I suppose it was just a matter of time before casual dress hit the U.S. Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has told the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the hallowed chamber’s informal dress code, which had required senators and their staffers to wear business attire.
Schumer’s directive appears to be tailor-made for Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, who prefers gym shorts and hoodies over the suits and ties male senators have always worn.
When Fetterman first arrived at the Senate, he attempted to wear a suit and tie — but looked as uncomfortable as a kidnap victim constrained by a straitjacket.
After being treated for clinical depression, however, he returned to the Senate in his favorite frump duds.
To paraphrase comedian Dennis Miller, Fetterman’s clothes make him look like the kid who taps the keg at fraternity parties.
As someone who prefers slothful wear over formal attire — running pants, a long-sleeved Pitt Panthers shirt and frayed sandals — I’m sympathetic to Fetterman’s situation.
On one hand, I think the Senate deserves incredible courtesy and respect. It is a tremendous honor to be among 100 of the most accomplished and powerful people on the planet.
Senators must honor their colleagues through their manner, gestures, words and dress — one man’s comfort should never trump one’s duty to show respect to his colleagues and the august institution he represents.
On the other hand, our culture sure has gotten sloppy.
I recently found an old photo of my grandfather at a baseball game in the 1920s. He and the other guys at the game were sporting suits and ties and fedora hats.
Pretty much everyone dressed up in formal clothes when they went to restaurants, movies and Sunday Mass well into the 1970s.
The Atlantic reports that our national shift to casual wear began in the mid-’80s with tech companies in California.
“Restrictive clothing worn for appearances’ sake was inefficient, and Silicon Valley was all about efficiency,” reports the magazine.
Long work hours writing computer code gave way to tech employees dressing down in khaki pants and button-down collar shirts.
Casual Friday soon loosened corporate dress standards across the country, and that evolved into casual day every day.
Now, thanks to covid, we’ve become a country of wrinkled slobs who look like we just crawled out of bed.
Like it or not, we are living in the heyday of frump, and no public figure symbolizes frumpiness more than Fetterman — whose bold stand for slovenliness surely motivated Schumer to abolish informal dress standards for senators.
Schumer may rue the day he made this change, however.
It’s just a matter of time before Mitt Romney interviews witnesses as he still wears last-night’s silk pajama top, Ted Cruz casts votes in cargo shorts, black socks and scuffed wingtips, and Bernie Sanders filibusters in the raggedy white robe given to him as a gift 40 years ago.
Though I’m guilty of frumpism, if I were a senator I’d embrace the old saying “Dress for the job you want.”
I’d wear a crisp suit and tie and make sure my shoes were perfectly polished.
I’d do so for the simple reason that dress is a form of expression and communication — and that “dressing like a senator” will make it easier for my colleagues to respect me and collaborate with me than they would with the kid who taps kegs at frat parties.
Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com