For women at the U.S. Congress: the right to bare arms?

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 13, 2017 1:38 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After an Internet-fueled furor over rules barring women in sleeveless attire, U.S. House of Representatives 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 that falsely accused him and other Republican House leaders 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. At the same time, that doesn't mean that enforcement couldn't stand to be a bit modernized," Ryan told a weekly news conference.

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

After a flurry of news articles, the issue made its way onto the House floor.

One of Ryan's fellow Republicans, Representative Martha McSally, noted that she was wearing an outfit that violated the code as she ended a speech 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 women in the U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia to wear a head-to-toe "abaya" when traveling off base.

Pelosi took to social media to say she was glad to see Ryan's statement.

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

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)