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The Senate Dress Code Gets a Casual Overhaul


In the tradition-bound halls of the Senate, customs die hard and rules can be next to impossible to change. But on Monday, with a potential government shutdown days away, a newly begun impeachment inquiry and lawmakers preparing for a visit this week from the president of Ukraine, a major change had the Capitol abuzz.

For the first time in centuries, lawmakers are no longer expected to suit up to conduct business on the Senate floor.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has established a new dress code — or rather, done away with the old one — allowing members to take a more business-casual approach to their workwear.

The change, reported earlier by Axios, involved directing the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms — whose job, aside from directing security in the chamber, also entails enforcing outfit standards for all who enter it — that the previous policy that all senators must be clad in business attire when on the floor is no longer to be enforced.

“There has been an informal dress code that was enforced,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit.”

The modification is in many ways a bow to reality: In recent years, there have been plenty of senators who have departed from the suit-and-tie uniform that for decades was considered the only acceptable attire. It most clearly reflects the influence of Senator John Fetterman, the 6-foot-8, tattooed, first-term Democrat from Pennsylvania. After briefly donning a suit and tie for his first few months in Congress, he has recently reverted to wearing his signature Carhartt sweatshirts and baggy shorts.

As is the case with any sartorial change in Washington — be it footwear, dress color, suit shade or wigs — the announcement has generated a big reaction.

Right-wing Republicans, including some who have routinely shattered norms of decorum and conduct on Capitol Hill, professed outrage.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hard-right Republican from Georgia who rose in the House chamber during President Biden’s State of the Union address in February to scream “Liar!” called the clothing policy change “disgraceful.”

Unlike most rules that govern the Senate, there is no official, written dress code. But by custom, senators have for decades been informally required to wear business attire: typically suit and tie for men and dresses with covered shoulders or pantsuits for women.


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