On The Senate Dress Code

Editor’s Note: This is not a political site anymore, it is a club where we speak civilly and think hard. Please be mindful of same in your comments to this post.

If you are not new to the site, forgive my repeating the story, but if you are new, here’s what happened. About a decade ago I suffered a depressive episode with suicidal ideation. (I am FINE now, but that was a journey for sure.) During the episode I spent almost all of the time looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot, strung out hair, bleary, with the inability to care about any of the higher levels of humanity. Dignity. Work. Love. Family. Spirituality. Culture. Science. Fair play. Lifting others.

In a depressive episode, the biggest loss is that of hope. There is none, and the only reason you inhale is because your body does that automatically anyway.

And you dress like S. Because you don’t care. You live without purpose and the idea of covering up your instability with a dignified wardrobe is too hypocritical, even your your own addled mind.

Perhaps that is where the Senate is. Perhaps there is a collective self-awareness whispering to them that it is just too much to dress like the job they are supposed to be doing instead of the one they actually are.

Much attention about the Senate Dress Code is directed at Senator John Fetterman, who also suffered a depressive episode. I am not sure that is coincidence. At any rate, politics aside, POLITICS ASIDE PLEASE, I guess what I would ask Mr. Fetterman and now the entire Senate is “Why?” Every morning you dress to express something. Maybe it is expressing yourself. Maybe it is expressing your profession. Maybe you are expressing a belief. Maybe you are expressing that you want sex. But you are expressing something.

What is Mr. Fetterman trying to express? What is the Senate trying to express? Authenticity? A blue collar everyman relatability? An I’m-one-of-you-so-vote-for-me-premise, an I-have-the-same-problems-you-do ethos? That doesn’t sell, and it isn’t what a country wants from its leaders. Mr. Fetterman et al, we don’t want you to be one of us, we want you to lead and be smart and spend time changing what needs changing and keeping what needs keeping, and figuring that out in collaboration with the higher goal of making life better in our country.

A hoodie and athleisure on the floor is a sign you are contemporary and it isn’t a middle finger to the establishment. It is a sign that, for whatever reason, hopelessness, your own agenda or condition – for whatever reason you have stopped caring as much as you did.

Which is a sign that this job is not for you anymore.

47 Comments on "On The Senate Dress Code"

  1. “Which is a sign that this job is not for you anymore.”

    Could not disagree more. Style, it seems, is a personal choice of how you would like yourself to be initially perceived by the outside world. If Fetterman’s style is such that the outside world (namely, his constituents) perceive him negatively, then the system will right itself and they’ll vote him out of office. But if on the other hand his style is well-received by the people who voted for him (or even if it’s neutrally received and it’s his ideas and political decisions that keep him in good standing) then there is no reason for him not to continue dressing how he deems fit.

    Further, the people who visit this site are likely not the people Fetterman is most interested in connecting with. Your statement “it isn’t what a country wants from its leaders” feels very specific to your specific viewpoint. I would wager there are a significant number of people who would express that Fetterman’s willingness to be his authentic self is exactly what they want from their leaders as authenticity seems to be in such short supply these days. The line you seem to draw then that how he dresses in some way affects his ability to “be smart and spend time changing what needs changing and keeping what needs keeping, and figuring that out in collaboration with the higher goal of making life better in our country” seems tenuous.

    Our personal style is our welcome mat to the world and does indicate a certain message/demeanor/set of ideals. But how one communicates, carries themselves, treats others, demonstrates their values etc etc are all other ways we communicate messages/demeanors/sets of ideals as well. Dismissing Fetterman’s values/ideas because of how he dresses would be just as foolish as assuming anyone in a great suit is going to know what’s best for a community.

    • Well, first, I didn’t dismiss his ideas/values. Please re-read. Second, and again, this is not a political site anymore, so I thank you to not assume any of my political thinking. And thirdly, vigorous presumption of my values and then subsequent criticism thereof is a lighthouse, I will let you decide what we should be protected from.

  2. Total disrespect for the institution

  3. The Amazing Tom | September 22, 2023 at 10:23 am |

    In 2000, I would ride the Members only elevators in the Longworth House office building.
    Usually wore a HF suit with black cap toe shoes.
    Probably could not get away with that now. My friend in Congress thought it was funny.

    • Otis Brewster Hogbottom III | October 2, 2023 at 10:13 am |

      I don’t understand. You wore a Hickey-Freeman suit with black shoes, and you wouldn’t get away with that now, even though the dress code is more lax? And why exactly was it funny? I really feel I’m missing something here.

  4. Mawuli Grant Agbefe | September 22, 2023 at 11:04 am |

    I thought previously he dressed the way he does because depression… he dressed the same way prior to the depressive episode. Don’t think it’s linked to depression. If he’s showing up on the senate floor couldn’t he just bring a change of clothes to wear on the senate floor and change out of when he left.

  5. Very interesting take on a very polarizing topic without being political.

  6. Well said.

    Kind Regards,


  7. My observation is that Mr. Fetterman’s sartorial choice is his political brand dating back early in his political career before he was elected senator. Make him wear a suit on the floor of the U.S Senate and he looks (relatively speaking) like the other 99.

  8. John,

    I have to disagree with you.

    The senator from Pennsylvania suffered a stroke and the media says he is depressed, give the man a break.

    Most male politicians don’t dress for success anymore. Has anyone seen how the president of the Ukraine dresses? He probably doesn’t have a single necktie.

    I don’t say this to feel superior, but one’s character should be judged on actions and not appearance.

    • I’m not judging his character. I learned a long time ago to pass no character judgement on anyone I do not know personally. I am judging his approach.

  9. These people are suppose to be the leaders of our country and should dress like leaders and be role models not models for the college campus bookstore. There is a JPress in DC maybe one of their aids should show these leaders where it is in DC.

  10. Henry Contestwinner | September 22, 2023 at 4:10 pm |

    It is a sign of the continuing casualization of American society. This trend likely had its roots in our egalitarianism, which can be summed up in the once-common phrase, “anyone can grow up to be president.” The idea was that we, unlike our European brethren, are not limited by the circumstances of our birth. However, part of that notion is the idea that no matter how humble our beginnings, we can improve ourselves. Much of society seems to have lost this idea of self-improvement, which could be a symptom of our societal hopelessness.

    Why has this happened? There are too many factors to say that any one of them is the decisive cause, but these are two of the most important ones. One is the ongoing Cultural Revolution, which seeks to destroy all of our traditions. The other is the realization, within the past five-ish years, that all of our institutions are corrupt, and the concomitant loss of trust in those institutions. If we have lost faith in our institutions, then it doesn’t matter how we dress when participating in them.

    Another contributing factor is the increasing focus on one’s own comfort and convenience—”do your own thing.” This is a selfish, self-centered worldview: people lack consideration for others. We see this in a variety of behaviors: talking during movies in the theater; talking loudly (and for extended periods) on one’s phone in restaurants and the like; cutting in line; rudeness (especially noticeable online, but also prevalent in how people treat staff in stores)—all these behaviors and more have gotten more prevalent over the years, especially in the past few years.

    It will get worse before it gets better. The only question is will our civilization survive, or will it collapse before the improvement comes?

    • You got it.

    • Charlottesville | September 24, 2023 at 2:33 pm |

      Dear Henry – Good to see you back among the commenters. You have been missed. I hope you and your family continue to flourish out in the Bay Area

      I have to admit sharing your pessimism about the state of our culture, of which the abolition of the Senate dress code is but one more sad manifestation. Peggy Noonan had some good observations on the point in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

  11. To be clear, that’s Ted Cruz in the picture, not John Fetterman. So slobbery is a bi-partisan problem.

  12. James Borkowski | September 22, 2023 at 8:09 pm |

    Full disclosure, I am a Democrat.
    I sincerely hope that Senator Fetterman’s wardrobe is not an outward manifestation of his interior mental state.
    This column reminds me of what John Burton did while caring for his wife. He wore a full suit and tie to the hospital. Why? To paraphrase John, “because this is important, and because I am showing respect.
    THAT is why there should be a dress code in the United States Senate. What could be more important than being an elected leader in a Democracy? It is an honor not to be taken lightly. What is more deserving of respect? Respect for the United States Senate as an institution, and respect for the people who elected you to represent them.
    There is already enough disrespect and cynicism for politicians, and for our government. Looking like a homeless person encourages more disrespect.
    This is not a question of fussiness, or being priggish. It is about respect.

  13. When finance bros traded their suits for polyester fleece vests, it was only a matter of time before the last strongholds of 20th century business dress started to truly collapse everywhere else, including the Senate.
    I don’t begrudge Fetterman’s style choices as much as I once did, though they’re not the choices I’d make. I do believe in dress codes when they are inclusive: One should be able to wear their hair however they like, a hijab or a yarmulke if their religious practice demands, a gender-nonconforming ensemble if it aligns with their gender identity, etc. But the baseline should probably still rise above couch-potato-casual.
    Increasingly, there is no official dress code, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t quietly-enforced dress norms. DieWorkwear! had an excellent article on this topic a few years ago, which I think serves as a very thoughtful and apolitical response to this very question. Here’s the link, if it’s OK to share here:

  14. Waaay too much here for one post, J.B. What you’ve presented here might require several chapters in a 600 page hardcover to fully address. And at least 300 of those pages would have to cover politics. I think you have touched on some valid points and some faulty assumptions as well. I’d say that at least half of the people in DC, on both sides of the isle, should not be there, and they know it, and they know damn well that we know it. How can they live with themselves? How can they live with each other?

    Anyway, here’s what WE’LL do. We will maintain our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, fitness, and well-being, we will be well groomed, well dressed – appropriate for the occasion, well read, and willing to defend ourselves and others.
    We will live up to our responsibilities to the best of our abilities and otherwise mind our own business. Do what is right legally, ethically, and morally, keep our heads on a swivel, stay alert, and stay alive.

  15. Jonathan Neal | September 22, 2023 at 9:52 pm |

    I find this revised Senate ‘dress code’ to be yet another indicator of our decline as a culture. It saddens me almost beyond words… I think I’ll go buy another tie!

  16. Michael Powell | September 23, 2023 at 12:30 am |

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight – Fetterman not wearing a suit in the Senate is a sign that he doesn’t care any more and that he shouldn’t be there. OK.
    One was his colleagues was indicted yesterday on federal bribery and conspiracy charges. The FBI found more than half a million dollars in cash in his closet (where he keeps his suits), and three kilos of gold bars worth 150-thousand dollars. That guy wore a suit to work every day. What is THAT a sign of?

  17. It is said that our Congress is a manifestation of our society at large. Herein lies the problem. When something isn’t working, we tend to go to the opposite extreme. Congress went from a specific dress code to NO dress code. I have to think that there would have been something in between that would have made sense. I work in management for a small insurance company. We closed our facilities to the public after Covid and relaxed our dress code. Jeans are ok as long as there are no rips, tears or overly faded sections. Sneakers are fine but no flip flops. Men’s shirts must have a collar and no shorts. I tend to think something akin to that may have been in order.

  18. Recently, I saw a guy who epitomizes the Austin tech bro look. He had on a very pale blue quarter zip over a white polo and stone-colored khakis. Everything was cut very slim and clung to his skinny frame. And it was a 100+ degrees. They’re all so locked into their dull Star Trek uniform that they wear layers in sweltering heat.

    At least he wasn’t in the youngsters’ uniform: a stained tee with an obscure message, cheap, baggy jeans, cheaper sneakers, a mop of hair on the head, and a splatter of whiskers on the face. Some of the homeless look better, though they’re not making $85K like the kids starting out.

  19. NaturalShoulder | September 23, 2023 at 6:01 pm |

    How we choose to present ourselves to others does send a message. Dressing as if you were prepared to cleaning your gutters when entering the Senate shows a lack of dignity and respect for the institution and yourself and hard to take anyone attired in such a manner seriously. I understand Fetterman may have some mental and or physical issues makes dressing formally a difficulty (but hard to believe), but not sure why entire Senate rules need to be modified to accommodate one person.

  20. Jim Bob Jump Back | September 23, 2023 at 9:34 pm |

    Disrespectful. Wearing a suit these days is a
    standing rebuke to moral & cultural relativism.
    I view it as a means of silent protest. Nothing like being shaved, showered, barbered up &
    suited up. Throw in some Osage Rub & you might pass muster for a he man grownup.

    • Osage Rub. I had to look that up. If I can find a good barber supply house ‘round these parts, I’ll give it a try.

  21. I’ve seen pictures of Fetterman in a suit. He looked very uncomfortable to the extent that I felt sorry for him. But there are ways to look good out of a suit and be comfortable as we all know.

  22. Roger Kent Miles | September 24, 2023 at 11:37 am |

    Beautifully expressed, John.

  23. Dressing well is a sign of respect for those around you, whatever those circumstances may be. It is not a virtue signal, it is not solely about how you feel, or your ability to “express yourself.” Its about showing respect to the people, place and the circumstance you find yourself in. Want to dress like a clown? Make sure you are in a circus. Otherwise, respect traditions, respect those around you and respect yourself.

  24. Well written. Well said. It needed saying. I hope the rest of America reads it. Thank you.

  25. This is unfortunately just another clear symbol of the complete lack of decorum, respectability and pride in ones work. Grown men, dressing like toddlers, a disgrace. I think people should start to come to Senate sessions in clown outfits from now on, it’s all one big circus anyway. And less said about Fetterman the better. The man is a complete joke of politician, but I guess the joke is on the people of PA. They get what they deserve, a rich , unqualified, spoiled man who can’t put a sentence together ,pretending he is working class everyman . And I feel for him having a stroke and being depressed, but if he doesn’t feel well enough, well maybe he should not be doing this job then.

  26. A few thoughts. Random.

    Suit? Nah. I mean, well, there’s another option: O’ Connell’s U.S.A.-made blazer, a tweed jacket for fall and winter, a pair of great khakis, couple of pairs of gray bottoms, a few oxford button downs, and a necktie or two. Add a pair of penny loafers. He’ll feel better (about himself) and garner respect.

    And he’ll be the best dressed U.S. Senator.
    Let me explain.

    My contempt for “Updated Traditional” runs wide and deep. Disdain. The offspring of Paul Stuart-meets-Italian/French designer(s), it’s many things. Except, well, Ivy. When the usually slothful dress up (rare), they opt for this. ‘Round these parts, it’s the favored Sunday morning dress of real estate developers and lawyers.

    Ivy is dead, except where it isn’t. Really. (Yes, I know– “J. Press and O’ Connell’s are doing-just-fine-thanks so I guess somebody’s buying this stuff”). Yet the god-awful “Updated Traditional” now dominates just about everything– various incarnations/versions. It’s ubiquitous. Certainly the U.S. Senate is a safe haven for the spread collared, overly shaped/darted, high-shouldered, black calfskin captoe’s vibe. Ugh. No– double ugh.

    Honestly, I’d prefer a rustic-yet-polished outdoorsy LL Bean/Filson vibe to the shiny suits (must every suit be of super 150s “fabric”?), fat ties, and buttonless shirt collars that reign supreme. If he appeared on the Senate floor sporting a fuzzy brushed woolen crewneck, cords, and old Harris Tweed jacket, he’d pull off a look that suits (so to speak) him well.

    • I’d love to see him or anyone in the Senate dress that way. If there’s no particular dress code and some of them are going to go casual, it’s a great look you describe. If only more style (and political) consultants were Ivy-style inclined. Alas.

    • Jim Bob Jump Back | September 26, 2023 at 10:11 pm |

      Steve McQueen in Bullitt would be the prototype for that look.
      Especially those Playboy Suede Chukkas.

  27. Here’s a dress code suggestion; why not require all members to wear USA made clothing?

  28. Ted Cruz isn’t on the Senate floor. He’s coming back from the gym.
    The US Senate floor now has a dress code more lax than my public high school. I would like to be a US Senator, I would have more opportunities to wear my A Clockwork Orange Droog outfit besides Halloween parties.

  29. The lawyer for the former president showed up in court today wearing a button-down collar with his suit. Another dress code that needs to be updated?

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