Are suit jackets oppression? Lawmakers fight chamber dress codes calling them sexist, racist

Legislatures Dress Codes
Posted at 10:19 AM, Mar 26, 2021

BOSTON (AP) — State legislatures are being forced to confront long standing dress codes that are increasingly viewed as sexist and racist.

A Latino state senator in Rhode Island objects to his chamber’s jacket and collared shirt edict as a form of white oppression.

Female lawmakers in Montana complain proposed rules dealing with skirt lengths and necklines are overly sexist.

And a state representative in Iowa wore jeans to highlight the irony of legislative leaders refusing to mandate facemasks on the chamber floor but still banning casual clothes.

“These rules make it OK for us to judge people based on the way they dress or how they look, and I just feel that’s super problematic,” said Jonathon Acosta, the 31-year-old Democratic state senator from Rhode Island. “I assure you that what I wear does not influence the quality of the work I produce.”

The Democrat-controlled Rhode Island Senate approved its new dress code Tuesday, over objections from Acosta and other lawmakers.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says roughly half of state legislatures have a dress code.

Debates over dress have also come up in Congress. Objections from female lawmakers to a longstanding ban on sleeveless tops and open-toed shoes in the House prompted former Republican Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017 to promise a review, though it’s unclear whether the rule was updated to reflect contemporary standards.

Spokespersons for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t respond to phone and email messages seeking comment Wednesday.