“… ‘business attire’ — for men, a coat, tie and long pants — is also now the official dress code for the U.S. Senate, after the chamber unanimously approved a resolution from Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Mitt Romney (R., Utah) codifying its fashion rules.”— The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 2023
That was fast. I refer to the passing of Fetterman Fashion.
You will know of the hoodie and gym pants that “working man” John Fetterman wore to Washington upon his election in Pennsylvania to the U.S. Senate. He was relegated to casting votes from a doorway since decades-old custom required business dress on the Senate floor. It was awkward.
So, a couple of weeks ago, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) cast custom aside. Hoots instantly sounded from the other side of the aisle. “I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow to the Senate floor,” remarked Susan Collins (R-Maine), possibly sending a fright across the whole of Capitol Hill before she made it clear she was joking.
READ MORE — Richard Koenig: The Inquirer, Mark Tykocinski, and the ruction at Jefferson
Enter Joe Manchin, a nominal Democrat who bucked his party leadership when he initiated the resolution co-sponsored by Mitt Romney to codify the earlier dress rules. Thus, a display of bipartisanship that the threat of a national debt now worth $30 trillion and counting has yet to produce resulted from… what? National pride pricked by sneers from the French embassy? We might imagine: Le coup d’état de la sweat à capuche. (I translate loosely: The hoodie putsch.) There then followed last week a voice vote affirming the resolution and without objections, not even one by Fetterman himself.
But conjure up what might have been, if you dare.
Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) can’t quite bring himself to throw on a sweatshirt, but his fleece vest displaying the Carhartt logo instantly signals his comradeship with upstate frackers. Next, the senator dazzles in a camouflage-patterned T-shirt.
Pennsylvania: Red? Blue? Purple? No. Mossy green!
This ever-greater sartorial daring soon puts both Keystone senators on the cover of no less a style arbiter than Philadelphia magazine (“The Duo Who Are Breaking Barriers In Washington”). The admiring glow is hardly dimmed by a spoilsport at Broad + Liberty who takes note that it is still only the junior senator who bears his knees while the full-length khakis on Casey look suspiciously like threads from Brooks Brothers.
So, yes, considering what might have come to pass, all thanks to Manchin. Romney, too.
And yet, as the Fetterman craze spreads, the tradition-bashing Keystone duo no longer stands out. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) means business in Duluth Trading Co. work pants (“tough enough to handle your heavy lifting”) with a gusseted crotch to prevent any pinch during flights of oratory. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) sports Scotch-plaid flannel and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) rubber mocks (if, regrettably, under Navy-blue dress slacks).
These fashion-smart efforts pale, however, they utterly lack imagination when set against where the women take the initial Fetterman frenzy. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts first appears in a native-American bolo tie, the clasp of its leather cord enclosing a nugget of turquoise. She adheres to this restraint at first, perhaps owing to that contretemps with the Cherokee nation when it took umbrage over the use of DNA testing by the porcelain-complexioned senator to suggest she was one of them. But as time passes, memory fades. Soon enough she blazes in a Cherokee tear dress with decorative bands at the shoulder and waist.
Next, the Fetterman contagion infects the House and you know who. Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi arrives for work after a quick round trip to San Francisco Bay Area boutiques. None the worse for jet lag, she models the rugged chic of a slouchy, luxe-leather jacket (Free People, $698); Sierra, water-proof, over-the-knee boots (Blondo, $239); and a recycled-nylon backpack (Prada, $2,250).
Chuck Schumer can only sit and stew. Though it was he who kindled this wear-what-you-will fervor, did he not say for himself: “I will continue to wear a suit”? He is bound by that vow, and merely ditching his briefcase will hardly distinguish him. L.L. Bean backpacks already litter the Senate chamber.
So, yes, considering what might have come to pass, all thanks to Joe Manchin. Mitt Romney, too.
And now, about that $30-trillion debt…
Richard Koenig is the author of the Kindle Single No Place to Go, an account of efforts to provide toilets during a cholera epidemic in Ghana.