The Deal with Congress's Supposed "No Sleeveless" Dress Code
A female journalist was recently refused entry to the Speaker's Lobby in the U.S. Capitol for a particular reason that's inciting nationwide discussion: her shoulders were showing.
On Thursday CBS News reported on the expulsion and detailed how the journalist was told that her sleeveless dress was "inappropriate" and was not allowed access to the Lobby—a corridor directly outside the House Chamber—even after she fashioned makeshift sleeves using pieces of notebook paper.
Since the publication of the story, fellow Washington, D.C., journalists have shared how they've witnessed warnings to women and barrings from the space based on sleeveless outfits.
Independent Journal Review's Haley Byrd described her experience of getting kicked out while trying to walk through the hallway back in May.
“When I was kicked out that day, I was just trying to pass through the area to reach another hallway, but I was told I was violating the rules," she told CBS News. "They offered to find a sweater for me to put on, so it wasn’t some tyrannical end of free press, but I opted to just go around instead. But recently they’ve been cracking down on the code, like with open-toed shoes."
Unfortunately, the actual dress code for the House of Representatives' policies are vague and the only written rule is that members should wear "appropriate attire." The clearest indicator of a formal dress rule has come by way of Speaker Paul Ryan when he addressed the House last month, but even then he didn't delve into specifics.
"Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be," he said.
But what is "appropriate" business attire? And do sleeveless dresses fit into it? Because there isn't an overt rule, it depends on who you ask.
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Many have taken this to mean mandatory ties for men, no sneakers, and no open-toed shoes or sleeveless clothes for women, though some say there are clear rules, they just aren't written. Radio news correspondent Jamie Dupree said in an article that he first stepped foot into the Speaker's Lobby in 1980, and the dress rules have not changed since.
"In the Speaker’s Lobby, men are required to wear a jacket and tie, or else you don’t get in," he wrote.
"For my colleagues who are women, the rules aren’t as clear on what’s OK and what’s not OK to wear—but it basically boils down to your shoulders, and whether they are bare, and whether your toes are peeking out from your shoes."
Despite this, it's worth noting that many journalists have agreed with Dupree that this unofficial dress code for the Speaker's Lobby of the House isn't something new, even if it isn't explicit. It also is not unique to the current leadership.
Interestingly, the Senate reportedly does not enforce specific business attire rules.
As the Washington Post points out, the House's unwritten dress requirements are applied to journalists as well as staffers, but occasionally, there are high-profile exceptions that only serve to make the dress code more confusing.
If fashion requirements aren't cohesive across Capitol Hill and are enforced on the whims of what security guards do and do not consider appropriate, it's really no wonder there is so much head scratching.