Senate Unanimously Passes New Formal Dress Code After Controversy

Senate Unanimously Passes New Formal Dress Code After Controversy
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) (right) arrives to a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on Sept. 19, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

The U.S. Senate on Sept. 27 unanimously passed a resolution to enforce formal business attire as the dress code for the chamber's floor.

S. Res. 376 (pdf) requires that senators wear business attire, including "a coat, tie, and slacks or other long pants" for men, on the Senate floor.
The move comes after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quietly altered the dress code earlier in September to stop enforcing the unwritten custom on the Senate floor of a formal dress code. In a press statement on Sept. 18, Mr. Schumer said that senators "are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor."

At the center of that change in dress code was Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who had been donning more casual attire, such as casual shorts or gym shorts and a hoodie or sweatshirt, as he went about his duties. Prior to Mr. Schumer's decision to modify the dress code to allow casual dress, Mr. Fetterman frequently had to vote from just outside the Senate's doors due to the unwritten standards.

Mr. Schumer's adjustment of the dress code was largely perceived as an effort to accommodate Mr. Fetterman, who experienced a stroke prior to securing his seat in the 2022 midterm election. Mr. Fetterman had been away from the Senate for two months to receive treatment for significant depression.

Earlier this month, Mr. Fetterman presided over the Senate in a short-sleeve shirt. This sparked reactions from both sides of the aisle, with dozens of Republican senators asking Mr. Schumer to reverse his decision of not enforcing the unwritten dress code.

The bill that passed on Sept. 27 is a joint proposal from Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to require an official dress code, rather than just having an unwritten custom.

"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," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor on Sept. 27.

"I deeply appreciate Senator Fetterman working with me to come to an agreement that we all find acceptable, and of course I appreciate Sen. Manchin and Sen. Romney's leadership on this issue."

After the unanimous vote, Mr. Fetterman's office posted on X, formerly Twitter, a viral meme photo showing actor Kevin James in casual attire, smiling. The picture is of Mr. James as the character Doug Hefferman on the set of "The King of Queens," a 1990s TV sitcom.
Ryan Morgan contributed to this report.