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US Senate Relaxes Dress Code. Should Your Company Follow Suit?

A woman sitting on a couch typing on a laptop.

The acceptance of a less buttoned-up appearance for U.S. senators on the Senate floor is causing a dress code uproar. However, the Senate is simply "joining workplaces across the country that have become more casual since the COVID-19 pandemic," The Wall Street Journal noted.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., this week informed the sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the unwritten dress code that required men and women senators to wear business attire on the Senate floor. The dress code had been "strictly adhered to over the past 20 years," according to The Hill. For example, former Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., would stay just off the Senate floor while voting when he was in gym clothes to "avoid breaching decorum," The Hill reported. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., who often wears gym shorts and a hoodie, votes from the doorway of the party cloakroom or the side entrance before ducking out, The Associated Press reported.

Senate Republicans are in a furor, and most signed a letter to Schumer on Tuesday asking him to continue enforcing the Senate's previous, more formal dress code, according to CNN.

"I think there is a certain dignity that we should be maintaining in the Senate, and to do away with the dress code, to me, debases the institution," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The 70-year-old politician joked to reporters that in view of the relaxed dress code she planned to "wear a bikini" one day this week, according to various news reports.

A majority of U.S. workers wear business casual clothes most days they're on the job, although there is a gender difference, according to a Gallup poll conducted in August. While 41 percent of workers overall said their typical workplace dress is business casual, more women than men—51 percent versus 32 percent—said they wear business casual clothing such as a shirt and slacks. Three percent of men and women each wear more formal business attire such as suits. Overall, 23 percent of workers wear uniforms and 31 percent wear street clothes, such as leggings, T-shirts and casual jeans.   

"The biggest distinction in work attire today is not between those dressed up versus dressed casually," Gallup reported, "but rather in the degrees of casual dress. For most workers, and particularly women, the choice is between business casual and street casual."

SHRM Online collected the following articles on resources on this trending dress code topic. 

Lawmakers Give New Senate Dress Code a Dressing Down

The dress code drama, however inconsequential it may seem during a week when Congress is inching steadily closer to a government shutdown, ignited a real discussion about what it means to show respect for the body in which one serves.

To many, gym shorts may be a sign of disrespect. But many of the best-dressed members in Congress have not always acted in ways that convey respect for democratic institutions.
(The New York Times)

Even the Senate Is Loosening Its Dress Code in the Return-to-Office Era

Fashion consultants warned politicians to exercise caution with their newfound freedom. Kara Allan, a brand-image consultant based in Washington, D.C., said the city has a conservative fashion ethos, and workers typically dress in clothes that match the significance of their jobs. She said senators shouldn't dress in shorts like they are going to a cookout or another casual event.
(The Wall Street Journal)

Dress Codes Evolve Following Pandemic

As more employees return to worksites, some employers are rethinking their dress codes. That doesn't mean giving up dress codes entirely, but handling violations can be tricky. Don't be afraid to update the dress code as company culture changes, said Emily Tichenor, an attorney with Polsinelli in Denver.

"For example, if a company required formal business attire prior to COVID, but client expectations for employee dress have changed, consider whether allowing a business casual dress code makes sense," she said.
(SHRM Online

This Is Why We Need to End Dress Codes for Work

Given that we've settled into a hybrid or fully virtual work experience, it gives rise to a few questions: What happens to dress codes? And can we finally do away with the need to wear business attire when we're working in Zoomland?
(Fast Company

[SHRM Resources & Tools: Can Employers Have Dress Code Requirements that Differ Between Genders?

Your Work-Related Appearance: What Are Your Rights?

An employer can create a restrictive dress code, as long as it doesn't discriminate based on a protected class.

Inclusive Dress Code Policy: A Guide for Employers

A dress code can guide employees to best represent themselves and your business, but it's important to consider employee diversity to develop an inclusive dress code policy.


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