Paul Ryan Is Finally Going To Change That Outdated Dress Code

by Bronwyn Isaac
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After a wave of public backlash, House Speaker Paul Ryan will change the House dress code so that it reflects modern clothing styles and is overall more lenient, particularly toward women. His decision to change the House dress code was revealed on Thursday during his weekly press conference.

"Over the break, it came to my attention there was an issue about dress code. The Sergeant at Arms was simply enforcing the same interpretation of the rules as under my predecessors. At the same time, that doesn't mean that enforcement couldn't stand to be a bit modernized," Ryan said.

Currently, the House dress code requires that men wear suit jackets and ties, and bans women from wearing sleeveless dresses or open-toed shoes. This is not only enforced in the House chamber itself, but also in the Speaker's Lobby, where journalists commonly congregate.

Technically, these rules have been in place since 1979, in the users manual for the 96th Congress which called for "appropriate attire for female Members." However, when CBS reported on a female reporter banned from the Speaker's lobby for wearing a sleeveless dresses, there was a fresh backlash.

The reporter's dress was reportedly deemed inappropriate, and she wasn't allowed to enter the area outside the House chamber. In an attempt to improvise, she stuffed her shoulders with papers from her notebook. Still, no entry.

Once the report got out, there was a significant amount of criticism of the House dress code and what it means for women. One of the main arguments is that since much of women's formal wear is sleeveless, these restrictions can create yet another barrier for women.

What perhaps made the waves of backlash most notable was the fact that dissenters were neither limited to the confines of the internet, nor were they exclusively Democrats.

On Wednesday, Arizona Republican lawmaker Martha McSally defied the dress code while making a floor speech about first responders. "Before I yield back. I want to point out I'm standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes," McSally told the House.

Based on his commentary on Thursday, it appears that Ryan has heard the criticisms against the rule, and is making moves to update the House dress code.

"Decorum is important, especially for this institution, and a dress code in the chamber and the lobby makes sense. We also don't need to bar otherwise accepted contemporary business attire, so look for a change on that soon," Ryan concluded.