” he recalled on the telephone recently.
Told of the proposed rule change, Mr. Hodges, now a history professor, lamented a lost era in the annals of cabby clothing.
“People would frequently wear T-shirts that would state antiwar expressions; you just don’t see a lot of that these days,” he said.
“I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing,” he added. “It would be nice to see cabdrivers expressing their opinions again.”
Mr. Yassky said he did not necessarily expect the new rule to result in additional summonses. Still, Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an advocacy group for drivers, said she was shocked to hear that it was even possible to fine a cabby for the way he was dressed.
“What was it about? Somebody wore shorts?” Ms. Desai said. “I would be concerned if the idea of professional attire is left to the naked eye to decide.”
And Dido Goze, a driver from Ivory Coast, said he took umbrage at the suggestion that cabbies may need a makeover.
“ ‘Professional’? We do that already,” Mr. Goze said, standing by his Crown Victoria in faded jeans and a black fleece sweater. “I don’t know why they need to change it.”