WASHINGTON — Senators will be able to wear whatever they want on the Senate floor after Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, this weekend directed the sergeant at arms not to enforce the Senate's informal dress code.
The sergeant at arms is elected by senators and acts as a protocol officer and law enforcement, enforcing the rules in the Senate.
In a statement to CBS News, Schumer said, "Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit." The change only applies to senators, but other staff members must still follow the code, which requires business attire, CBS News' Nikole Killion reports.
Sen. John Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, has been seen wearing a hoodie and shorts to work – even before Schumer's announcement. Fetterman even donned a sweatshirt for a news briefing about the collapse of I-95 in Pennsylvania with President Biden earlier this year.
He wears suits, but it isn't uncommon for Fetterman to wear casual clothes. It seems like the dress code hasn't been enforced in quite some time. Still women have been criticized or even reprimanded in the past for breaking the dress code in the House and Senate chambers. While the dress code is informal, it is alleged that sleeveless attire and open-toed shoes were not allowed.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, drew attention for wearing a sleeveless dress the day she was sworn in, according to AZ Central. Since then, she has often worn what some have deemed "inappropriate" clothing, including short sleeves, denim, bright colors and wigs.
One user on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, shared a photo of Sinema in a pink wig, writing: "This is inappropriate for a senator to dress. Krysten Lea Sinema looks like she's going to rave. Not okay."
In a 2021 interview with Politico, Sinema said talk about what she wears is "inappropriate."
"I wear what I want because I like it," said Sinema, who was first elected to the seat as a Democrat in 2019. "It's not a news story, and it's no one's business. It's not helpful to have [coverage] be positive or negative. It also implies that somehow women are dressing for someone else."
It does not appear Sinema has been reprimanded for her attire, but she has received criticism on social media – and she has also received support. Three women senators – Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, wrote a letter to the New York Times defending Sinema after the paper published four different pieces about her outfits, according to Axios.
While she was not reprimanded, former first lady Michelle Obama stirred up a debate when she donned a sleeveless dress during her husband's 2009 address to Congress.
In the House, men are supposed to wear suits and ties and women aren't supposed to wear sleeveless attire, sneakers or open-toed shoes – but there doesn't seem to be a formal record of these rules. Still, they have been enforced.
In 2017, a woman reporter tried to enter the House Speaker's lobby, located outside the chamber, but her sleeveless dress was deemed "inappropriate." She improvised shoulder coverings using paper from her notebook, witnesses said.
After a CBS News article about the incident went viral, Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona, made a statement while speaking on the House floor. "Before I yield back, I want to point out I'm standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes," she said.
In 2012, Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, was escorted from the House floor for wearing a hoodie and sunglasses while talking about Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager who was shot and killed by a member of the Sanford, Florida neighborhood watch that year. The hoodie had become a symbol for Martin, who was wearing a hoodie when he was killed while walking at night.
There has been a growing trend of wearing sneakers along with business attire in Congress, CBS News' Scott MacFarlane reports. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Florida Democrat, is leading the charge to get Congress to change its dress code. The self-proclaimed "sneaker head" said corporate America has already begun to abandon dress shoes for comfortable kicks.
Moskowitz and Rep. Lori Chavez DeRemer, a Republican from Oregon, created a bipartisan Congressional "sneaker caucus" to spark conversations and help bridge the divide between members of Congress, MacFarlane said.