Paul Ryan Announces Congress’ Dress Code Will Reflect “Acceptable Business Attire”

Update #2, July 13: In response to Martha McSally’s statement that she was “yielding back” against the House of Representatives dress code that bans bare shoulders and open-toed shoes, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Thursday that the dress code in the House Chamber and Speaker’s Lobby will be changed to reflect “acceptable business attire.”
“We will be working with the sergeant-at-arms to ensure the enforcement of appropriate attire is updated,” Ryan said. “A dress code in the chamber and Speaker’s Lobby makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that we need to bar otherwise acceptable business attire. So, look for a change in that soon.”
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Update: On Wednesday, July 12th, GOP congresswoman Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) weighed in on the vague dress code while receiving the Southern Arizona Congressional First Responder of Distinction Award on behalf of her district. She ended her remarks on the house floor saying, “Before I yield back, I want to point out, I’m standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes, With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back.”
Clearly some rules were meant to be broken.
This story was originally published on July 6, 2017.
In a summer marked by heated debates and high temperatures, the ever-elusive Congressional dress code continues to rear its ugly head. Numerous D.C. reporters confirm that female journalists have been banned from the Speaker of the House's lobby, a room located outside the House often used for brief interviews, because of their sleeveless dresses.
One young female reporter who was denied access to the Speaker's lobby was even forced to DIY sleeves from notebook paper. While her handiwork may have won a Project Runway challenge, CBS reports that the guard tasked with enforcing the House dress code still barred her entry even after fashion fix. The dress code in question, which extends to the Speaker's lobby but does not apply to the Senate, is sporadically enforced.
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The online floor procedure for the U.S. House of Representatives requires that members "dress appropriately," reminding male members of the "traditional coat and tie" but only asking females to wear "appropriate attire." This summer, the term "appropriate attire" has been broadly interpreted, especially since these dress code restrictions do not appear in writing anywhere. Women have been asked to refrain from wearing sneakers, open-toed shoes, and anything sleeveless.
However, First Ladies and Daughters appear to be immune from dress code violations. Michelle Obama's sleeveless dresses (and impressive arms) caused quite the stir throughout President Obama's first term, and Melania Trump is frequently spotted sans sleeves. Ivanka Trump went even further, though, when she was spotted with a visible bra strap at her father's Congressional joint address.
These amorphous restrictions have also caused problems in the past. In 2012, Representative Bobby Rush donned a hoodie to protest racial profiling only to be immediately removed from the House. Officials said Rush violated rules banning headgear and requiring "appropriate business attire in the chamber," but numerous members complained the rules were unevenly enforced. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver pointed out that House members frequently wear hoodies while sitting, a practice he suggested should no longer be allowed to continue. "When you selectively enforce the rules, it can cause people to believe you're enforcing them on the basis of political view or basis of partisan politics," he told CNN.
This summer's wave of dress code infractions has prompted to call for a clear, written dress code. "For journalists? Easier to know if you're being turned away because of a dress rule or because someone doesn't want your questions," DCCC researcher Ali West tweeted. Also on Twitter, journalists confirmed they had witnessed — and experienced — disciplining for their attire.
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While it's easy to point fingers at this Presidential administration specifically, these rules do have precedent, and apply restrictions to both genders. Perhaps, clarity of the dress code would help both politicians and journalists alike.
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