Press "Enter" to skip to content

The coding behind Kansas’s dress code in court

Some say history is circular, events endlessly repeating themselves until the end of time. And when I hear of instances like this, I can’t help but think it might be true: State Senator Mitch Holmes, a Kansas Senate committee chairman, implemented a dress code for those who testify before a state committee. 

Slipped inside a set of guidelines for those testifying before the Kansas Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is a requirement to wear professional attire. If Holmes had decided to keep the rule worded generally along those lines, I would still have my faith in humanity. But no, instead he chose to specifically single out what women should not be wearing. The rule says that for females to wear a low neckline or mini-skirt is inappropriate, yet no guidance is given to males as far as this so-called appropriateness goes.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that professional clothing in a more formal setting such as Congress or court is important. One should always try to put their best foot forward. But the fact that a Senator felt the need to only call out one group about the type of clothing they shouldn’t wear just seems wrong. People who identify as female do not somehow lack knowledge of what is proper to wear in a professional setting. Just by watching television, most of us get the idea — blazers, neat lines, nothing too flashy. Besides suggesting that women are less likely to understand this distinction, the rule also offers a lot of leeway on what is deemed appropriate. What defines low-cut? How short is “too short”?

Holmes apparently added the rule about three years ago when a lobbyist’s low neckline “that extended way down almost to the navel,” got him thinking about a guideline. Still, I’m not buying it.

With that extra aside in the rule, members in the committee are automatically granted a method to discriminate against citizens who don’t adhere to the rule. Not to mention the fact that if some committee members are distracted, the wording shifts the blame over to the wearer of the outfit — as if in our culture there is not already enough victim blaming. Having this thought written down so abstractly creates an environment where people can be shamed for whatever is deemed improper dress. Furthermore, if there is already an unspoken agreement that such shaming is acceptable, this gives antagonists opportunities to take a more direct approach in doling out punishment. There is a potential to keep a person’s voice from being heard, to deter them from even trying.

While thankfully the rule has been retracted, it is clear that personal values were placed where they had no right to be. It is also clear that there is still a lot of work to be done in the fight against sexism. Similar cases to this have popped up in a few other state governments, (Missouri last year discussed an intern dress code after a scandal involving the now former Speaker of the House and an intern sexting each other), though I believe them to have not gone through. We seem to be slipping back in time, with claims of distractions and scandal pervading the reasoning behind the idea of local government dress codes which target women more particularly than men.

The problem is that our government sets precedents and trends for our nation. When those in charge start to take away a seemingly tiny right from a group, it tells society that they are not quite as equal as the rest. And I certainly don’t want a domino effect to start here. A rule like this may open a door to restricting women’s rights as individuals. From clothing to actions, from independence to helplessness: we must not turn back the clock.