Last Word On The Senate Dress Code

Editor’s Note: the lady with the guitar is Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, the first woman U.S. senator. She was 87 years old when appointed. She broke tradition, and agism, while dressing traditionally.

…. and then we can move on. Is it as curious to you as it is to me that the dress code does not extend to female members? I can think of a couple of reasons, perhaps, for this.

The first is that the subject is too charged and no male senator wants to be in the position of telling a female senator how to dress. If that is the case, that makes me a little sad. I understand that we are dealing with the aftermath of inequality. But I also kind of think that equality should be equal. Right?

Alongside this thought is the fact that the dress code was passed unanimously. Which means female senators voted for it. … … … shouldn’t THEY want a code that is inclusive?

The other thought is that it is nearly impossible to define business wear for women. There was a dust up a few years ago about women not being able to go sleeveless. Now they can. So, they can wear a Classic Fella A Shirt or a Talbot’s sleeveless blouse and still be in line. In fact, if a woman wore an A Shirt with khaki’s, or a ball gown… still in line.

OF COURSE I think women should be allowed to go sleeveless. But these are word salad times. I could (I’M NOT) just as easily take the position that a male senator should be able to go sleeveless if a female senator can.

But they can’t, because of tradition. Which really makes the case for the importance of tradition. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for Ivy to change if it is to survive, but that does not mean that everything needs to change. One of the value adds of tradition is that it provides guard rails. And familiarity.

I am all about the backwards ball cap with the navy blazer if you are still in prep school. As long as there’s the navy blazer.

The Senate dress code is an interesting study in the codification that we still do have a “too far” and that tradition isn’t as much old men hanging on to glory days as it is a vital implement as we get in our driverless cars and pull out onto the highway of the future.

14 Comments on "Last Word On The Senate Dress Code"

  1. Well said, as always. If anything, keeping to the balance of making modifications while still adhering to a common base is not only very Ivy but also the essence of style rather than fashion. Fashion may want to burn down the house every six months, but that’s why this site, this mindset is not about fashion. This whole Senate kerfuffle reminds me of the rationale one private school near where I live outside Washington uses for its own dress code, which is to reduce superficial comparisons between people and emphasize the common educational experience – sounds pretty Ivy to me. As the last few weeks around Capitol Hill illustrates, a little toning down of the superficial and a little more focus on the core might do us all some good.

  2. I have yet to see the code in print. Was it altered or merely reinstated? Ladies retain the right to bare arms.

  3. whiskeydent | October 3, 2023 at 11:41 am |

    The Senate dress code looks a lot like country club dress codes that advise women to dress similarly formal to the more specific rules for men. Equal is not necessarily identical.

    • Yes. Like coat and tie required establishments, it is assumed that the ladies will dress commensurately.

  4. MacMcConnell | October 3, 2023 at 1:37 pm |

    I think women with nice arms should be able to go sleeveless, if otherwise tasteful. 😉

    All sexist kidding aside, I think the female congress criters do a fine job in attire. As RW points out chasing fashion can lead to confusion and an occassional disaster. Note that none of them has shown up on the floor wearing shorts and a hoodie.

  5. “Guard rails.” Yes.

    Truly and perhaps amusingly (to some), this is precisely how doctrine functions in the context of a religious community, and, not unrelated, how a particular philosophy functions in the context of a polity–a constitutional republic, for instance. “Guard rails.” Boundaries. Parameters. Sidelines.

    Postmodernism encourages individualism and differentiation, and, related, a pious appreciation of doctrines and philosophies undistorted (untainted?) by all sorts of pollutants. In the context of a style that defined the tastes and sensibilities of smart, serious, education-valuing New England-and-Mid-Atlantic Protestants for decades, the challenge is discerning which pollutants are the worst. This is the stuff of analysis: “This is not that, and here’s why.” We do this all the time (constantly), even if some are embarrassed by the inclination.

    The appeal to nostalgia isn’t misguided, since this style, at its best, salutes the quality (of cloth), styling/cut, and accessorizing that many (most?) other sartorial sensibilities lack. It’s unique, and, as such, I remain convinced that efforts to broaden or amend it are, upon reflection, foolish.

    I fondly recall a brief dialogue — a self-professing “secular humanist,” a devout Roman Catholic, and a liberal Episcopalian.

    Secular humanist: “Aren’t all religions the same– basically? Distill all of them down to the most basic level/essence, and all of it –well, it’s just a lot of doctrine and rules and worship. Looking from a distance, indistinguishable.”

    Liberal Episcopalian: “Yes, I think this is true– for the most part. All of us religious folk– we share so much in common, don’t we? I try to seek out and appreciate the vast common ground, and look for opportunities to unite, unify, merge, and blend. Ecumenism!”

    Roman Catholic: “Uh, no. No. You don’t respect me or my tradition when you try to render it identical or even similar to other traditions. Likewise, I’d be demonstrating zero respect for you and yours if I tried to do that. There are differences — and they matter. Like, really– they matter. Respect begins and ends with noting and honoring those differences. Stop with the amending-and-broadening your way to ‘common ground.’ This the ordure of modernism, which stinks.”

    Same goes for everything. Including clothes. Let it be what it has always been. After all, who benefits from tearing down the guard rails?

  6. ON a completely different note, this item might be of interest to some Ivy Style visitors. Berle report a restock of their various khaki pants/trousers in an email sent to me this morning. Difintely under the radar compared to Bill’s Duck Head, J. Press, and others, but worth exploring. I might just try a pair since I am very pleased with a pair of dress cords and Nantucket reds (I know, I know) purchased in August.

    Maybe we could take up a collection to purchase a couple of pairs of khakis for Senator Fetterman?

    Kind Regards,


  7. Terry Garratt | October 4, 2023 at 9:55 am |

    Anyone know what guitar the ladies playing? Looks like an early Martin to me.

  8. It is curious to me that while it does not extend to female members, it extends to female pages. I realize not all women want to be able to dress in a feminine manner, and that’s fine. But I do think it would be nice if pages who wished to do so could.

    • whiskeydent | October 5, 2023 at 11:47 am |

      I think the page dress code is to make it easy to identify them. The strict, almost identical rules for women and men essentially amount to a uniform.

      • Yes. So that they are to be formally identified not as ladies and gentlemen, but as attendants.

  9. It’s amazing to me how many people never learned the old, time-tested wisdom, “People who look better are treated better.” Not unfair — because people who care about themselves (including their appearance) are more likely to care about other things (and people). Wouldn’t you think that the pathetic inclinations toward sloth would eventually succumb to good ol’ self-interest?

  10. MacMcConnell | October 5, 2023 at 3:21 pm |

    Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton served a one day appointment as a US Senator from GA.

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