Let’s Get Creative With Congressional Dress Codes

Published 8:51 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

By Thomas L. Knapp

As of September 17, Axios reports, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has “directed the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms to no longer enforce the chamber’s informal dress code for its members.”

A dress code that’s enforced by the Sergeant at Arms doesn’t sound very “informal” to me. The long-time standard, per the New York Times, has been “suit and tie for men and dresses with covered shoulders or pantsuits for women.”

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The women’s dress code is, of course, more modern than the men’s, for the simple reason that no women served in the Senate until 1922 (when Georgia’s governor appointed Rebecca Latimer Felton) to serve for one day — it was another decade before Arkansan Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the body).

As for the men, I don’t really understand why “professional attire” for Senators in the 21st century would necessarily indicate an outfit designed for British gentlemen of leisure during the Victorian era.

If we’re going to have Senate and House dress codes, let them be specific, mandatory, formal, and enforced. My suggestion:

The Senate will maintain a wardrobe department, staffed by professional designers and fitters. Each morning before the session opens, Senators will draw wooden balls from a bag, each marked with one of two letters: “C” or “S.”

Those who draw the letter “C” will be required to dress as circus clowns — garish makeup, giant shoes, multi-colored wigs, the whole nine yards.

Those who draw the letter “S” will be required to dress as super-villains, selecting from a wide variety of costumes based on the longstanding American comic book tradition.

There will of course, be some overlap — one may safely to show up as the Joker regardless of which ball one draws. I can already tell you that Ted Cruz (R-TX) will positively rock as the Penguin, and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) is already a ringer for Harley Quinn (also a clown-supervillain twofer!).

As for the House, a similar setup, but the balls will be labeled “B” and “H” for “Bear on a Bicycle” and “Henchman.” Just to keep the circus/comic book theme, you know.

My suggested dress code would serve the purposes of not just modernizing things and adding a little pizzazz to what’s already a professional wrestling atmosphere, but of forcing American politicians to dress in a manner comporting with their actual behaviors and job descriptions.

It would probably also drive C-SPAN’s ratings way up.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.