Speaker Paul Ryan has asked a top House chamber official to “modernize” the Speaker’s Lobby dress code after being pummeled in the media for a long-held rule that women must cover their shoulders in a hallway outside the House floor.
The Wisconsin Republican in a news conference Thursday said he has asked the House sergeant-at-arms to revisit and “update” business dress requirements that bar women from wearing sleeveless and open-toed shoes. The dress code also requires men to wear jackets and a tie, though that requirement has largely escaped recent criticism.
“Decorum is important, especially for this institution, and a dress code in the chamber and in the lobby makes sense,” Ryan said. “But we also don’t need to bar otherwise accepted contemporary business attire, so look for a change on that soon.”
Ryan has faced an onslaught of attacks in fashion publications and on social media, with critics suggesting the rules reek of sexism and blaming him personally. The rules for women and men, however, have been in place and enforced for decades, including under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ryan clarified that he had nothing to do with the creation of the rules, though as speaker, he can ask House officers to change them.
“The sergeant-at-arms was simply enforcing the same interpretation of the rules as under my predecessors,” Ryan said. “This is nothing new and it’s certainly not something that I devised.”
He added: “But 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 change to the dress code, which is enforced on members and reporters alike, comes just as some female Democratic lawmakers had also quietly been discussing a protest against the rules.
But even some Republican women have started pushing back on the rules, creating an even greater headache for Ryan. On Wednesday, Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, took to the floor to purposefully flout the dress code — and she made sure lawmakers knew it.
"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 quipped.