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What a shame: Even the Mob had a better dress code than U.S. Senators (longer version)

Whew, that was close!

The end of U.S. civilization as we know it was staved off for just a bit longer recently when our political leaders came to their senses.

No, not by approving that temporary and inadequate extension that allows the government to continue functioning fully until Thanksgiving. I’m referring to the decision by the U.S. Senate to prevent that formerly august body from debasing itself — and our nation — even further.

The Senate for the first time passed a resolution imposing a formal dress code on its members, after centuries of an informal, unwritten dress code.

Why was it unwritten and informal? Because for centuries, senators probably never thought they’d need to write down rules telling senators how to dress while conducting the nation’s business.

Alas, they never reckoned on Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who unilaterally ended the dress code for senators so that fellow Democratic Sen. John Fetterman wouldn’t have to dress up like a big boy to cast a vote. Fetterman, D-Pa., burst into the national consciousness as a small town mayor who favored big hoodies and baggy shorts.

It was an attention-getting gimmick, but I doubt people who voted him to the Senate expected him to continue wearing that getup.

To avoid violating the unwritten rule, the aggressively anti-fashionista Fetterman would cast his vote from the side of the Senate chamber without actually stepping onto the Senate floor.

Schumer wanted Fetterman and, presumably, every other senator, to wear whatever the heck they wanted onto the Senate floor.

What manner of madness is this, Chuck? Are you really trying to turn the hallowed halls into the Halloween halls?

It would be hard to imagine this fractious Senate voting unanimously on whether ice cream is good in summer, yet Schumer succeeded in persuading it to vote unanimously on a dress code.

We all — even a noted fashion plate such as I — have been guilty of committing fashion faux pas: who can forget that time I wore my lime-green, velveteen jumpsuit similar to the one Fred “The Hammer” Williamson wore in ”Black Caesar”?

Or my green Nehru jacket with a hubcap-sized medallion — although in my defense, my mom was still buying my clothes then. (The medallion was my idea, though.)

Even more embarrassingly — because I bought it myself — I once un-ironically wore a navy blue Member’s Only jacket. To my credit, I only wore it in August 1979, which, coincidentally, is about how long that laughably lame garment stayed in style.

As it says in One Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child and dressed as a child. But when I was elected to the U.S. Senate, I put away childish things and put on a subtly pinstriped Brooks Brothers merino wool suit with 2-inch cuffs.”


I asked Sven Raphael Schneider, publisher of the entertaining and informative Gentleman’s Gazette online men’s style magazine, whether he thought the Senate should have a dress code.

“Dress codes make it easier for people to show up, because they know what to expect,” Schneider said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean people show up well-dressed. Dress codes are a good thing because they set the tone.”

Fashion plate and style arbiter Sven Raphael Schneider, publisher of Gentleman's Gazette.

Like many of us, though, Schneider feels the dress code or lack of one may be the least of the Senate’s problems.

“I think the average age of over 63 years makes it harder for Senators to do their job than the lack of a dress code” does, he said. “No matter how you are dressed, if you cannot keep up with changing times, you will make bad decisions.”

Even the Mafia knew the importance of dressing for the occasion. When Mob boss Frank Costello was advised by his attorney that he shouldn't wear expensive suits to trial lest he alienate jurors, Costello replied "I'd rather lose the case" than wear cheap suits.

Isn't it a shame that men who made their living running gambling joints and selling bootleg liquor and women have a better sense of how to dress for the occasion than the people we elect to run our government?

Because really: "Cheap suits" would be a serious upgrade from what Fetterman and some other politicians wear to conduct the nation's business.

Donning a sharp suit isn’t going to automatically raise the regard in which the Senate is held — its Gallup poll approval rating of 19% is probably lower than that of green, velveteen jumpsuits for men — but at least now we won’t have to wince when watching them conduct business on C-SPAN.

With a dress code, we can save our wincing for the next time some of its members vote against paying our soldiers and funding the government.


Oct 12, 2023

These are valid and constructive criticisms about the Senate, members should dress the part. Their appearance has very little consequence compared to their actions.


While a former western Pennsylvanian by birth and appreciative of our blue collar tradition (and a huge fan of Fetterman‘s policies), it is time for him to don the professional attire of a Senator. Now let’s talk about Jim Jordan’s weak rolled up sleeves attempt to pass himself off as anything other than what he is….trash.


Oct 12, 2023

I appreciate your column on attire and the Senate. i thought of my Uncle Larry. As a second grader I saw him everyday, at school. He arrived, each morning, immaculately dressed. Suit and tie. He would then, carefully, change into his overalls and go about his duties as the school’s maintenance man and janitor.

At day’s end he would return to his suit, and continue on in the world, confident and dignified in appearance.

Uncle Larry was one of the men that helped me understand the value in self presentation and the sense of pride that it can generate.

For an impressionable young black boy, in the Jim Crow South, it meant so much to see him, and others like…





Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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