America Needs a Dress Code

Senator John Fetterman wearing a hoodie

Senator John Fetterman wearing a hoodie
Back when the Mafia pretty much ran Las Vegas, casino patrons, and concert-goers were expected to “dress up.” Translation? Men wore pressed shirts, slacks, a blazer, and usually a tie. Women wore dresses or skirts, and generally walked in high heels. My first trip to Vegas was in 1980 for a meeting of Jerry Lewis telethon producers and hosts. At that time “The Strip” looked pretty much like it had 20 years earlier, and there was still a strict dress code for admittance to casinos and shows. When I returned 30 years later, Las Vegas Boulevard had been transformed into something akin to an amusement park, and the old-time hotel dress codes had disappeared. My wife Pam and I took in a Tom Jones show at the MGM Grand, and much to my surprise, we were the only couple who bothered to “dress up.” Everyone else was in jeans, shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops.

I was recently reminded of this devolving decorum when Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman was allowed to enter the Senate chamber wearing shorts, a sweatshirt, and tennis shoes. Fetterman as you recall had once been hospitalized for depression, so Chuck Schumer, not wanting to appear politically incorrect, instructed the sergeant at arms to allow Big John admittance to the chamber. But Fetterman isn’t the only violator of Congressional norms. Kyrsten Sinema and Lauren Boebert often come to work showing more cleavage than a Baywatch girl.

America clearly has a dress code problem, and it’s not just with politicians and casino patrons. Flight attendants continually squabble with customers over what is and is not appropriate flying attire, and how much skin should be showing. When I first started traveling by plane, passengers wore “church clothes.” That’s a far cry from today’s flyers who routinely wear shorts, halter tops, and flip-flops.

Speaking of “church clothes”, I’ve also recently seen people wearing shorts and tennis shoes to worship services. I guess that would be OK for attending a baseball game, but not in church. Come to think of it, not so many decades ago, men wore shirts and ties to baseball games, even in the dog days of summer.

And while I’m on the subject of a dress code for sports patrons, there’s absolutely none for coaches. Head football coaches at both the college and pro levels used to wear a blazer, tie, and slacks. Today anything goes, with coaches wearing warm-up suits, hoodies, shorts, and t-shirts. Several weeks ago, Colorado State University head coach Jay Norvell hit a breaking point. Referring to rival Colorado University coach Deon Sanders who hardly ever removes his hoodie and shades, Norvell said, “When I talk to grown-ups, I take my hat and sunglasses off. That’s what my mother taught me.”

Dress code controversies also arise in secondary schools, where students are often asked to change their shirt if it contains a political message or foul language. Meanwhile, hair length also falls under dress code regs, and that can sometimes create problems. Take for example the Black high school student who is suing the Houston school system for suspending him just because his dreadlocks were too long. The media has tried to make this a race issue, but it’s not. The school in question has a strict dress code for boys which stipulates that hair must not fall below the eyebrows and earlobes. The code applies to all boys, including White guys with long hair.

And then there’s the workplace. Ever since the pandemic, small and large businesses alike are struggling to find good workers, so employers are less likely now to enforce strict dress and grooming codes than ever before. Still, today’s job seekers should be mindful of some common sense rules for making a good first impression. Tattoos are popular these days, but if you’re applying for certain types of high-profile jobs, it’s best not to show up for an interview covered in visible tats and assorted body rings. It’s also advisable to inquire about your prospective employer’s rules for attire and hair before accepting a position with that company. That will prevent any misunderstandings later on if you decide to suddenly grow your hair long, wear tube tops, and have the phrase “take this job and shove it” tattooed on your forehead.

What it comes down to is this: most folks just don’t care about what they wear in public. Columnist Kathleen Parker recently wrote, “When I walk through airports or malls, I can’t help wondering what people are thinking when they leave the house.” Quoting her father, Parker added, “Americans are a bunch of slobs.”  

I know that some of my observations and those of pundits like Ms. Parker may seem antiquated, but I truly believe if we all make a little effort to look nice and conform to a few basic societal norms, then that might go a long way toward bridging some divides among us. Moreover, given the price of casual wear these days, it actually costs less to “dress up” than it does to look sloppy. Paraphrasing Parker’s comment on the Fetterman saga, “A tiny concession to decorum would demonstrate respect for and consideration of others.” It’s an idea that would wear well on all of us.


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