Sleeveless Dresses Spark Flap Over What’s Suitable Attire in the Capitol - NBC 6 South Florida
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Sleeveless Dresses Spark Flap Over What’s Suitable Attire in the Capitol

Female reporters have been told that sleeveless dresses are not considered appropriate attire. While many reporters agree the dress code has been in place for years, the question for some remains whether the code takes into account changes in fashion

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    Sleeveless Dresses Spark Flap Over What’s Suitable Attire in the Capitol
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File
    In this file photo, First Lady Michelle Obama applauds as then-President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

    Hillary Clinton's pantsuits. Ivanka Trump's clothes line. What’s the latest subject of public scrutiny in women’s attire on the political landscape?

    Sleeveless dresses.

    A recent CBS News report about the dress code in the House chamber, specifically the Speaker's Lobby outside, has sparked debate over whether the rules are rooted in sexism.

    Female reporters have been told that sleeveless dresses are not considered appropriate, with one reporter attempting to cover her shoulders with notebook pages, according to CBS News.

    Following the initial report, online news organizations published op-eds and articles on the subject, some giving a misleading impression that Speaker Paul Ryan had purportedly imposed new rules on female visitors to the chamber. Other pieces pointed out that first lady Michelle Obama and Ivanka Trump have worn sleeveless dresses in the House chamber.

    But reporters who work on the Hill say the dress code has been enforced for years.

    Ryan's spokesperson, AshLee Strong, said that the policies governing the dress code in the House chamber and the Speaker’s Lobby are nothing new.

    "This isn't a new policy under Speaker Ryan -- it's the same as the one under Speaker Nancy Pelosi and those previous," Strong said. "All House Floor rules made for Members of Congress and their staff apply to the Speaker’s Lobby."


    As far as records of the dress code go, former House Speaker Tip O'Neill offered guidelines on dress in the 96th Congress with an announcement that "a coat and tie for male Members" and "appropriate attire for female Members," would be considered suitable, according to CBS News. 

    Men also have been subject to a dress code. Journalist Jacob Fischler described sporting a "tie of shame" in a Twitter post after being given a tie when he forgot to wearone on Capitol Hill.

    The dress code in the House of Representatives may be strictly enforced, but rules on dress have become more relaxed abroad. The speaker of the House of Commons in British Parliament said last month that male lawmakers will no longer be required to wear ties, according to The Associated Press.

    While many reporters agree the dress code has been in place for years, the question for some remains whether the code takes into account changes in fashion for men and women.

    Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government and director of the Women & Politics Institute at the School of Public Affairs at American University, said that what is considered "appropriate" for men and women varies, and has changed over time.

    "The rules have become irrelevant," Lawless said. "Just because women are wearing sleeveless tops does not mean they're dressing inappropriately…To suggest that they have to dress in a particular way constrains their choices in a way that men are not."

    Lawless added that while issues surrounding dress code might not be relevant to voters now, the controversy could contribute to a larger debate on gender in politics, given the current political situation.

    "Heading into the 2018 midterms, if Democrats want to make the case that Donald Trump and Republicans are anti-women, things like this help build that argument," Lawless said.