The Missouri House of Representatives kicked off its new session by enforcing its dress code and requiring female lawmakers to cover their arms and wear blazers while in the state capital — much to the dismay and outrage of House Democrats.
Lawmakers met on Wednesday to debate changes to House rules, as is customary at the start of a new General Assembly every two years. The existing dress code, which was last updated in 2021, states that women are required to wear a “dress or skirt or trousers worn with a blazer or sweater and appropriate shoes or boots”.
Republican State Representative Ann Kelley proposed an amendment that would require women to wear jackets, defined as blazers and knitted blazers, with dresses, skirts or pants and dress shoes or boots. Kelley stated that the update is necessary because “it is essential to always maintain a formal and professional environment”.
She was met with quick opposition from Democrats, who called her “ridiculous”.
The state House finally passed a modified version of Kelley’s proposal, which allows for both cardigans and jackets but still requires women’s arms to be hidden.
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The change was deemed sexist as the men’s dress code remained unchanged. Men must also adhere to a dress code in the Houses with male legislators required to wear “business attire, including a suit jacket, tie, dress slacks and dress shoes or boots”.
Among those critics was State Representative Pete Merideth (D), who called his fellow Republicans hypocritical about how they handled health and safety guidelines when it came to wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The caucus that lost their minds over the suggestion that they should wear masks during a pandemic to respect the safety of others are now spending their time focusing on the nitty gritty details of what women should wear (and specifically how many layers they should cover their arms) to show respect in this chamber,” Merideth tweeted.
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“Do you know what it’s like to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top trying to decide if it’s appropriate or not?” State Rep. Ashley Aune (D) told the state House floor, adding that the update motion was “ridiculous.”
Representative Brenda Shields, a Republican, defended Kelley’s proposal as an effort to clarify rules that were already in place and suggested adjusting the language to allow cardigans to be considered jackets.
In a Facebook post, Rep. Kelley shared that she received “a lot of hateful calls and emails and messages about this amendment, which is funny because we already have a dress code. All I was doing was correcting the mistakes and clarifying the rule”.
She added that she brought the amendment to the floor because the House’s chief secretary “has asked for many years to get [this] fixed in our rules.” And she denied wasting anyone’s time, saying her speech took just five minutes and blamed Missouri Democrats for prolonging the debate.
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“How is encouraging professionalism wrong?” Kelley added. “If there’s ever a time to honor traditions and be professional, it’s on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives; I’m not going to apologize for standing up for those things.”
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