The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Changing clothes: Formal Senate dress code reinforces professional image after transient, relaxed guidelines

4 min read

The recent revolving dress code within the US Senate sparks conversations on campus about professionalism and one's professional image.


Staff Writer

When we think about the U.S. Senate, the first image to come to mind is most likely senators in business attire. For years, there has been debate about keeping a certain image of strength, organization, tradition and discipline on the Senate floor, and after a period of having a relaxed dress code, the Senate unanimously decided to pass a formal dress code on Sept. 27, according to CNN.

Even though senators, when on the Senate floor, now have to abide by this formal dress code, the topic opens up a discussion about how government officials should present themselves.

During the almost week-long period of a relaxed dress code, senators took full liberty of this freedom, leading to Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) showing up in a pair of basketball shorts, a hoodie and sneakers. He walked into the Senate floor dressed as if he were a middle school gym teacher; an absolute ridicule of the place.

This elicited a strong, negative response from other senators, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was responsible for allowing such dress but critical of the results.

Some students expressed discontent in reaction to the relaxed dress code.

Luis Machuca, a senior international business major said, “I think Chuck Shumer pretty much set the Senate floor up to be the laughingstock. How on earth does one come to the decision to wear whatever one pleases in a respected building? Yet those are the ones making the laws; we are screwed.”

How does this country expect to be taken seriously if our lawmakers are in their shorts as if they were in the comfort of their home? It’s just ridiculous, and makes them look foolish. As a business major, I know that competence is not simply knowing the role but looking the part as well. Being dressed this informally reflects a lack of interest in their profession, and dressing that way at home is completely fine, but, in a workspace, it’s just improper and unprofessional.

However, junior business administration Fabriana Miranda didn’t see why the informal dress code was an issue. She said, “Although to most people it may seem as extremely unprofessional, I think it’s not as bad as most make it to be. I don’t necessarily think one’s outfit has much influence on their work.”

But, imagine if your attorney showed up to the hearing in a tank top and slides. You’d never let them represent you, as they’d most likely just increase the odds against you. Not only is it unprofessional, but it’s also disrespectful to the institution. If the image of being a complete and utter joke was the objective, then they succeeded, and the recent implementation of a dress code is the right move, especially as the Senate’s image is a reflection of the U.S. government.

In relation to the relaxed dress code, senior business administration major LaNadia Loving said “I’m not in favor of the changes made on the senate floor, it just seems unprofessional to have one walking around the offices in shorts. Absurd and not something we are accustomed to seeing. It’s not hard dressing up properly.”

Before it was relaxed, the informal code “required men to wear a suit and tie, and women to wear pantsuits or dresses,” according to Vox. When the dress code was relaxed, it permitted informal wear like T-shirts and jeans, but this has now been changed back to uphold the formal dress that is a more professional image for the Senate.

Many Senate Republicans, in a letter to Chuck Schumer regarding the relaxed dress code, expressed their dissent to his decision, which was influential to the vote that reinstated formalwear and set official guidelines, which was not the case for the formal dress code before this debacle. 

Senators, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) who quipped that she would show up to the Senate floor in a bikini, regarded the informal dress code as a joke, which further emphasized the poor decision that has since been rectified.

Another element that reinforces why the recently decreed formal dress code was a good decision was the fact that the relaxed one only applied to senators, not the staffers. That decision didn’t seem fair to the staff at all. It was bad enough that senators were allowed to dress as they please, but not allowing the entire place to do so was worse.

Senior marketing major Mohammed Hassan said, “as a marketing major, we are taught that in order to be let through the door one has to look the part. Formally dressing up is important if one wants to be taken seriously.”

As a business major, I know the importance of presenting myself as a professional to communicate my qualifications, competence and professionalism. The Senate’s decision caused us to think whether “dressing the part” is actually important, or if it’s just an implied practice we have, and I firmly believe that the rectification of a formal dress code was a good decision.