On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner had to offer a subtle reminder to his wards. "Members should wear appropriate attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearances on the floor may be," he told the members, adding, "You know who you are." And everyone laughed at whoever was being called out.
The rules for what is or isn't appropriate on the House floor are somewhat vague. The Republican conference of the House Committee on Rules has a "basic training" for new members that outlines the historic standard.
Members are required to dress appropriately, which has traditionally been considered to include a coat and tie for male Members and appropriate business attire for female Members. Members should not wear overcoats or hats on the floor while the House is in session.
People don't always adhere to that standard. The most famous recent incident is l'affaire Barney Frank of which the less said, the better.
Do not fool yourself, though, into thinking that Boehner's reminder about attire was a rarity. In fact, it happens pretty regularly, allowing us to rank the sloppiness of each Congress since 2001, based on how many times members had to be told not to dress like slobs. (Which is found by searching the Congressional Record.)
In most cases, the Congress begins with the dress code being added to the record. We gave that one point. If a Congress had to be told again not to wear, say, thin blue T-shirts on the floor, it got two more points. So, ordered from least to most sloppy:
8. 108th Congress (2003-2004)
Score: 1 point
The 108th Congress received only the guidelines entered into the record in January of its first year. It reads something like this:
The Chair would encourage all Members to review rule XVII to gain a better understanding of the proper rules of decorum expected of them, and especially: to avoid "personalities'' in debate with respect to references to other Members, the Senate, and the President; to address the Chair while standing and only during, and not beyond, the time recognized, and not to address the television or other imagined audience; to refrain from passing between the Chair and a Member speaking, or directly in front of a Member speaking from the well; to refrain from smoking in the Chamber; to wear appropriate business attire in the Chamber; and to generally display the same degree of respect to the Chair and other Members that every Member is due.
7. 107th Congress (2001-2002)
Score: 2 points
In October 2002, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was acting as speaker pro tempore and felt compelled to remind his colleagues about how to dress. "The Chair would remind all Members that are on the House floor," he said, "that they need to be dressed in appropriate attire for them to be on the floor."
During that Congress, though, no background on "appropriate attire" was entered into the record at the outset -- which is perhaps why everyone was a mess (or, someone, anyway) by its end.
2 – 6. The 109th, 111th, 112th and 114th Congresses
Score: 3 points
In addition to the initial standard-issue warning in January, each of these Congresses got another chastisement.
109th, June 2006: The speaker pro tem warns, "The appropriate dress for Members in the Chamber while the House is in session is business attire, and this standard applies even when a Member enters the Chamber only to vote by electronic device."
111th, January 2009: Speaker pro tem: "All Members are reminded that appropriate attire for gentlemen includes a necktie."
112th, January 2012: Boehner says, "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their presence on the floor might be."
114th: The one entered into the record in January and Boehner's on Wednesday. Of course, this ranking could change. We still have months for more fashion admonishments!
But the big winner is:
1. The 113th Congress
Score: 7 points
The 113th got the written warning at the outset of the Congress, but it didn't do any good. Boehner repeatedly had to remind everyone about the dress code, using the same language every time (at least according to the Record).
February 2013: "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor."
July 2013: "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor."
March 2014: "Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor."
The 113th Congress was pretty notorious for being bad at a lot of things. But now we can add another to the list: biggest slobs.
At least by Congress's standards.