Today's Edition About us Local Opinion Obits Sports Things to do Classifieds Newsletters Podcasts Contact us

House spars over women lawmakers’ dress code

by Cameron Gerber | January 13, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

A week into the 2023 legislative session, the Missouri House experienced its first contentious debate of the year Wednesday over a proposed change to the chamber's dress code for women.

The lower chamber adopted House Resolution 11, its comprehensive rules package Wednesday, a crucial early step for the new 102nd General Assembly. Amidst a bevy of proposals was an amendment from Rep. Ann Kelley, a Lamar Republican who serves as majority caucus secretary, which defines proper attire for women in the chamber as "jackets worn with dresses, skirts, or slacks, and dress shoes or boots."

The amendment added blazers and knit blazers while omitting sweaters from the previous version of the rule.

The rule was eventually expanded to allow women to wear cardigans and was approved by the body, but not before plenty of heated debate from across the aisle.

"Rules are created to help create a productive and respectful atmosphere; the same is true with our House rules," Kelley said on the House floor Wednesday. "Decorum is respect for each other, respect for the institution and respect for this magnificent building and the position Missouri state representative signifies. ... It is always essential to maintain a formal and professional atmosphere on the House floor, and to ensure this happens, I have felt compelled to offer this amendment that cleans up some of that language."

Rep. Raychel Proudie, a Democrat from St. Louis, said establishing a sense of decorum was essential for an institution such as the House, but said the strictness of the rules were "pedantic" and noted it's difficult to find jackets sized for pregnant women, a possible barrier to those wanting to serve in the Legislature.

Her colleague, fellow Democratic Rep. Ashley Aune from Kansas City, took a harder stance in opposition to the proposal. She said male members of the Legislature had called her attire into question in the past, calling the policing of clothing when there were other priorities to tackle in the statehouse "ridiculous."

"I've seen a lot of lack of decorum in this room in my two years here, and not once has that lack of decorum spurred from someone's blazer or lack thereof," Aune said during a dialog with Kelley. "Do you know what it feels like to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top, trying to decide whether it's appropriate or not?"

Kelley retorted, "You would think that all you would have to do is say 'dress professionally' and women could handle it. You would think elected officials could handle that"

The debate continued for around half an hour. Reps. Kevin Windham and Peter Merideth, both Democrats representing parts of the St. Louis area, spoke against the amendment to the rules, with Windham pointing to financial barriers for those hoping to serve in the Legislature through expensive formal clothing. Merideth said the entire debate was uncalled for and that "I'm not going to dare to say what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for women to wear."

Rep. Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway, a Republican representing part of Jefferson County, backed the amendment and supported Kelley's point before the rest of the House.

"She is in the right place: this is a professional place to work," she said. "We are here being professionals for all of our constituents, and we need to look like that."

The rule change was adopted alongside another amendment to the rules that made small technical changes to their language and allowed members who are not part of the budget committee to serve on specialized appropriations subcommittees going forward.

The story was updated to correct the spelling of Rep. Ann Kelley.

Print Headline: House spars over women lawmakers’ dress code


Sponsor Content