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Female lawmaker violates alleged House dress code

Congressional attire
Are sleeveless dresses "appropriate attire"? Congress doesn't think so 00:44

A female lawmaker on Wednesday proudly stood on the House floor and pointed out that she was wearing a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes, violating an alleged dress code that's supposed to be enforced in the chamber and the adjoining Speaker's lobby.

"Before I yield back, I want to point out I'm standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, speaks on the House floor and points out she's wearing a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes. C-SPAN

This came after a CBS News story about the House dress code went viral on social media last week -- about the experiences of a few female reporters who were kicked out of the Speaker's lobby because they were wearing sleeveless dresses and their shoulders weren't covered. While the supposed policy is not new, it's inconsistently enforced and is not precisely outlined in the rulebooks.

McSally sued Donald Rumsfeld when he was secretary of defense because the military required women in the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia to wear a head-to-toe robe called an abaya, typically worn by some Muslim women, when traveling off base. The military reversed the policy after a review, and not as a result of the lawsuit.

Men are instructed to wear suit jackets and ties in the House chamber and Speaker's lobby, and women aren't supposed to wear sleeveless blouses or dresses, sneakers or open-toed shoes.

But if there ever were specific pieces of clothing outlawed on paper, those records seem to have disappeared.

The only specifics that exist are found in Jefferson's Manual and Rules of the House of Representatives, which spells out the history of the somewhat vague guidelines.

In the 96th Congress, then-Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Democrat, "announced that he considered as proper the customary and traditional attire for Members, including a coat and tie for male Members and appropriate attire for female Members," according to a 2015 edition of the manual. It added that the House then adopted a resolution that required Members "to wear proper attire as determined by the Speaker."

Despite Washington, D.C.'s summer heat and humidity, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, recently reiterated an announcement made to House lawmakers over the years: "Members should periodically rededicate themselves to the core principles of proper parliamentary practice that are so essential to maintaining order and deliberacy here in the House."

Among them: "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be."

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