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Photo of Missouris capital building in Jefferson County. Edited using Adobe Express.

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Photo of Missouri’s capital building in Jefferson County. Edited using Adobe Express.

Missouri Dress Code Changes

March 9, 2023

“We wasted taxpayers’ dollars to talk about sweaters and blazers,” said LaKeySha Frazier Bosley, a Missouri Representative who witnessed the debate that occurred in the Missouri House on January 11th, 2023. The dress code was changed in the house, altering the current code, to ensure that women’s arms had to be covered in the chamber at all times.

In a vote of 105-51 in favor of the dress code change, the amended rule presented by Republican state Representative Ann Kelley, sparked controversy from many, as they believed that this spontaneous change was pointless, and unnecessary.

We wasted taxpayers’ dollars to talk about sweaters and blazers.

— LaKeySha Frazier Bosley

On January 11th, the Missouri House of Representatives met to discuss changes in the house rules as they usually would every two years. At the meeting, Representatives engaged in an intense debate over republican state Rep. Ann Kelley’s proposed change to the dress code within The House chamber. The amendments were not thought up by Kelley, The House’s chief clerk requested for these changes and Kelley advocated for the change. Democratic representatives including Representative Raychel Proudie said to the house, “I think we’re being quite pedantic here by making rules so petty.” Representative Proudie wasn’t the only person that deemed the debate unnecessary, Missouri Representative LaKeySha Bosley said, “It was a pointless conversation that should have never been brought up in the first place.”

Others viewed the time used to revise the dress code as a waste of time and just a sexist issue that took time away from issues with greater importance.

Representative Bosley said about the dress code bill, “This is unnecessary, this is ridiculous. And you’ve already taken the rights for so many women in Missouri to choose and be able to say when they want to have a kid. I immediately went into the mindset of like, oh my goodness, we’re going into Handmaid’s Tale.”

The purpose of the proposed amendments was to try to increase professionalism within The House chamber. Representative Bosley argues that formal, conservative apparel is not in fact correlated directly with professionalism, “the fact that we are now supporting or insinuating that women cannot function without blazers. That is absolutely ridiculous.”

Since many Democratic representatives opposed the idea of the dress code because of the way it insinuates discrimination against women and their rights to their bodies, it was interpreted that they opposed the idea of professionalism.

“How is encouraging professionalism wrong,” Kelley said in a Facebook post. As argued by Democratic representatives, policies that govern what women wear can be not only unnecessary but discriminatory, Proudie argued that a policy only allowing women to wear blazers could be difficult and or costly to pregnant women because they would either have to buy entirely new clothes or get their existing clothes altered.

I immediately went into the mindset of like, oh my goodness, we’re going into Handmaid’s Tale.

— LaKeySha Frazier Bosley

The changes of dress code and other alterations of composure for representatives, are not uncommon within legislatures across the country.

In a report done in 2021, the National Conference of State Legislatures remarked on how more than half of the states had some form of dress code in place.

In a state with a Republican House majority, the dress code change may have seemed sudden, yet the debate over female and male representatives’ clothing choices within the chamber has been an ongoing debate since 2017.

In the US Congress, up until 2017, reporters and lawmakers were required to wear dresses and blouses with sleeves
if they were within the House chamber.

A group of bipartisan female lawmakers protested over their ‘right to bare arms,’ prompting then-Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to conclude that the dress code ‘could stand to be a bit modernized.’

After this instance in Congress, the US Senate followed and amended their rules as well. In the Missouri House and Senate, it has always been standard procedure to hold oneself to a high presentation of decorum. Pants and pantsuits are more common attire for female politicians now, however the US Congress requires a dress code that prohibits things like open-toed shoes, and sleeveless dresses.

The discourse associated with attire in politics, particularly the US government, has always been about the same issue. Opinion of dress code has changed, notably since Congress’ first female senator, Jeanette Rankin was elected into the senate in 1918. But, issues continue to arise around the idea of professionalism.

“You would like to think that social norms and expectations around gender and professionalism have changed since the 1960s. But there’s always people who are uncomfortable with change, especially when it comes around social norms,” said Lyons.

The act of it being a topic of discussion has raised questions of how efficient and effective the Missouri lawmaking process really is.

“We are constantly making national news for the wrong reasons. There’s always something we’ve done on the wrong side of history,” said Bosely.

A prevalent reason as to why these debates are occurring in such a divided atmosphere, is because of most of these lawmakers being a part of different generations, and therefore ways of life. Oftentimes this disconnect leads lawmakers to come to a crossroads in debate.

In the next few decades social differences will deem prominent as older elected officials now get voted out.

Poole noted how “Change scares a lot of people especially if it’s something that they’re not used to, or if that change may not be of benefit to them as the old system was.”

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