The controversy over a dress code for the Montana House of Representatives is over.
Republican House leaders have agreed to abandon the controversial, strict one-page dress code that drew widespread media coverage in Montana and even nationally, was the subject of critical editorials and was widely ridiculed on social media. Critics called the code sexist and outdated with such language as: “Women should be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.”
Instead, Republican leaders went along with a simple, one-paragraph statement suggested by new House Minority Whip Jenny Eck, D-Helena, and other Democratic leaders. The new House dress code that both sides agreed upon says simply:
“We ask that members of the House and other professionals working on the floor dress in professional business attire that is befitting the honor of the institution of the Montana House of Representatives.”
After discussions this week, leaders of the two parties concurred.
“We reached agreement and will use the language that Rep. Jenny Eck suggested,” said incoming House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson. “We’re comfortable with it. It absolutely works for me. I think it maintains the professionalism and decorum that they were looking for and we were looking for.”
Eck was pleased that House Republican leaders agreed to drop their original code and adopt the one she and others suggested.
“That’s awesome,” she said. “I appreciate the speaker’s willingness to find a mutually acceptable solution. I know we are both anxious to move on and focus on the important policy issues that will be facing us this coming session.”
The House in the past has not had a formal dress code, although there was what amounted to an informal one, requiring professional business attire such as men wearing ties.
Freshmen will make up more than one-third of the 100-member House in 2015. Some new members had asked Republican leaders about what they should wear on the House floor.
Knudsen asked Lindsey Grovom, chief clerk of the House, to find an appropriate dress code, and she largely borrowed one from the Wyoming Legislature. Knudsen said he approved it, and it began to be circulated in early December. It was intended to cover legislators, staff members and media covering the session.
The now-abandoned dress code required women to wear a suit or dress slacks, skirt, jacket and dress blouses or “suit-like dresses.” Women also were to wear “appropriate shoes”; flip flops, tennis shoes and open-toe sandals were deemed inappropriate to wear on the House floor. The dress code added: “Leggings are not considered dress pants.”
The abandoned code also said jeans or denim materials, including color denim, were forbidden on the House floor. Also banned were fleece and jersey (sweatshirt) material.
As for men, the abandoned code said they must wear suits or sports jackets and dress pants, dress shirts and ties and dress shoes or dress boots.
Earlier this week, Knudsen said he opposes allowing people to wear jeans on the House floor, even on Saturdays as has been the custom. Saturday sessions are usually brief, with lawmakers often traveling back to their hometowns for the rest of the weekend after the floor sessions end.