Female Lawmakers in Missouri Told: Keep Those Arms Covered

Fiery debate ensues before update to dress code in Missouri House of Representatives
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2023 10:45 AM CST
Female Lawmakers in Missouri Protest Ban on Baring Arms
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives are seen on Sept. 14 at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.   (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

Women make up fewer than one-third of the seats in Missouri's House, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but they were the ones speaking the loudest this week after the chamber's dress code was tweaked to mandate how female lawmakers should cover their arms while at work. The Hill reports that the alteration to the code was an update to the last directive from 2021, which stated women in the House could wear "dresses or skirts or slacks worn with a blazer or sweater and appropriate dress shoes or boots." The new version suggested by GOP Rep. Ann Kelley would have changed that to "jackets worn with dresses, skirts, or slacks, and dress shoes or boots"—meaning no more sweaters, and emphasizing a requirement that women's arms remain covered.

The Washington Post notes that House rules in the state can only be debated every two years, at the beginning of the General Assembly. This particular proposal was met with fiery opposition from the Democrats' side of the aisle. "I spent $1,200 on a suit, and I can't wear it in the People's House because someone who doesn't have the range tells me that it's inappropriate," Rep. Raychel Proudie protested on the House floor, per Heartland Signal. Even the guys jumped in to support their female colleagues' right to choose their own clothing. "The caucus that lost their minds over the suggestion that they should wear masks during a pandemic to respect the safety of others is now spending its time focusing on the fine details of what women have to wear (specifically how to cover their arms)," Rep. Peter Merideth noted.

Kelley and other Republicans in the House are pushing back, saying they're just trying to keep attire professional, and that the dress code tweak isn't a substantial one. "All we're trying to do today is to take the same rules that we have and make them more clear," Rep. Brenda Shields said, per the Post. Kelley's eye roll at the controversy: "You would think that all you would have to do is say 'dress professionally' and women could handle it." A modified version of her bill was the one that finally passed, allowing cardigans to join jackets in the "appropriate" coverings column—but women still have to make sure their arms are shielded either way. Men in the state House also have a dress code, but there were no updates to theirs on Wednesday. Their mandate for the chamber: "Proper attire for gentlemen shall be business attire, including coat, tie, dress trousers, and dress shoes or boots." (More Missouri stories.)

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