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Ryan Says He’s Working on Update to Capitol Dress Code

Move comes after recent furor over sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes

Arizona Rep. Martha McSally pointed out in a floor speech Wednesday that she was violating the House dress code. (CQ House floor video screenshot)
Arizona Rep. Martha McSally pointed out in a floor speech Wednesday that she was violating the House dress code. (CQ House floor video screenshot)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday to look “soon” for an update on the dress code inside the Speaker’s Lobby and around the Capitol.

The Wisconsin Republican said he would work with the House sergeant-at-arms to update the code without providing specifics on whether it would address women wearing sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes, which became an issue last week. The current rules date back to the manual for parliamentary procedure that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1801.

“Over the break, it came to my attention that there was an issue about dress code,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “I’ll be honest, this is not something that was covered in my new speakership orientation ceremony. The sergeant-at-arms was simply enforcing the same interpretation of the rules as under my predecessors. This is nothing new and certainly not something that I devised.”

“At the same time, that doesn’t mean that enforcement couldn’t stand to be a bit modernized. So that is why we will be working with the sergeant-at-arms to ensure the enforcement of appropriate business attire is updated,” the speaker said.

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Ryan added that while there should be a dress code inside the Capitol, the protocol could stand to be updated to reflect modern attire.

“Decorum is important, especially for this institution 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,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi applauded the speaker’s announcement on Twitter, saying, “These unwritten rules are in desperate need of updates.”

[The Capitol’s Dress Code, Explained]

The longstanding dress code made headlines last week after a female reporter wasn’t allowed into the Speaker’s Lobby because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Ryan reminded members in June to “wear proper business attire,” which includes sleeves and closed-toed shoes for women and jackets for men.

Some news reports last week blamed Ryan for making or changing the dress code rules, but others pointed out that Ryan, through the sergeant-at-arms, was only enforcing the current directives.

On Wednesday, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., spoke on the House floor and called attention to the fact that she was violating the dress code.

“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,” she said toward the end of her floor speech.

Two female lawmakers, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, and Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican, were overheard discussing “shoulders and toes” as they walked into the House chamber Wednesday. Noem took her sweater in her arms and draped it over her bare shoulders as she told Schakowsky she had remembered to change her shoes earlier.

Rema Rahman, Lindsey McPherson and Alex Gangitano contributed to this report.Correction 1:28 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the party affiliation of Rep. Kristi Noem.