The sight of Rep. Barney Frank wearing a casual t-shirt on the House floor Monday caused more than a few raised eyebrows — room temperature notwithstanding.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who’s leaving Congress next year, appeared on the floor not in the traditional shirt, tie and jacket but in a thin blue top and a jacket slung over his shoulders. C-SPAN cameras captured the ensemble, which highlighted Frank’s less-than-buff torso, and the image quickly went viral, drawing snickers across the Internet.
Now, now, kids: It should be known that Frank recently had surgery on his left hand and is wearing a cast and sling these days, which makes it difficult to put on a dress shirt and tie. We’re told he dropped by the office Monday with no plans to appear in public, but was asked to manage a bill because no other member was available. Frank borrowed a jacket from a staffer, according to his spokesman, draped it because it didn’t fit over the cast, and headed to the House floor.
Not since 2007, when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared in a lower-than-usual neckline (Cleavage! OMG!) has there been such a kerfuffle about congressional dress codes.
The rules are vague but rigorously enforced: Coat and tie for men, “appropriate attire” for women. Jack Kennedy reportedly caused a scandal by wearing golf shoes onto the Senate floor. Then-Rep. Pat Schroeder supposedly broke tradition as the first woman to wear pants on the House floor in the 1970’s — though some accounts say it was Susan Molinari or Cynthia McKinney. (Update, 12/21: Rep. Charlotte Reid was the first in pants)
Hill veterans say Sen. Robert Byrd used to lecture female senators about open-toed shoes; John Ensign, who frequently jogged on the mall, would run in and borrow a jacket in order to cast his vote.
Sleeveless dress were once forbidden, but that was before Michelle Obama displayed her bare arms in the House chamber. The random turtleneck has been tolerated, but the no-hat provision has been enforced for more than 150 years. Bella Abzug couldn’t change it; freshman Rep. Frederica Wilson — known for her signature toppers back in Florida — fully expected that Speaker John Boehner would overturn the ban. But eleven months later, she told us she’s “still wishing and hoping.”
And yet — Jim Traficant’s toupee was perfectly acceptable. Go figure.
Read also: Hillary Clinton’s tentative dip into new neckline territory, 7/20/2007
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