“Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit,” Schumer said.
The reporting frames the change as an accommodation to freshmen Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., who typically wears basketball shorts and hoodies to work. Fetterman has been casting his votes from the Democrats’ cloakroom, as has long been the workaround for senators prohibited from being on the floor due to inappropriate attire.
But this is not all about Fetterman. The rules were relaxed after the 2018 election of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat-turned-independent, who has made headlines due to her fashion choices featuring bold colors and patterns, denim, exposed shoulders, wigs, and words, like the time she presided over the Senate wearing a pink sweater that read “Dangerous Creature.”
That day, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said to her, “You’re breaking the internet”—to which Sinema replied, “Good!”
It was hardly the first time sartorial debates had sparked internet outrage. In 2017, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was criticized for enforcing a so-called “Handmaid’s Tale” dress code against exposed shoulders and open-toed shoes.
In 2012, then-Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., made news after wearing a hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin, a slain Florida teen.
In 2009, then-first lady Michelle Obama caused a stir by wearing a sleeveless dress in the House chamber for then-President Barack Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress.
That same year, columnist George Will penned a pretentious screed against wearing jeans:
Edmund Burke—what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted “the decent drapery of life”; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim—said: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack’s inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with denim.
I have no interest in denigrating denim or fighting about clothes, unless the subject is my kids, in which case I am willing to die on the hill of wearing some. My employer requires me to wear a suit and a tie most days on the theory that we’re a serious place doing serious work and our attire should reflect those truths.
Then again, I’ve often advised young Capitol Hill staffers of the tried-and-true rule that the best-dressed person in the room is probably a legislative assistant who pretends to know more than he does, while the frumpy old guy in a yellow shirt sitting quietly in the corner has written every National Defense Authorization Act for the past 20 years.
Clothes aren’t everything, but they do communicate something. And that’s why I think the new Senate dress code is perfect.
In recent years, the Senate has become a mostly unserious place. Most senators spend the 2.5 days they work evading the tough issues the nation needs them to grapple with. What better symbol of the pathetic state of the Senate than a pair of sweatpants?
In the day or two since Schumer’s announcement, this story has garnered national media attention and birthed a thousand op-eds, but the nation has more important things to worry about. The ongoing border crisis and our out-of-control deficit and debt come to mind.
Maybe the presence of Fetterman’s unserious shorts in the Senate will draw attention to the unserious behavior of our elected leaders, most of whom have utterly failed to take seriously their jobs for too long.
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