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John Fetterman can now wear shorts on the Senate floor thanks to dress code rule change

Julia Terruso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) quietly directed the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the Senate’s already informal dress code, Axios reported on Sunday.

“Senators are able to choose what they want to wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit,” Schumer said in a statement.

The new rule — or lack of a rule — takes effect this week. It wasn’t immediately clear if Schumer changed the rule specifically with Fetterman in mind, though Fetterman is the chamber’s most casually dressed member, and one who has received ongoing GOP blowback about his image since his Senate run.

Fetterman, a Democrat, was inaugurated in a suit and tie but has long preferred his signature shorts and Carhartt hoodies, which came to define his “everyman” campaign. How that image “fits” into the gilded rotunda has continued to be a focus.

Since returning to the Senate after being treated for clinical depression, Fetterman has worn a suit and tie when in the chamber but often wears casual clothing around the Capitol. He’s taken several votes from the edge of the Senate floor with one foot still in the cloakroom if he’s in his more casual attire. Other senators have also long voted this way if they’re rushing back from travel or a more casual engagement, though it limits the interactions they can have before and after the vote on the chamber floor.

The old rule — requiring business attire, which typically means coat and tie for men — still applies to Senate staffers, according to Axios.


But there actually isn’t a formal dress code written down anywhere, The Inquirer learned earlier this year when Fetterman took office. That makes the dress code more of a custom enforced at the discretion of the sergeant-at-arms.

Ross Baker, a Senate historian and political science professor at Rutgers University, noted the lack of an official code has meant plenty of senators have been able to show their style — western senators in cowboy boots and string ties, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in Puma sneakers.

“The important thing to remember about the Senate is that it is an institution whose rules are tailored (sorry about the pun) for its members,” Baker said, “I can recall no instance of a point of order being raised about a colleague’s fluorescent necktie or bolo tie.”

When he’s not in D.C., Fetterman has almost exclusively gone casual, whether touring Pennsylvania farms or appearing with President Joe Biden to receive an update on the reopening of I-95 earlier this year. He held a “Hoodies and Suits” themed fundraiser for fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s reelection campaign last week.


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