The days of John Fetterman wearing his signature hooded sweatshirt and gym shorts came to an abrupt end last week as the new rules in the U.S. Senate now state that male lawmakers must wear a jacket, tie, and slacks. Though this is a new rule, the U.S. House of Representatives has actually mandated the wearing of suits since 1979.
In both chambers, what constituted proper womenswear has been left a bit more unspecified – but there was an unwritten rule about pantsuits until the mid-1980s.
The times have clearly changed, however, as Arizona’s Independent Senator Krysten Sinema has been noted for her candy-colored wigs, animal prints, and even thigh-high boots. Yet, while she’s been occasionally mocked for her outfit choices, she’s always been reasonably well-dressed.
The same can’t be said of Fetterman.
He Dressed Like a Slob and the World Noticed
For weeks, even with the very real threat of a government shutdown looming, the Senate wasted time on what shockingly hasn’t been dubbed “Slobgate.”
Fetterman argued that Republicans were too focused on what he was wearing, while also questioning why it was an issue.
“I feel it’s a little more freedom, which should be bipartisanship,” Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat known for his relaxed attire, told Fox News after the Senate’s dress code was relaxed. “I don’t know why the right side seems to be losing their minds over it.”
He then added, “I think it’s a good thing, but I’m going to use it sparingly, I hope other colleagues take advantage of it too.”
Instead of taking advantage of it, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah sought to establish a formal dress code for the United States Senate.
Was that really necessary?
It is a question that could be asked two ways. First, was it really necessary that adults need to be told how to dress? The flip side was whether it was really necessary as we shouldn’t care how lawmakers dress.
Except, perhaps we should.
As a matter of full disclosure, as I write these words I’m sitting in my home office dressed only slightly more professionally than Fetterman, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The difference is that my written words are what are going out to the world. When I’m on TV or speaking at an event in person I’d certainly don a suit and dress shirt (though I don’t generally wear ties).
Fetterman has tried to argue that clothing doesn’t matter. Perhaps he has a point, but the public has expectations of how people in positions of authority should dress. That is certainly true of lawmakers.
“Political chambers are places where there is too little decorum these days. Formal clothing lends an atmosphere of self-respect and mutual respect that reminds everyone in that room (and everyone voting and watching) how serious the procedures of democracy are,” Leanne Delap wrote for The Toronto Star earlier this week.
An Elite Slob – Working Class Zero?
During the brief period when the Senate rules were relaxed, the editorial board for The New York Post suggested it was a victory for “elite slobs” and described Fetterman as the “Senate’s #1 blue-collar cosplayer,” a reference to the fact that he may dress like a “high-school-stoner” but is in fact a Harvard-educated career politician.
It is also noted that while Fetterman was briefly given a pass, the same wasn’t true for others who work in the Capitol Building.
“Hilariously, though, it turns out to be a license only for the elite to slob it up: The rule is only loosened for senators, not their staff. So Fetterman can show up in whatever he wants, but aides and staffers have to dress like they have a real job,” the board noted.
Of course, there could be more to Fetterman’s choice of fashion.
“Note that Fetterman wears his ‘dude duds’ not merely for comfort, but to bolster his bogus ‘workingman’s hero’ image, though he grew up rich and sponged off his parents until he was almost 50,” the editorial board added.
Perhaps Fetterman just heard John Lennon bemoan, “A working class hero is something to be” one too many times. Perhaps he should have instead listened to Roxette’s “Dress for Success” instead!
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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