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Perspective: In the battle of ‘slobs versus snobs,’ the slobs are winning

From home to the workplace, Americans are dressing more casually. Now the U.S. Senate has fallen to the trend

SHARE Perspective: In the battle of ‘slobs versus snobs,’ the slobs are winning

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

“Slobs versus the snobs” is a trope on TV that also plays out in the political arena, as politicians seek to align with the working class by demeaning societal “elites.”

The “slobs” are often portrayed more sympathetically than the uptight, suit-wearing “snobs.”

Think Oscar versus Felix on “The Odd Couple.” Or, if you prefer a sports analogy, Bill Belichick in a torn, cut-off sweatshirt versus Tom Brady, who always looks like he just finished a shoot for GQ.

But until recently, there were places where everyone threw off all vestiges of slobbishness, at least with regard to our attire.

One place used to be church, or any house of worship, but the concept of “Sunday best” has declined worldwide in recent years. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic eroded standards of what is acceptable for work attire, both at the office and on Zoom.

And now one of the few remaining places where dignified attire was expected — the chamber of the U.S. Senate — appears to be falling to the anything-goes trend.

Axios reported Sunday that U.S. senators can now wear whatever they want on the Senate floor. The change in policy, ordered by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., went into effect this week.

While the most obvious beneficiary of the new policy will be Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, famous for wearing hoodies and baggy shorts in his official capacity, the change will enable all senators to dress like Oscar Madison — or like Fetterman — when showing up for a vote.

Ironically, the relaxed policy doesn’t apply to congressional staffers, who still have to wear “business attire” in the chamber.

So, a coat and tie for thee, but not for me. Got it.

It’s not the first time the dress codes in Congress have been questioned — and relaxed. At one time, women representatives were not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts or dresses on the House floor. That rule was changed in 2017. And it’s worth noting that a Republican, Paul Ryan, was speaker of the House at the time, so the formality — or informality — of dress codes on Capitol Hill isn’t entirely a partisan issue.

That said, Schumer’s decision is being interpreted as a concession to Fetterman, whose casual dress has been widely criticized. He not only wears what amounts to gym clothes on Capitol Hill, but also when meeting with President Joe Biden.

Writing for Deseret earlier this year, Scott Raines called Fetterman’s look “disgraceful” and said that it “reflects our broader culture of unkempt appearance and dress.”

“We act as if dress isn’t important. But what we wear isn’t simply a matter of decorum; rather, it reflects one’s heart and metaphysical well-being,” Raines wrote. “How one dresses the body mirrors the soundness of the soul and the mind, and signals respect for both the beauty of the world and those who live in it. And in Washington, in particular, dignified dress reflects the order, virtue and beauty of our democracy, as well as the dignity of those our elected officials represent.”

Similarly, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke critically about the rule change, saying, “We need to be lifting up our standards in this country, not dumbing down.”

That way of thinking is being mocked by Fetterman and his supporters, despite the fact there is ample evidence that a person’s dress can affect not only how other people perceive us, but how we perceive ourselves. John T. Malloy’s book “Dress for Success” was a runaway bestseller in 1975, when Fetterman was in first grade. Since then, the idea of dressing aspirationally, or to show respect to others, has devolved to dressing solely for self expression or for comfort, to the point where wearing pajamas in public is now a thing.

And concurrent with our erosion of physical standards has come a degradation of how we talk to each other. They are signs of a society that increasingly values contempt over respect.

Fetterman and his handlers have long justified his look as important to his working-class constituency — which in itself, seems a little bit contemptuous, as if working-class Americans don’t own suits and know when to wear them.

At any rate, people busing tables at Olive Garden or serving burgers at In-N-Out have stricter standards for dress than U.S. senators do today, thanks to what should henceforth be known as the Fetterman effect — the lowering of standards of all to accommodate the wishes of one.