Last month, a Republican congresswoman from the state of Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally, brought renewed attention to antiquated dress code policies that still stand in parts of the Capitol. She made her remarks on the House floor after speaking about first responders from her district.
“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,” she said. “With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back.”
The Dress Code Policy Is Controversial
McSally’s comments came on the heels of recent controversy about the dress code. CBS News reported last month that some female reporters have actually being turned away for violating the policy:
A young, female reporter recently tried to enter a guarded room known as the Speaker’s lobby outside the House chamber, but her outfit was considered inappropriate because her shoulders weren’t covered. She was wearing a sleeveless dress.
Forced to improvise, she ripped out pages from her notebook and stuffed them into her dress’s shoulder openings to create sleeves, witnesses said. An officer who’s tasked with enforcing rules in the Speaker’s lobby said her creative concoction still was not acceptable.
The dress code is largely unwritten, although men are generally expected to wear jackets and ties and women to wear dresses with sleeves and closed-toe shoes. (Some have noted that the First Lady and First Daughter violate the policy, just as many other women of the White House have done before them.)
Do Dress Codes Like These Target Women?
While some say the dress code in the Capitol is professional and fairly standard, others argue that it unfairly targets and demeans women. Schools have also taken on similar fights in recent years. They’ve found that dress code policies often punish women/girls much more than men/boys for their attire.
But, policies can be adjusted in ways that are less discriminatory and don’t single out women. Instead of having rule against spaghetti straps, for example, schools can require all students to wear clothing that moves with them and allows them to be active. Students should wear clothes to school that don’t need to be adjusted when they run, for example.
Businesses could also stand to rethink their policies. Times have changed. Women can be professional in open-toed shoes just as men can still do their jobs without keeping their suit jackets on during hot and humid days.
House Speaker Ryan Says It Should Be Modernized
After the incident with the reporter, House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed the policy while speaking to the press.
“The sergeant at arms was simply enforcing the same interpretation of the rules as under my predecessors,” Ryan said, according to The Cut. “It’s nothing new and certainly not something that I devised. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that enforcement couldn’t stand to be a bit modernized.”
Ryan says he will work with the sergeant at arms to determine how the dress code policy will be updated.
“We also don’t need to bar otherwise accepted contemporary business attire,” he added. “So look for a change on that soon.”
Perhaps businesses will follow Washington’s lead.
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