You’d think that the challenges that go with making America great again would keep everyone working on Capitol Hill focused on things like the North Korean nuclear threat, the war on ISIS, Russia's meddling in our election, passing a health care bill, ending the opioid epidemic, and the zillions of other problems confronting the nation.
But as Americans celebrated our independence this week, a small but important slice of the nation’s leadership was fixated on sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes and whether women working in what lawmakers often call “the people’s house” should be permitted to wear them on the job.
And no, I’m not joking.
Several female journalists reported that in recent weeks House officials have quietly escorted them from the Speaker’s Lobby, an area just off the House floor where reporters hang out to interview lawmakers, because they donned sleeveless dresses and/or open-toed shoes to cope with the city’s merciless summer heat.
A CBS News story on the fashion policing described how one frustrated but inventive journo “ripped out pages from her notebook and stuffed them into her dress's shoulder openings to create sleeves.” Not good enough, an officer patrolling the Speaker's Lobby told her.
Women aren’t alone in their struggles with the sartorial standards. Male reporters who’ve shown up tieless in the press gallery are routinely loaned “ties of shame” from a stash maintained by gallery staffers. The cravats tend to be coffee-stained and decidedly unfashionable refugees from the 1970s, if not before.
There’s no specific dress code in the Capitol and fashionable women including Michelle Obama and Ivanka Trump have gone sleeveless when in the House gallery for speeches by their husband – in Obama’s case – and father – in Trump’s.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose office is responsible for enforcing a tradition of what’s commonly called “appropriate business attire,” for members and staffs, is cracking down. In late June, as the city endured the summer’s first heat wave, Ryan opened one day’s formal House session with a reminder that "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor may be."
A report in The Hill newspaper noted that the rules are far from uniformly enforced however. “Members frequently wear jeans on the House floor, especially on days they rush to or from the airport,” the newspaper reported on Thursday. “At least two male House members have even been spotted in gym clothes on the House floor to vote.”
And somehow, the republic endures.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Media and Democracy