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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

John Fetterman can now wear shorts on the Senate floor thanks to dress code rule change

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) arrives for the “AI Insight Forum” at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C.    (Nathan Howard/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Julia Terruso The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sen. John Fetterman can now wear his signature shorts and hoodie on the Senate floor without fear of violating a Senate dress code.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., quietly directed the chamber’s Sergeant at Arms to no longer enforce the Senate’s already informal dress code, Axios reported on Sunday.

“Senators are able to choose what they want to wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit,” Schumer told Axios.

The new rule – or lack of a rule – takes effect this week. It wasn’t immediately clear if Schumer changed the rule specifically with Fetterman in mind, though Fetterman is the chamber’s most casually dressed member, and one who has received ongoing GOP blowback about his image since his Senate run.

Fetterman, a Democrat, was inaugurated in a suit and tie but has long preferred his signature shorts and Carhartt hoodies, which came to define his “everyman” campaign. How that image “fits” into the gilded rotunda has continued to be a focus.

Since returning to the Senate after being treated for clinical depression, Fetterman has worn a suit and tie when in the chamber but often casual clothing around the Capitol. He’s taken several votes from the edge of the Senate floor with one foot still in the cloakroom if he’s in his more casual attire. Other senators have long voted this way if they’re rushing back from travel or a more casual engagement, though it limits the interactions they can have before and after the vote on the floor.

The old rule – requiring business attire, which typically means coat and tie for men, still applies to Senate staffers, according to Axios.

But there actually isn’t a formal dress code written down anywhere, The Inquirer learned earlier this year when Fetterman took office. That makes the dress code more of a custom enforced at the discretion of the Sergeant of Arms.

Ross Baker, a Senate historian and political science professor at Rutgers University noted around Fetterman’s inauguration that the lack of an official code has meant plenty of senators have been able to show their style – Western senators in cowboy boots and string ties, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in Puma sneakers.

When he’s not in D.C., Fetterman has almost exclusively gone casual, whether touring Pennsylvania farms or appearing with President Biden to receive an update on the reopening of I-95 earlier this year. He held a “Hoodies and Suits” themed fundraiser for fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s re-election campaign last week.

“I couldn’t have gotten to the Senate without Bob’s support in 2022. And Bob won’t win in 2024 without help from all of us – whether you’re #TeamHoodies or #TeamSuits,” a fundraising email read.

Some Republicans immediately lambasted the rule change, calling it disrespectful to the decorum of the Senate.

“The Senate no longer enforcing a dress code for Senators to appease Fetterman is disgraceful,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R.-Ga., posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Dress code is one of society’s standards that set etiquette and respect for our institutions. Stop lowering the bar!”

Former U. S. Rep. Justin Amash, a longtime Republican who switched to the Libertarian party, wrote on X: “Awful. The Senate chamber isn’t your home, a gym, or an outdoor park. If you can’t dress professionally for work on the floor of the Senate of the United States, then do us all a favor and get a different job.”

Fetterman’s director of communications, Joe Calvello, responded to the change by joking about the fringe conspiracy that Fetterman has a body double.

“Great day for John Fetterman’s body double, we don’t have to buy them suits anymore.”