Lawmakers in the Missouri House of Representatives this week adopted a strict dress code for women as part of a new package of laws, now requiring them to cover their shoulders by wearing a jacket such as a blazer, cardigan or knitted blazer.
The addition, proposed by Republican state Rep. Ann Kelly, sparked outrage among some Democrats who said the change was sexist because the dress code for men had not changed.
Men in the Missouri House of Representatives are required to wear a jacket, shirt and tie. The previous dress code for women required “dresses or skirts or trousers worn with a blazer or sweater and appropriate shoes or boots.”
Kelly, speaking on the House floor, said she felt compelled to propose the change that “cleans up some of the language … by mirroring the language in the gentleman’s dress code.”
“Men are required to wear a jacket, shirt and tie, right? And if they came in here without a tie, they’d be heartbroken. If they came in without a jacket, they’d be heartbroken. So, we’re so interested in being equal,” Kelly said Wednesday during the floor debate.
Women hold less than a third of the seats in the Missouri House, which consists of 116 men and 43 women, according to the state house website.
The dress code amendment passed by voice vote and the rule package was later adopted by the GOP-controlled Legislature on a 105-51 vote, but not without pushback and debate from House Democrats.
“You know how it feels to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top and trying to determine if it fits or not?” Democratic state representative Ashley Onn announced from the floor of the House.
Republicans amended their amendment to include cardigans after Democratic state Rep. Rachel Parody criticized the impact the blazer requirement could have on pregnant women.
Democratic state Rep. Peter Meredith declined to vote on the amendment, telling his colleagues on the floor, “I don’t think I’m qualified to say what is or isn’t appropriate for women and I think it’s a really dangerous path for all of us to go down.”
“You’ve all had a seizure the last couple of years talking about maybe, maybe wearing masks in a pandemic to keep each other safer. How dare the government tell you what you should wear on your face? Well, I know some governments require women to wear things on their faces, But here, oh, it’s okay because we’re just talking about how many layers they should have on their shoulders,” Meredith added.
In the US Congress, until 2017, journalists and lawmakers were required to wear dresses and shirts with sleeves if they wanted to enter the House chamber. A group of bipartisan female lawmakers protested their “right to bare arms,” prompting then-Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to admit that the dress code “could use a little modernization.” The US Senate later changed its rules as well, The New York Times reported.
Ona told CNN Friday afternoon that the change signals that state Republicans are not focusing on “important issues.”
“In 2019 the Republicans in the House of Representatives passed the abortion ban that went into effect this summer after the Dobbs decision fell, completely limiting women’s right to vote in this country, and on the first day in our legislature they are doubling down on women’s control.” she said on “CNN Newsroom.”
“It’s wild to me. I think it sends a message that the Republican Party, the Missouri GOP, doesn’t have the best interest in mind and (she) isn’t focusing on the issues that matter.”
This story has been updated with additional details.