For Women at Congress: The Right To Bare Arms?

The dress code requires men to wear suit jackets and ties in the House chamber and speaker's lobby, which is just outside it, and women are not supposed to wear sleeveless tops or dresses without a sweater or jacket.


(Reuters) — After an internet-fueled furor over rules barring women in sleeveless attire, House Speaker Paul Ryan pledged on Thursday that House officials would review and perhaps modernize the chamber's dress code.

Ryan made his announcement a week after a CBS News report about the long-standing rules went viral on social media. It prompted a slew of reports, including some falsely accusing Ryan of unfairly targeting women, especially given Washington's notoriously hot summers.

The current dress code has been in place for years, including under Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who was the only woman to serve as House Speaker, from 2007-11.

"This is nothing new and certainly not something that I devised," Ryan said at a news conference. "At the same time, that doesn't mean that enforcement couldn't stand to be a bit modernized."

The dress code requires men to wear suit jackets and ties in the House chamber and speaker's lobby, which is just outside it, and women are not supposed to wear sleeveless tops or dresses without a sweater or jacket.

Neither men nor women are allowed to wear open or athletic footwear.

Ryan made clear that all of those standards would not go away.

"Decorum is important, especially for this institution," he said. "And a dress code in the chamber, in the lobby makes sense. But we also don't need to bar otherwise accepted contemporary business attire. So look for a change on that soon."

Amid a flurry of news articles, women House members jumped into the fray.

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier circulated a flyer urging women lawmakers to wear sleeveless dresses on "Sleeveless Friday" on July 14, with a photo on the Capitol steps after the day's first vote.

Republican Rep. Martha McSally noted she was wearing an outfit that violated the code as she ended a speech in the House chamber on Wednesday.

"I want to point out that I'm standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes," McSally said.

It was not McSally's first brush with dress codes. In 2001 when she was an Air Force fighter pilot, McSally sued then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the military's policy of requiring military women in Saudi Arabia to wear a head-to-toe "abaya" when off base.

Pelosi took to social media to welcome Ryan's statement.

"These unwritten rules are in desperate need of updates," she said on Twitter.

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