The new, stricter, women’s dress code tagged as #Sweatergate by Missouri Democrats is continuing to draw uproar since it passed on Wednesday.
The new rules adopted by the Republican-majority Missouri State House of Representatives adopted a stricter dress code for women as part of a new rule package and now require them to cover their shoulders by wearing a jacket like a blazer, cardigan or knit blazer.
The bill, which was proposed by Republican state Rep. Ann Kelley, sparked outrage from some Democrats who said the change was sexist because the dress code for men was not changed.
Men are required to wear a jacket, shirt and tie. The previous dress code for women required “dresses or skirts or slacks worn with a blazer or sweater and appropriate dress shoes or boots.”
On the House floor, Kelley said she was moved to propose the amendment because it “cleans up some of the language… by emulating the language in the gentleman’s dress code.”
“Men must wear a jacket, a shirt, and a tie, am I right? They would be gaveled down immediately if they entered this building without a tie. They would be gaveled down immediately if they entered without a jacket. We therefore have a strong desire to be equal “Kelley stated during the floor debate on Wednesday.
According to the state House website, women hold fewer than a third of the seats in the Missouri House, which is made up of 116 men and 43 women.
The dress code amendment was passed in a voice vote and the rules package was later adopted by the GOP-controlled legislature in a 105-51 vote, but not without pushback and debate from House Democrats.
“Do you know what it feels like to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top trying to determine if it’s appropriate or not?” Democratic state Rep. Ashley Aune proclaimed from the House floor.
Republicans modified their amendment to include cardigans after Democratic state Rep. Raychel Proudie criticized the impact requiring blazers could have on pregnant women.
Democratic state Rep. Peter Merideth refused to vote on the amendment, telling his colleagues on the floor, “I don’t think I’m qualified to say what’s appropriate or not appropriate for women and I think that is a really dangerous road for us all to go down.”
“Y’all had a conniption fit the last two years when we talked about maybe wearing masks in a pandemic to keep each other safer. How dare the government tell you what you have to wear over your face? Well, I know some governments require women to wear things over their face, but here, oh, it’s OK because we’re just talking about how many layers they have to have over their shoulders,” Merideth added.
In the US Congress, up until 2017, reporters and lawmakers were required to wear dresses and blouses with sleeves if they wanted to enter the House chamber. A group of bipartisan female lawmakers protested over their “right to bare arms,” prompting then-Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to concede that the dress code “could stand to be a bit modernized.” The US Senate later amended its rules as well, The New York Times reported.
Aune told CNN Friday that the change signals that Republicans in the state aren’t focused on “important issues.”
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Wardrobe choices in government buildings are protected by the First Amendment as free expression, so long as they do not illegally discriminate. Because dress codes are typically more restrictive for women than for men, they often give rise to controversy.
Legally, there is no requirement that dress codes be identical for men and women, but rather, that they are not significantly more burdensome on one gender.