CORRECTION: The headline of this story has been updated to indicate that the dress code rule being enforced is not new. And further context has been added to the story on the nature of the House dress code, specifically that it also applies to men.
It would seem that showing skin in the most formal places of the U.S. government is taboo for women. According to reports and a bevy of tweets, several women have been banned from entering the Speaker’s lobby, a chamber where reporters often wait to ask questions of U.S. Representatives after they leave the House floor, after being seen wearing sleeveless blouses or dresses. The same can be said if they’re wearing open-toed shoes. While the official written rule (page 337) stipulates that anyone visiting those areas should wear “appropriate attire,” determining which attire is appropriate is largely left up to the interpretation of the House Speaker.
According to CBS News, women — including reporters, lawmakers and staff — are required to cover their toes and shoulders while in both the House chamber and the Speaker’s lobby. As U.S. News and World Report notes, the dress code has been in effect for decades and applies to men as well, requiring them to wear suit jackets and ties in order to enter those areas. The dress code has been enforced in the past and apparently is once again being enforced. At least three reporters have confirmed that their outfits were deemed “unacceptable” in recent days and they were issued a warning that should they violate dress code again, they would be removed from the chamber. One reporter who was wearing a sleeveless dress, according to a witness who spoke with CBS News, even went to extreme lengths to create some makeshift sleeves, only to still have her attire deemed unacceptable. The same rules governing men and women’s dress existed under Nancy Pelosi during her tenure as House speaker, Yahoo News points out, and pre-exist her.
But this week it was women who spoke up about receiving warnings. In addition to the unnamed reporter in the CBS News report and Haley Byrd, a reporter for The Independent Journal Review who spoke on the record with CBS, reporters from CQ Now and CQ Roll Call posted on Twitter about having been approached and told their wardrobes were in violation of the rules.
As the arbiter of the dress code, Paul Ryan recently issued a reminder about the importance of heeding it. “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,” Ryan declared to House members in June. “Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be.”
No such rules apply in the Senate. Watch video of Ryan’s reminder below.