Should Politicians Have To Dress Professionally?

This reflects a greater issue.

man wearing suit next to man wearing hoodie Khalid Boutchich and Hunter’s Race via Unsplash / Denisha Sandoval via Canva

Dress codes have evolved over time. Long gone are the days of wearing suits on an airplane. Today, it's no surprise to see a working professional in jeans.

But now, in a shocking move, earlier in September Majority Leader Chuck Schumer loosened the dress code in the upper chamber of the U.S. Capitol. This means that the dress code will no longer be enforced on the Senate floor, much to Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman's delight and many Republican Senators' dismay.


But was it really a good move, or does it reflect an unsettling trend among those in power?

Should politicians have to dress professionally?

Members of the Republican party have voiced their disapproval over the decision. The new rules were met with critiques and jokes from various senators, including Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who termed the move as "terrible," and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley simply said, "It stinks," according to NBC News.

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Maine Senator Susan Collins joked about planning to "wear a bikini" to work and added that maintaining dignity in the Senate is crucial and doing away with a dress code might belittle the institution.

The rule change comes as a boon for Fetterman, known for his laid-back style, often featuring shorts and hoodies. Despite criticism, he argued there are more pressing matters that need attention than his attire. On the other hand, Schumer stated that he would continue to wear a suit despite being the one who relaxed the dress code. 

To be fair, having no dress codes can be a great thing! But they can also be... not so great.

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There are some pros of having a dress code. 

According to Brittanica's, "dress codes enforce decorum and a serious, professional atmosphere conducive to success."

Why can this be a good thing? Well, research shows that work quality is directly correlated to how much someone is dressed up. One study even found that people who were in formal attire scored higher on cognitive tests. So, a suit can not only make you look smarter, but it can actually make you smarter!

In addition to that, a uniform dress code can even promote safety in schools and the workplace! On top of required safety gear in places like a lab, restricting certain articles of clothing that are flammable or loose-fitting can also assuage safety concerns in some fields. 

Lastly, dress codes can promote "inclusiveness and a comfortable, cooperative environment." It's not news that there tends to be hierarchies in a workplace. But this power structure can be mitigated through dress codes. 


"A manager who dresses in suits with ties may intimidate employees who wear branded polo shirts and khakis, preventing effective communication," Brittanica wrote.

In addition to that, individualistic clothing has been found to sometimes be distracting to both customers and employees alike. However, dress codes aren't all good.

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There are also some cons of an enforced dress code.

Firstly, it reinforces "racist standards of beauty and dress."

"Black girls face unique dress and hair code burdens," the National Women's Law Center wrote in a 2018 report.


They gave the example of some schools banning things predominantly used by Black women, like hair wraps. 

Also, dress codes can be discriminatory to women due to oversexualizing. For example, the law company Ernst & Young told its female employees to "look healthy and fit" with a "good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type."

Also, people who don't fit the gender binary are forced to choose to present a certain way that doesn't match their identity.


The Senate ultimately reversed Schumer's lax dress code policy.

On September 27, less than ten days after the informal policy was first announced, AP reported that the Senate reversed Schumer's decision to lighten up the Senate's dress code. The code now requires that men wear "business attire be worn on the floor of the Senate, which for men shall include a coat, tie, and slacks or other long pants," though it does not specify a certain attire for women.

"Though we’ve never had an official dress code, the events over the past week have made us all feel as though formalizing one is the right path forward," Schumer said.

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Ethan Cotler is a writer and frequent contributor to YourTango living in Boston. His writing covers entertainment, news, and human interest stories.