Dressing down for the Senate is just very bad manners

KATHLEEN PARKER Reach Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com.



The Gazette, Colorado Springs



Let’s stipulate that many serious issues demand our nation’s attention. A looming government shutdown is surely one. Whether to continue funding for Ukraine is another. Lower in importance is the Senate’s unwritten dress code, which, effective immediately, no longer exists. All may come as they are or, in John Fetterman’s case, worse. Fetterman, who proudly outfits himself as the biggest schlump ever to enter the Russell Senate Building, reported to his job dressed in sweats, top and bottom. Frankenstein would be offended. As little as I have loved Republicans the past few years, coinciding with the rise of our own little autocrat, at least Donald Trump knows how to dress. I can’t imagine that even he would demean his office or his country by dressing down, as is now the “code” for senators. Clothes might not make the man or woman, but they do tell us a great deal about them. You don’t have to be rich to dress well. You just have to own a mirror and observe a few rules. When I walk through airports or malls (if you put a gun to my head), I can’t help wondering what people are thinking when they leave the house. “Americans are a bunch of slobs,” my father used to say. He hadn’t seen anything. As a member of the Greatest Generation, he wore the Army Air Corps uniform with pride and later went to his office wearing a suit or at least a blazer, trousers and always a tie, depending on his calendar. He was a lawyer and dressed accordingly, as standards of the day demanded. I suppose I learned my Ps and Qs from him. He was a bachelor during several of our years together — at first a young widower and, subsequently, a serial divorcee — and he was freakishly tidy. I come by my OCD honestly. His Mirado No. 1 pencils were always sharp and at the ready for his daily crossword puzzle. His clothes hung neatly in his closet, organized by color. He was a stickler for two things: truth and grammar. To hear Americans speak today, you’d think no one had ever read a book. And honesty seems to be out of vogue. But I digress. I’m not nearly as judgmental as my father was. Thanks to the near universality of tattoos and piercings, neither of which I’ll ever understand, I’ve learned not to judge anyone by appearance alone. Where I draw the line is when I’m paying someone to do a job, whereupon I expect them to dress appropriately. Except for the Supreme Court, whose justices are liberated from sartorial concerns, there is no more august body in the United States than the Senate. Senators should no more come to the chamber wearing a jogging suit than they should wear a tuxedo to play tennis — though that could be cute. We citizens, after all, employ the often-ridiculous members of the House and Senate. In some cases, dressing down suits their behavior perfectly. The low-cut tops of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-colo.) come to mind. Try to imagine the always well-dressed former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-calif.) similarly attired. I know, I know, much ado. But when conducting the nation’s business, shouldn’t people be expected to display adult dress? I vote yes. It’s a matter of manners. When guests are asked to dress up for cocktails and dinner, the assumption is that people will put on their best behavior along with their good clothes. Most people try to dress up for their worship services. (Though a young woman I recently saw line up for Communion at Westminster Abbey in London looked as though she was taking a quick break from the trade. I have a photo.) I once had the pleasure of chatting with Letitia Baldrige, Jackie Kennedy’s social secretary, who said, “Manners are nothing but consideration and kindness.” This includes how one presents oneself to the world. I see Fetterman and conclude that he cares nothing about others. Not long ago while walking through the Charlotte airport observing wardrobes that seemed designed for napping, I spotted a woman in a pretty dress. Her hair was “fixed,” as we say, and she wore a tasteful touch of makeup. I couldn’t help myself and sprinted over to tell her how nice she looked and how lovely it was to see someone who had taken the time to dress. She was radiant with appreciation. (So, of course, I asked where she had gotten her dress.) Call me old-fashioned, but please join me in urging our senators to wear clothes appropriate for work. This tiny concession to decorum would demonstrate respect for the offices they hold and the nation they represent and their consideration of others — especially us.