A stricter dress code began last week for women in the Missouri House of Representatives. Instead of deregulating dress codes as other states have done recently, my home state of Missouri opted to do just the opposite. In fact, the new clothing law feels more like a rule that would have been implemented a hundred years ago.
On January 11, in a vote of 105-51, the Missouri State House adopted new legislation that requires female lawmakers to wear jackets while in the chamber. The main proponent of the new rule was Republican State Rep. Ann Kelley. Yes, a woman. She introduced the new rule so that women could mirror the dress code for men, which requires jackets to be worn.
As Kelley said, “It is essential to always maintain a formal and professional atmosphere” in the House. When pressed for why she brought the issue to the floor, she remarked, “You would think that all you would have to do is say, ‘Dress professionally,’ and women could handle it. You would think elected officials could handle that.”
If there’s evidence to support Kelley’s claim that female lawmakers can’t handle dressing professionally, it’s impossible to find. There’s lack of proof that women lawmakers are wearing flip flops, crop tops, or tattered jeans to work. In fact, women across the political divide were wearing blazers, sweaters and yes, even jackets in the House even as the Republican proposed the updated dress code.
On the other hand, just last year, a male Republican lawmaker wore bib overalls on the Senate floor. Turns out, maybe it’s men in her own party that Kelley should be more concerned about.
As much as I love being a Midwesterner, sometimes living in Missouri feels like being in a time warp. After Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer, my home state became the first in the country to enact “trigger laws” making abortion illegal. Plus, with underpaid teachers, laxed gun laws, and hazardous chemicals recently found in water supplies, there are plenty of other important issues to discuss. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that Democrats were heated after Kelley proposed the updated dress code.
As Democratic State Rep. Ashley Aune said, “You know what it feels like to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top trying to decide whether it’s appropriate or not?” As one of only 43 females in the Missouri House compared to 116 men, Aune went on to say that the new law “is ridiculous.”
But women weren’t the only ones to push back against the new law. Democratic State Rep. Peter Merideth even refused to vote on the legislation. “I don’t think I’m qualified to say what’s appropriate or not appropriate for women,” Meredith told his colleagues, “and I think that is a really dangerous road for us all to go down.”
Beyond telling women what is and isn’t appropriate dress attire, other Democrats pointed out that the new regulation can also be an economic barrier. As Democratic State Rep. Jamie J. Johnson asked in a tweet, “Why would we need to add additional class barriers to the idea that anyone could represent the people?”
The new rule says: “Proper attire for women shall be business attire, including jackets worn with dresses, skirts, or slacks, and dress shoes or boots. For the purposes of this rule, ‘jacket’ shall include blazers, cardigans, and knit blazers.”
Although Missouri is far from the only state to have a dress code in the chamber, it is the only one to implement a stricter dress code for women in recent years. Apparently the “Show-Me State” wants female lawmakers to show less of their skin. Perhaps the inevitable next step is for women to have restricted dress or skirt lengths akin to the ankle or mid-calf lengths of the early 1920s.