Should Ladies Cover Their Shoulders in the Halls of Congress?

It’s hot in DC, after all. Regardless, that question has apparently already been asked and answered. But only enforced sporadically. And only applicable to the House side of the chambers, not the Senate. As one reporter recently discovered:


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.

Ok, now before everybody gets all mad at Speaker Paul Ryan for his puritanical rules about ladies’ attire (because the need to be mad at Paul Ryan is pervasive and I don’t quite get it), dress code decorum is actually a pretty good thing. It lends a level of seriousness and austerity to the workings on the Hill, and we all know that seriousness is something that has suffered over the years, through Joe Biden’s handsy antics to the clown-car sideshow that was the election of 2016. The House enforcing its dress code is not a terrible thing. As Ryan himself said of this issue, “Members should periodically rededicate themselves to the core principles of proper parliamentary practice that are so essential to maintaining order and deliberacy here in the House.”


And, “Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be.”

Apparently, according to some reporters that have weighed in on Twitter, the dress code is nothing new and, like so much of doing business on the Hill, is one of those things no one necessarily tells you about but you learn about as you go along.

And those little inside rules actually do a fair job of distinguishing the rookies from the pros, and those with a willingness to abide by the rules and the rebels. And, let’s face it, rebelliousness among reporters is something that is at times very healthy but can also be something a bit destructive (do we need to talk about CNN?)

Other reporters, however, are less enthused. As an aside, I always get the biggest kick out of men who are outraged over these issues when they apply to women. We appreciate it, buddy. We do. But trust me when I say, if we show a little cleavage, it actually IS a distraction to heterosexual men. How they handle it says a lot about them, but it doesn’t make it any less true.


Anyway, even the reporter who was busted for having bare shoulders — Haley Byrd of Independent Journal Review — has acknowledged the dress code is not heavily enforced but that she at least knew of its existence. And to her credit, she’s pretty easy going about the whole thing. “I suspect the rules are being emphasized now that it’s summertime and excruciatingly hot outside and everyone is dressing for the weather,” she told CBS News.

So ladies, sport those gorgeous sleeveless dresses and let that cleavage burst in that sweet summer dress. Just bring a jacket if you head to the Hill. Think of it like going to Government Church (with apologies to God).


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