Posted: 10:49 am Friday, July 7th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
A story about the dress code requirements for the Speaker’s Lobby off the floor of the U.S. House quickly spiraled into political finger pointing late this week, as many people who don’t work in the halls of Congress were surprised to know that male and female reporters must follow certain standards of dress in one particular area of the Capitol.
And for many on Twitter and other social media, there was outrage.
“Women with bare shoulders banned from House Speaker’s Lobby,” blared one headline.
“Paul Ryan imposing bizarre dress code on women,” one person fumed on Twitter, as a Democrat who is running against Ryan denounced him and the policies in a news release.
As someone who stepped foot in the Speaker’s Lobby for the first time in 1980, none of these rules of dress and decorum for the press – and Congressional staff – are anything new, and they certainly were not put in place by the current Speaker of the House.
I’m going to say that I have it easy when it comes to working in the U.S. Capitol every day – I just put on a suit and tie and show up at work. But for some of my female colleagues, things aren’t as simple in terms of what they wear – or should not wear – when it comes to gaining access to one of the best spots on Capitol Hill, the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor.
In the Speaker’s Lobby, men are required to wear a jacket and tie, or else you don’t get in.
From time to time, there is always one unsuspecting male reporter who shows up (often someone new to Capitol Hill) who doesn’t wear a tie, or who opts not to sport a jacket, and they are turned away at the door by security.
For my colleagues who are women, the rules aren’t as clear on what’s okay and what’s not okay to wear – but it basically boils down to your shoulders, and whether they are bare, and whether your toes are peeking out from your shoes.
And that prompted this story on Thursday:
— Rebecca Shabad (@RebeccaShabad) July 6, 2017
That “news” – and it really wasn’t news if you worked as a reporter on Capitol Hill – spurred others to write stories as well, with some pointing the finger of blame (wrongly) at the current House Speaker.
— Mic (@mic) July 6, 2017
I’m not going to even try to opine on what the rules should be, whether they are old fashioned, just right, or how they should be enforced.
I will just let some of my journalistic colleagues – who are women – get the conversation rolling:
This is simply wrong. The Speakers' Lobby dress code has been this way for decades. Can be argued it should change — but let's be factual https://t.co/QDgti2fnGj
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) July 7, 2017
Did someone (in NYC?) just figure out the Speaker's Lobby has a dress code? It's been exactly the same for 10+ years I've worked there.
— Jackie Kucinich (@JFKucinich) July 6, 2017
No one loves sleeveless dresses and open-toed pumps more than I do, but this is fake news. Rules were there, just not heavily enforced. https://t.co/oulmGZqyjc
— Juliegrace Brufke (@juliegraceb) July 7, 2017
Incredible–the number of completely ignorant pieces about the speaker's lobby dress code.
— Kerry Picket (@KerryPicket) July 7, 2017
I'm used as an example in this and I'll be the first to say:
1. Speaker's Lobby rules aren't Paul Ryan's fault, lol
2. none of this matters https://t.co/yM9wWjakhO
— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) July 7, 2017
The no sleeveless rule in Speaker's Lobby is totally fine. Men have to wear jacket and tie. It's also approx 50 degrees there year round https://t.co/4gxttfyIq1
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) July 6, 2017
the thing that gets me is, who cares if someone wears a sleeveless dress/shirt? we are puritans who can't handle seeing a shoulder?
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) July 6, 2017
Devil's advocate: Perhaps members of congress – who see each other's shoulders (I'm guessing) alot more than we do – know something we don't https://t.co/kedsxQnwAe
— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) July 6, 2017
It's not ridiculous (nor sexist, for that matter) on its face to have a dress code for the U.S. Capitol.
— Meredith Shiner (@meredithshiner) July 6, 2017
So if the House posted the dress code rules somewhere, whether it's a sign at the entrance, press galleries, or online, it'd go a long way.
— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) July 6, 2017
— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) July 6, 2017
Interestingly, it's not just showing shoulders that can get you kicked out of the speaker's lobby but wearing a heavy winter coat as well.
— Kerry Picket (@KerryPicket) July 7, 2017
Men have to wear jackets. No open-toed shoes. Cub reporters told this day 1. And it's JUST the Speaker's Lobby, not the whole Capitol. https://t.co/GsHuR3u3Fc
— Gabrielle Levy (@gabbilevy) July 6, 2017
all the talk about the (albeit longstanding) no-sleeveless rule in the Speaker's Lobby, but I find more annoying the "no coats" rule
— Tierney Sneed (@Tierney_Megan) July 6, 2017
On the other end of the spectrum, I was asked to leave the Speaker's Lobby bc I was freezing and wearing a coat, which also isn't allowed. https://t.co/h2fy1AsIx8
— Lauren S. Camera (@laurenonthehill) July 6, 2017
This isn't new. Was asked to leave Speaker's Lobby outside House chambers a couple years ago for this https://t.co/ETMpk40Jvt
— Amber Phillips (@byamberphillips) July 6, 2017
As for male reporters, you are told right away when you arrive on Capitol Hill that you need to wear a jacket and tie to get into the Speaker’s Lobby.
There are a handful of reporters who prefer to avoid a sports coat and tie – that’s fine. But it means you don’t get into the Speaker’s Lobby, which is maybe the best place on Capitol Hill to take temperatures and figure out what’s going on in the Congress.
Now let’s take a look at what some men have to say about the dress code:
I assume some of my old emergency ties are still in House press gallery for male reporters who fail to come ready to meet the dress code.
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 7, 2017
And for men, too: No denim, no overcoats, no briefcases or backpacks, must wear a tie. => https://t.co/HjV2IhWY5v
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) July 6, 2017
The dress code for the Speaker's Lobby: Suit coat and tie for men. Women cannot wear wear sleeveless blouses/dresses.
This is not news.
— (((Daryl Thul))) (@dthul) July 7, 2017
— Andrew Feinberg (@agfhome) July 7, 2017
It's not a new policy. And it's the Speaker's Lobby. Dress professionally.
— William J. Upton (@wupton) July 7, 2017
— Shannon Lins (@ShannonLins) July 7, 2017
I was once stopped from entering Speaker's lobby b/c I wasn't wearing a jacket; just an Oxford & single windsor tie. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! https://t.co/nwD38De7KU
— Caleb Smith (@CalebJSmith) July 6, 2017
This is getting ridiculous. These are not "Paul Ryan's rules." https://t.co/O55aawo0s3
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 7, 2017
Paul Ryan Invented the House Dress Code is my favorite fake news story in a while.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 7, 2017
Again, this policy has been around for all 37 years that I have been knocking around the Congress, under both Democrats and Republicans.
Do times change? Sure they do. I remember when the Speaker’s Lobby was filled with cigarette smoke. Now, smoking is not allowed.
Will the dress code change in the Speaker’s Lobby at some point? Maybe.
I’ll just speak for the men – I hope it doesn’t. If you can’t muster the effort to put on a jacket and tie, maybe you should find a different place to be a reporter.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.