Dot’s Reading Room: And now for a lighter moment in the Reading Room

October 4, 2023
Dot's Reading Room by Dorothy Bergin

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer started a near firestorm last week when he “updated” the dress code for U.S. Senators, away from the formal suit and tie that males have worn for decades in that august body.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) started the fracas with his habit of wearing gym shorts and a hoodie in the chamber (or at least, on the threshold of the chamber). But the uproar caused the Senate to unanimously pass a resolution mandating a coat, tie, and slacks for men on the Senate floor. (So far, no one has mandated a dress code for women senators.) 

 A recent article in “The Conversation” ran with this headline:

“John Fetterman might be the first to try to bare his legs in the Senate, but shorts have been ticking people off for almost a century”

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Deidre Clemente, Associate Professor of History and fashion historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, writes:

“I’ve heard this tune before. It’s the same one sung by college administrators in the late 1950s when women wanted to wear pants to the campus cafeteria. And I could hear the chorus of befuddled office managers who wanted to ban polo shirts in the early 1990s, just as Casual Fridays revolutionized what people wear to work.

“The people living through these changes often consider them devolution rather than evolution. An old guard steps forward to protect the sartorial standards of a previous time by using terms such as “respect” and “tradition.” They might be able to staunch the shift, as the Senate seems to have done. But time and again, their efforts to regulate attire ultimately end up failing. Shorts, in particular, have a history of eliciting ire.

The Shorts Protest of 1930 brought more than 600 students to the steps of Robinson Hall at Dartmouth College. Courtesy of Rauner Library, Dartmouth College, CC BY-SA

The Shorts Protest of 1930 brought more than 600 students to the hallowed steps of Robinson Hall at then-all-male Dartmouth College to defy the much-hated dress codes outlawing exercise clothing in campus buildings.”

Read this amusing piece here:

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