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.
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.”
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 Senate no longer enforcing a dress code for Senators to appease Fetterman is disgraceful.
Dress code is one of society’s standards that set etiquette and respect for our institutions.
Stop lowering the bar!
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) September 17, 2023
Seriously? You’re bitching about Senate dress code when House Republicans are about to drive the Federal Government off a cliff? Again?
Talk about disgraceful. https://t.co/CzEtuaOC2L
— Senator Tina Smith (@SenTinaSmith) September 18, 2023
If we are more upset about a U.S. senator not observing the dress code than we are about them not observing their oaths of office to the U.S. Constitution, then we have lost the plot.
They can all dress in hoodies if they stop waging illegal wars with our money.
— Sen. Eric Brakey 🌲 (@SenatorBrakey) September 19, 2023
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!
Finally, the Merch
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) September 19, 2023