Mark Wingett reports on retailers’ attitudes towards people wearing hats, caps and hooded tops in their stores.

In the USA the word ‘hood’ is used to describe a gangster or violent criminal. In the UK over the last three weeks, the word ‘hoodie’ has also been used in connection with criminal activity and anti-social behaviour.

The Bluewater shopping centre in Kent directed attention to the hooded top when it banned shoppers from wearing clothing that deliberately obscures the face, in a bid to cut down on anti-social behaviour and shoplifting.

In doing so it made a direct link between the wearers of such clothing and crime. The government was then quick to take up this theme as part of the prime minister’s drive to bring back ‘respect’ to Britain’s streets.

In a survey carried out by C-Store, 100% of c-store owners agreed with Bluewater’s ban, however, retailers also believed it was impossible to implement such a ban in their stores without alienating other customers.

Mark Bamforth, who runs the Village Post Office and store in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire, says: “A ban on hooded tops, hats, caps, and even scarves wrapped up around people’s faces would be a good thing, but you have to remember that a lot of normal customers, especially in the colder months, are also going to be wearing such garments. It’s in the summer months when people are covering up their heads and faces that I become suspicious about their motives for being in the store. Again the actions of the minority cast doubt on the majority.”

The Southern Co-operative Group, which runs 71 c-stores across the south and east of England, has no fixed policy on whether headgear should be banned from its stores, leaving it to its store managers to decide on each individual case they come across.

Southern Co-operative Group spokesman Gerard Blair comments: “It’s hard in cases concerning how people dress to put into a place an overall policy that will apply evenly to each individual case. We believe our managers are in the best position to ban individuals or groups from their stores as they see fit.”

Whether a policy is put in place or not, all c-store owners and managers questioned in the survey agreed with Bluewater’s stance that there is a strong link between those who wear hooded tops and baseball caps and acts of shoplifting and anti-social behaviour.

Arjan Mehr, who runs a Londis store in Bracknell, Berkshire, says: “As soon as you see someone wearing anything that’s covering their face you’re immediately on the alert. Most retailers these days have CCTV and criminals know this, so the best way to avoid being caught is to hide your face.”

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) public affairs manager James Lowman believes the spotlight now being directed towards the wearing of hooded tops and baseball caps gives retailers another good reason to get in contact with their local police concerning the issue of anti-social behaviour in and around their stores.

He says: “Hoodies seems to be the latest buzzword for everyone from Tony Blair to retailers, and although it can be argued that there may be a link between some of those who wear such garments and anti-social behaviour, the most important thing is that it keeps the problem of anti-social behaviour itself at the forefront of government thinking. “If retailers are having trouble with individuals or gangs in or around their shops, they really musn’t hesitate to contact their local anti-social behaviour officer. It’s worth doing, because there are now powers in place designed to deal with such issues.”