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Top One Magazine

Opinion | John Fetterman Should Wear a Suit — And Republicans Should Put a Sock in It

Republicans are not happy about John Fetterman’s hoodies.

Following Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to drop the Senate dress code for members — widely seen as an accommodation for the senator from Pennsylvania, who often roams the halls of Congress in a baggy hoodie and shorts — conservative commentator Monica Crowley called Fetterman a “revolting slob.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called him “disgraceful.” (Fetterman retorted: “Thankfully, the nation’s lower chamber lives by a higher code of conduct: displaying ding-a-ling pics in public hearings” — a reference to when Greene displayed uncensored pornographic images of Hunter Biden during a hearing.) Sen. Susan Collins took a more lighthearted approach, joking that she’d wear a bikini to the Senate floor before clarifying that, “obviously,” she wouldn’t.

As a menswear writer who has focused on the topic of suits for the past 12 years, I think the Senate should enforce the dress code and Fetterman should wear a suit — not only in the Senate chamber, but even when walking through congressional halls. Formalwear can communicate a sense of respect. We dress up for weddings and funerals to show our loved ones that we honor them. In the same way, when politicians conduct their work on matters of great importance, they wear suits to demonstrate that they honor the American people whom their work will impact.

In arguing in favor of the dress code, I seem to be in the company of Fetterman’s many conservative critics. But I’m not. Their comments — and the glut of conversation both online and in the news — suggest they fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of putting on a nice suit. Clothing is a poor proxy for a person’s more important inner qualities, such as character, capability and intelligence. Respectability can be more directly measured by a person’s actions. The reason the Senate should maintain the dress code is precisely because clothing is not all that important — next to debates over who gets welfare and who goes to war, fashion is simply not a serious concern. The dress code is about something deeper than that. The point of wearing a suit to Congress is to give physical form to the genuine ideals in your heart: your dedication to upholding your oath of office, your devotion to the institution of democracy, your unshakable commitment to the constituents you serve. If you don’t demonstrate these ideals through your behavior, a suit won’t make up for it. By focusing too much on the mere appearance of respectability, Fetterman’s critics lose sight of the deeper, more meaningful aspects of what it means to serve honorably.

There’s no better example of this misunderstanding than Roger Stone — a longtime supporter of former President Donald Trump. Stone complained to Newsmax this week that Fetterman’s casual style is an “insult to the Senate” and yet it is Stone who stands by a president who attacked more governmental institutions than any president in modern history. Stone has shown more outrage over sweatshirts than over Trump’s interference in Justice Department investigations, his coarsening of the public discourse, his sexual assault allegations or even his attempt to overturn the results of an election he unambiguously lost. In the Danish documentary A Storm Foretold, Stone can be heard laying out plans to help Trump cling to power after his electoral loss. “Fuck the voting,” he said. “Let’s get right to the violence. Shoot to kill.” He would later lobby Trump for a pardon for his role in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Forget hoodies — this was the real “insult to the Senate.”

Similarly, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who said that the new dress code bothers him “big time,” signed a letter along with 45 other Republicans imploring Schumer to reverse the decision. The letter argues: “Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent.” But Tuberville was one of the 11 Republican senators and senators-elect who tried to stop the electoral vote count during the 2020 presidential election. And surely it’s more disrespectful of U.S. institutions for Tuberville to freeze the nominations of over 300 military officers than it is for Fetterman to show up for work in baggy clothes.

There’s another, perhaps more practical reason that Fetterman should button up, and it has to do with the fact that you’re reading this essay right now — and not, say, an analysis of his legislative contributions. Both the media and those of us on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter have spent months talking about his attire — the past week intensely — when Fetterman and his staff should be working to make sure constituents hear his political message and know what he’s accomplishing for them. As I said before, clothing itself doesn’t really matter all that much; it’s the person under the clothing, and the choices they make, that count. Does Fetterman’s communications director, Joe Calvello, really want to spend the next few years answering questions about clothes instead of achievements?

The potential for distraction in the absence of a dress code goes beyond Fetterman, too. Congress is a circus nowadays. With cameras in the Senate and House chambers, politicians grandstand to create viral social media moments, which they milk to drum up the base, fundraise and inflate their celebrity status. The most likely outcome of this dress code scandal is that most male members will continue to wear their suits, and when Fetterman one day leaves office (or when Republicans retake the Senate), the old dress code will be reinstated. But there’s a risk of a lax dress code creating more sideshows. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has already used clothing props for political theater, and it would be a shame if, one day, politicians arrived in increasingly ridiculous outfits for attention. Such moments drive online discourse and mainstream media chatter, which sucks the air out of discussions about more meaningful matters.

While we argued over gym shorts this past week, the United Auto Workers began their massive strike, Vladimir Putin continued to wage his war in Ukraine and the U.S. government careened toward a government shutdown. If Republicans genuinely want to fix the Senate’s dress code, they should work with Democrats to pass a spending bill — Fetterman has already pledged that he’ll wear a suit if Congress can manage this.

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