The US Senate adopts a dress code after several weeks of melodrama (but forgets its elected officials)

The carelessness in clothing lasted only ten days in the American Senate

The US Senate adopts a dress code after several weeks of melodrama (but forgets its elected officials)

The carelessness in clothing lasted only ten days in the American Senate. The Upper House of the United States approved, on Wednesday, September 27, a resolution which reviews the relaxation of the dress code in the Senate decided by Chuck Schumer, the leader of the senatorial majority.

This resolution, carried by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senator Mitt Romney, was adopted through a process known as “unanimous consent.” It formalizes an unspoken rule of wearing “business attire,” meaning a jacket, tie and slacks – or any other form of long pants – for men.

“For 234 years, every senator who has had the honor of serving in this distinguished [chamber] has assumed that there were a few basic written rules of decorum, conduct, and civility, including a dress code.” Mitt Romney wrote in a statement.

After the passage of the Manchin-Romney resolution, Mr. Schumer, not known for his sartorial boldness, only commented tersely: “Although we have never had an official dress code, the events of last week made us all feel that making it official was a good thing. »

And what about the elected officials in all this?

Oddly enough, this resolution has a serious blind spot: it makes no reference to what the twenty-five sitting female senators are supposed to wear. As The Hill, the site which deals with American political and institutional information, recalls, "since the election of Republican Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to the House of Representatives, in 1917 and during the decades that followed, women politicians wore dark, discreet dresses so as not to be noticed.” According to Matthew Wasniewski, the historian of the House of Representatives cited by The Hill, to "access positions of influence in the House and Congress", the elected officials sought to "integrate and minimize the differences between sexes”.

For its part, the American feminist and liberal magazine Ms. points out that in its 234-year history, Congress has only really taken an interest in fashion issues once: on September 14, 1837, the House voted to ban… the wearing of head coverings in the hemicycle.

Ms. magazine notes that the need to clarify the rules of decorum only became apparent when the activities of Congress – the House of Representatives, in this case – began to be broadcast on television in 1979. The president of the United States House of Representatives then defined what was “proper” in terms of appearance: if elected officials were forced to wear suits and ties, the seventeen elected officials at the time were completely ignored. Feeling no need to cater to this minority, the dress code remained vague, requiring only “appropriate attire.”

In 2017, the House voted to allow female elected officials to wear sleeveless dresses. In the process, several elected officials immortalized this moment by posing for a group photo, bare arms on the steps of the Capitol.

On January 3, 2019, Congress went further, burying the 1837 provision: the House then voted on a series of rules authorizing the wearing of religious head coverings in session to be able to welcome Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two elected representatives of Muslim faith in Congress.

Developments were less rapid in the Senate. In the early 1990s, elected officials were allowed to wear more casual clothing during weekend sessions. Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski and Republican Nancy Kassebaum followed suit and also came in pants, as noted in 2011 by Roll Call, the American political newspaper which mainly covers political news from the United States Congress.

In 1992, during an election year that the press dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” the seven female senators (five newly elected and two in office) became a restless minority that was difficult to ignore. Three of them – Barbara Mikulski, Nancy Kassebaum and Carol Moseley-Braun – decide to attend the sessions in pantsuits.

Martha Pope, the first sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, found nothing wrong with it – for lack of a dress code – and circulated a memo authorizing access to the session to elected officials wearing “trousers” or “pant suits” , a definition vague enough that they can shape their image as they wish.

In the midst of the debate on the shutdown, the timing of this vote on the dress code raises questions. Mitt Romney admitted there was more urgency, but said he saw it as “an example of the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together.” Questioned by CNN, Senator John Fetterman estimated that the Senate “had other, more important matters to deal with.” Never leaving his sports shorts, his hooded sweatshirt and his sneakers, the Democrat was nevertheless the main beneficiary of the initial measure to relax the dress code.