No heels – no chance

Entry fee, cloakroom and all drinks are paid for, the music blares in the background drawing you to the dance floor – sounds too good to be true? In Paris, this is the reality of a night out for a woman. In some clubs, promoters even have door policies to make sure their club is full of gorgeous, tall and seemingly perfect women. The catch: if you’re not beautiful enough, you don’t get in.

Story by Katja Pelic

Saturday evening in Paris. I’ve been sitting restlessly in front of my laptop for hours. As a journalist, I have come to Paris with one goal in mind – to get to know the city. Part of that city is obviously the hip hop night scene, which I am quite excited for. It soon turns to anxiety with comments saying: “Just no! Before they even looked us in the eye, they looked at our shoes. Wear high heels if you want to enter, also the people at the reception are extremely unfriendly and snooty.”

The longer I look at the reviews the more insecure and scared I become. Some reviews even mention that you have to kiss a physio, a man whose sole job it is to decide if you’re getting in or not, on the cheek, to be let in. Still, I wanted to go out, so I take out my most revealing dress and pray it will be enough to get into the seemingly very exclusive clubs in Paris. Arriving at Jangal, a hip hop club close to the Louvre at 1 am, I am very nervous. In front of the club, there are two men: One security guard and a physio, who is looking me up and down. In my case, I am let it in. A huge weight fell of my shoulders. The girl before me wasn’t as lucky.

When I get inside the club, the place is filled with beautiful people dressed as if they are going to Fashion Week. All the girls are wearing short dresses or revealing crop tops topped with high heels, looking like models out of a Vogue magazine. The music is loud, and people are enjoying themselves smiling from ear to ear. The entire club is singing along to the lyrics and dancing. Getting in gave me new-found confidence and I am ready to go out again, thinking the reviews might have been a little extreme. However, the next day I find out that I was only lucky. My friend and I want to go to a bar after a long day of visiting sites. Upon arriving the physio immediately tells us we won’t get in without a reservation. I know for a fact that he is lying, as you only had to reserve a table if you wanted to have dinner. In his words a friendly tip for us: “Next time, don’t show up in flats.” I am embarrassed. I have never been sent away by a club or bar before and I really want to find out why the dress code in Paris is so important, so I start researching more.

The more I look at social media to find clubs, the more intrigued I am by the entire night scene and exclusivity. I soon come across promoters promising girls to get them in without having to pay entry including free drinks. This seems very weird to me as I have never heard of anything similar to this. So, I text one of them. Almost immediately, he tells me I needed to wear heels and a short dress to get in, in return I would get free entry.  After he asks me to send pictures of me and my friends. This way he can either approve us or not depending on our looks. Something I find very weird and excluding, especially in the 21st century. So, what is it all about?

I talked to Pierre (22). He has been working in the Parisian nightlife since the age of 17. Back then he was only dealing with table reservations. His view of promoting was negative, as he has been told many bad stories. In January 2022, after accompanying a friend who worked as a promoter and seeing for himself what promoting was like, he found interest in it and tried for himself. So, he explains how it works. Before clubbing he approaches girls to bring to an event, during the event he is there to avoid men bothering them (if they don’t want that) and after he makes sure that they get home safely.

Clubs such as Boum Boum, Cova, Deflower or l’Arc pay promoters to bring in girls. His pay depends on the contract, but it can vary a lot, depending on the club he promotes for. Most of the time his fees fluctuate between 250€-400€ a night. When asked if the compensation was based on the girl’s beauty, he says not quite. It mostly depends on the reputation of the promoter. So, the more well-known you are and the better you are at your job, the higher your pay. However, the beauty of the women does play a part. “It is important to remember that promoting is a way for the club to attract people and to make an image or maintain it”, basically translating to beautiful women bring more money to the club as they draw in more customers. I am curious who the girls are who go clubbing with promoters, so I contact some of them to talk about their experiences.

As one can imagine, promoters don’t have the best image. There are many stories about them crossing lines. Margot (26) states: “I know some promoters who can be a little too comfortable with girls and try to be intimate with them. The ones I’ve went with are, however, respectful.” Most of the time the girls go out with the same promoters but to different events, so if the promoters are respectful and make sure ´that the girls are having a good time and enjoying themselves, the girls will come back. Pierre also explains: “I am very passionate about my job. I rarely drink but seeing people having fun, singing, or dancing is my pleasure and that’s why I’ve been going out to nightclubs for almost six years.” Almost all of the drop-dead gorgeous girls tell me the same. It’s an overall joyful experience. But is it really?

The different stories I’m hearing from the girls make me doubtful. I’m wondering why they are going out even though all of them have at least heard about promoters acting inappropriate. Lina (24) started clubbing with promoters when she was 18. According to her, it’s because she loves going out and even more when she doesn’t have to pay a lot or often not at all on a night out.

“I was aware that I was only there as a décor, a bait for the big rich men.”

Clubbing with promoters is not as glorious and fun for everyone though. Girls who don’t fit the ideal required by the clubs will not be approached by promoters or sometimes not even let into the club if they don’t dress appropriately. Margot regularly parties with promoters and even though it is very fun for her, and she enjoys herself, she states: “You always have to be beautiful. It’s not only about having fun and dressing the way you want.” The requirements are specific: High heels and a dress or at least something elegant and sexy, fitting the exclusivity of the clubs.

Yanet (20) experienced first-hand that not everyone gets treated the same. It was a wake-up call for her. Even though she really enjoys going out to clubs in Paris, she came to the realization that the process is sexist. “I am tall and fit the requirements for the clubs, so I don’t notice all of the problematic aspects as much. However, I went out with two friends, one that looked a lot like me and the other didn’t. The physio didn’t even look at her and sent her away. That’s when I noticed the problems with these kinds of clubs.”

She is not the only one who does not agree with the principle of promoting. Mathilde Mauget  (28) used to be part of the pretty girls clubbing every weekend in 2012. Back then, she was 18 and loved the rush of the experience. “I felt like a star going to the most exclusive night clubs with free alcohol and nice tables.” Looking back at that time, she thinks that she used to be very young and naïve. “I was aware that I was only there as a décor, a bait for the big rich men. Back then I didn’t care.” Now, she turns promoters down if they approach her.

Not much has changed since then. Of course, there are clubs less exclusive for parties but the better the club, the more problematic the entry requirements. Even though the promoters mostly take good care of the girls and take their job very seriously, the system behind it is sexist. Especially in the hip-hop scene (which is most of the exclusive clubs in Paris), the style is usually associated with baggy pants and sneakers, in Paris that would be unthinkable. Pierre argues: “It is important to remember that Paris is a chic and elegant city.” So, for now Paris is going to continue having an exclusive night scene. Unfortunately, more often than not, only the pretty and tall are going to be fortunate enough to experience it.