John Fetterman has been making headlines, not for political maneuvering or for legislating – but for his clothing.
Weirdly, Fetterman’s choice of clothing, shorts and a hooded sweatshirt, has brought Congress’s sartorial guidelines into public focus while drawing the criticism of his colleagues.
The Political Upside of Fetterman’s Wardrobe
Fetterman knows what he’s doing. He is a United States Senator. And he won one of 2022’s most hotly contested and vitally important congressional elections. So, give Fetterman some credit for his political sense. Wearing shorts and a hooded sweatshirt is calculated – and effective.
First of all, if you adhere to the principle that there is no such thing as bad press (Kevin McCarthy might disagree about now), then the discussion surrounding Fetterman’s wardrobe is all upside.
Fetterman is generating headlines and increasing his name recognition simply by doing what the vast majority of us do every morning: get dressed. By making some simple adjustments, deviating from the congressional norm, Fetterman has differentiated himself, and branded himself in a way that compliments his overarching political disposition. People who didn’t know who John Fetterman was a few weeks ago may know who he is now, simply because he wore a sweatshirt to work.
Second, Fetterman’s wardrobe does make a political statement. The shorts and hoodie are a sartorial declaration that Fetterman is going to do what he wants, that he’s going to think for himself.
He bucked norms and tradition and didn’t do what he wanted to do. It’s a somewhat rebellious move at a time when the public is desperate for someone in Congress to be productive, to break the gridlock, the be themselves, Drain the Swamp. Like I said, Fetterman is calculating here.
Similarly, Fetterman’s wardrobe screams working class, down-to-Earth. He’s dressing like his constituents. No airs. No pretensions. He’s wearing what’s comfortable, what’s most comfortable. He looks frumpy and sloppy and he doesn’t care because Congress isn’t a fashion show (AOC at the Met), but a legislative body.
Criticizing Fetterman’s Wardrobe
Granted, you could argue that by deviating from the norm, Fetterman is the one making Congress a fashion show. Fetterman is arguably the one, the only one, really putting any thought into what he wears. Everyone else is on autopilot, putting on what everyone else puts on and showing up to work without an ounce of energy committed to sartorial decisions, whereas Fetterman actually got creative, and wore something that he expressed who he was. Well, that’s an argument anyways.
The argument would have more sticking power if Fetterman were wearing something fashionable. Or even just something flattering. But because Fetterman wears nondescript, oversized clothing that looks like they were scavenged from a WalMart clearance bin, I don’t think we’re going to see too many people arguing that Fetterman is the one making Congress a fashion show.
Really, the main critique of Fetterman has been that he is violating tradition. I’m not super receptive to that argument. I’ll admit Fetterman looks out of place on the Senate floor with baggy shorts. But: who cares? The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.
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