A fetterman smiling in front of a brick wall.

Jack’s Angle: The elimination of the U.S. Senate dress code – John J. “Jack” Partridge

by John J. “Jack” Partridge, contributing writer – commentary

I was prepared to give Senator Fettererman a bye and the benefit of doubt given his stroke and mental illness when he appeared in his suitable for the gym attire on the Senate floor, but the Senate leadership dropping the Senate’s dress code in its entirety put me on high alert. Also, the opinion piece written by Peggy Noonan on the subject on Senate attire in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal made me reflective.

I guess I’ve lived with dress codes most of my life, from long sleeve shirt and tie in the first grade, through jacket and tie in high school and college, a uniform during military service, and when playing team sports, and in my professional life as a lawyer (see to a contrary take the hilarious courtroom scene in MY COUSIN VINNY). On the whole, I do not feel I have been fettered or have made bad choices because of my required attire.

As to whether it is always disrespectful to institutions to be dressed informally while in attendance, I think it is dis-respectful to snub rules on attire that have been established over time that relate to the  purpose of attendance, often one of significance because of political, religious, or historical reasons. And while I dress very informally while relaxing or doing chores at home, I know even then that is not disrespectful to my family who would expect me to suit up for work, or a social engagement, or a marriage ceremony, or funeral, for example, knowing that I am being respectful to the social occasion and to all attendees by doing so.

For me, it is the subject matter that requires a thoughtful attire to reflect a seriousness of purpose. In the case of lawmakers, it seems to me that making laws that affect the lives of many deserves utmost respect, and dressing for the occasion is both reasonable and – bad pun alert – suitable. Just as team activities are by their very nature subject to dress rules; can’t see Yankee players out of pin stripes or the Red Sox in argyles, or Celtics in yellow shorts just because of the personal preferences of players. There is a purpose. The team image would never be the same. And you can quickly identify your teammates despite a crush of bodies.

Is it the end of the world to flaunt tradition in attire?  No, but do so only for some purpose and not mere inconvenience, and consider the effect on perception of the purpose of the occasion that should provide a guide to attire rules.  


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John J. ‘Jack’ Partridge, is a retired lawyer and Senior Counsel to the firm of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP, with four offices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

A Pawtucket native, Jack graduates from St. Raphael Academy and summa cum laude of Providence College, where he majored in history. After Harvard Law School, he served in the United States Army in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. In 1967, he joined the firm of Tillinghast Collins & Tanner. In 1988, he became a founding partner of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP.

Jack has been engaged in many civic, political, governmental, and business organizations, serving as legal counsel to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce for 27 years and was chairman of the Old Slater Mill Association, Common Cause Rhode Island, and Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.

He is the co-founder of The Pawtucket Foundation and an officer and director of innumerable not-for-profit entities. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club and was Treasurer of the Ocean State Charities Trust.

Jack has a long history of leadership involvement with Providence College, which recognized him in 1999 with the Providence College Alumni Association Recognition Award for Public and Community Service, and in 2011, with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

He is married to the former Regina McDonald and has three children: Sarah, Gregory and David.

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  1. W.David Shallcross on September 28, 2023 at 4:41 pm

    We elect people to represent us in the House and Senate, a most serious responsibility and the very foundation of our democracy. This is not a social activity for those in attendance, and suggests that those we choose to represent us should recognize they are not there solely for personal convenience. We would not send someone in a clown suit or a swimsuit to be our agent or representative in a courtroom, or any place where decorum is just part of the expectation. In My Cousin Vinny, much of the enjoyment we all experienced was due to the demeanor of the characters in situations we would expect to be very serious in real life. What happens, or should happen, in Congress is very serious business that impacts millions upon millions of people in real life situations. True enough there are plenty of clowns walking the corridors of the nation’s Capitol, but as our representatives there, we have every right to expect they dress in a manner that hides their proclivities even if their behavior reminds us of Clarabell, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub or Phineas T. Bluster. It’s understandable why some might prefer hooded attire, face masks, or zoot suits, but if they want to be taken seriously, they need to dress accordingly and know when to keep their mouth shut.

  2. Linda on September 28, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    I don’t agree with this change. I think it’s disrespectful to the government and the people you represent. Some people may be uncomfortable in a suit but at least a casual dress, like a pair of dress pants and shirt. We are going downhill quickly!

  3. Leisa on September 28, 2023 at 1:12 pm

    Oh man. I definitely don’t agree with this change.
    Obviously no matter what you wear, it doesn’t change your mindset on the ability to make the right or wrong decisions.
    I think it would be very weird to see top blue collars to be wearing gym shorts, tank tops, sandles, etc on the senate floor. ?