News & Politics

Official Washington Has Some Big Feelings About the New Senate Dress Code

GOP Senators, House members, and the Washington Post agree: suits are good for the republic.

John Fetterman. Photograph by Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr.

On Sunday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “quietly directed” the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms to stop enforcing the chamber’s unofficial dress code for senators only, Axios reported. 

We have questions. Lots. Such as: What was the unofficial dress code, exactly? Is it written down somewhere? (Axios suggests not). How is it enforced? (Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut says he has been “reprimanded” by the Sergeant-at-Arms for not wearing a tie on the floor.) If the rules are unofficial, why do they need to be circumvented by reportedly keeping one foot in the cloakroom to vote when senators are not dressed appropriately? Why do the new rules apply only to senators and not to staff?

Frankly, it seems a little surprising that a 234-year-old institution doesn’t have these run-of-the-mill employee handbook-type questions more clearly defined. Perhaps centuries of tradition have been enough?

Still, Congressional dress codes have been evolving—most notably in the 1990s, when it was decided that women could wear pants on the Senate floor; in 2017, when the House allowed women to wear sleeveless dresses and tops and open-toed shoes; in 2019, when the Senate joined the sleeveless dress party and the House allowed religious headgear to be worn on the floor; and earlier this year, when a bipartisan “Sneaker Caucus” expressed support for, well, wearing more comfortable shoes while doing the people’s business, a view that is not universally shared.

Still, this latest change to the informal code—widely assumed to be fueled by Senator John Fetterman’s ultra-casual style—has really riled some people up. Here are some of their reactions.


The Letter

Forty-six GOP senators—led by Senator Rick Scott—sent a letter to Schumer demanding he “restore decorum” and reverse the rules, because “allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent.”


The Op-Ed

Yesterday evening, the Washington Post’s Editorial Board published a piece entitled “A casual new dress code doesn’t suit the U.S. Senate.” Among its Democracy Dies in Dockers arguments:

Still, the Senate could have started with a more measured change or at least had a bit more debate before embarking on this radical shift.


Putting on a suit creates an occasion for lawmakers to reflect, just for a moment, on the special responsibilities with which the people have entrusted them and on a deliberative process that at least aspires to solemnity.


The Tweets


The Jokes

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) reportedly joked that she was going to wear a bikini to work. Imagine the outrage if she wore a tan suit!

When you’re about to make them forget all about the Beer Summit. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Finally, the Merch

Amy Moeller
Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.