What Not To Wear - Speaker's Lobby edition


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:

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.

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:

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:

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.

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