The House dress code: Ryan gets it right

Liberals are up in arms about House speaker Paul Ryan's enforcement of the House of Representatives' dress code.  As could be expected, the usual media spinners are assailing the speaker for misogyny and bias, portraying the dress code as something that unfairly targets women and invokes images of sharia law.  In truth, the dress code has been in existence for centuries, it is not the invention of Speaker Ryan, and it has historically been enforced primarily against men and not women.  (Yes, the House requires a man to wear a suit and tie even in extreme heat; this imposes upon males more and typically heavier required layers of clothing than is the case for females.  Too bad.)

The result of the House dress code episode having been dishonesty presented by the press in order to smear the speaker is that the opportunity for an objective discussion of dress codes and appropriate appearance has been shunted aside.  When the media are more interested in sideshows than in substance, honest reporting and proper understanding of issues become irrelevant.

Coming from an Orthodox Jewish background, I have a deep appreciation for dress and have developed a strong sensitivity to the messages one sends by his attire and appearance.  The Talmud elaborates about the sense of dignity that can be conveyed by one's choice of clothing, as well as about the nonverbal messages sent by one's garb and appearance.

Modesty, reverence, and an air of honor are reflected by dignified and unrevealing attire.  In fact, it is at moments when the wearing of more formal and unrevealing attire truly appears to be a burden that its message of respect for the situation at hand resonates most.  President Ronald Reagan would never enter the Oval Office without a jacket; such was his respect for the presidency.  When one considers that this self-imposed practice was probably an imposition on President Reagan, who would in all likelihood have preferred to be fully comfortable at his desk, one is struck with an even greater appreciation and sense of reverence for the presidential position.  The opposite can be true as well.  

When I was working in law, I observed the extremely dressed down and indecorous appearance of many people while in court.  Despite the professional attire of the judges and lawyers, many litigants and others doing business at chambers arrived as if they were going fishing, were in the middle of repairing their car, or were on their way to the beach.  Needless to say, this greatly impacted the atmosphere of respect and the entire tone that one would expect at the halls of the judiciary.         

Moreover, let's be honest.  When people come to work dressed in a revealing fashion, they attract the eyes of others – and not for business purposes (!).  This is one of the reasons that the Talmud exhorts its adherents to dress modestly.  Modern society would do well to consider this idea.  Keeping focused on the work at hand and not letting one's eyes wander where they should not go are very worthy things, and they are quite often learned only the hard way, after the fact.   

Comporting oneself with an appearance of modesty and dignity matters.  Speaker Ryan gets it and has the right to expect it of others.

Avrohom Gordimer is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, a public policy institute reflecting traditional Jewish thought.  He serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine, is a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website, and is a frequent contributor to Israel National News, Yated Ne'eman, and a host of other publications.  He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, and he works as an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan.  The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the writer.

Liberals are up in arms about House speaker Paul Ryan's enforcement of the House of Representatives' dress code.  As could be expected, the usual media spinners are assailing the speaker for misogyny and bias, portraying the dress code as something that unfairly targets women and invokes images of sharia law.  In truth, the dress code has been in existence for centuries, it is not the invention of Speaker Ryan, and it has historically been enforced primarily against men and not women.  (Yes, the House requires a man to wear a suit and tie even in extreme heat; this imposes upon males more and typically heavier required layers of clothing than is the case for females.  Too bad.)

The result of the House dress code episode having been dishonesty presented by the press in order to smear the speaker is that the opportunity for an objective discussion of dress codes and appropriate appearance has been shunted aside.  When the media are more interested in sideshows than in substance, honest reporting and proper understanding of issues become irrelevant.

Coming from an Orthodox Jewish background, I have a deep appreciation for dress and have developed a strong sensitivity to the messages one sends by his attire and appearance.  The Talmud elaborates about the sense of dignity that can be conveyed by one's choice of clothing, as well as about the nonverbal messages sent by one's garb and appearance.

Modesty, reverence, and an air of honor are reflected by dignified and unrevealing attire.  In fact, it is at moments when the wearing of more formal and unrevealing attire truly appears to be a burden that its message of respect for the situation at hand resonates most.  President Ronald Reagan would never enter the Oval Office without a jacket; such was his respect for the presidency.  When one considers that this self-imposed practice was probably an imposition on President Reagan, who would in all likelihood have preferred to be fully comfortable at his desk, one is struck with an even greater appreciation and sense of reverence for the presidential position.  The opposite can be true as well.  

When I was working in law, I observed the extremely dressed down and indecorous appearance of many people while in court.  Despite the professional attire of the judges and lawyers, many litigants and others doing business at chambers arrived as if they were going fishing, were in the middle of repairing their car, or were on their way to the beach.  Needless to say, this greatly impacted the atmosphere of respect and the entire tone that one would expect at the halls of the judiciary.         

Moreover, let's be honest.  When people come to work dressed in a revealing fashion, they attract the eyes of others – and not for business purposes (!).  This is one of the reasons that the Talmud exhorts its adherents to dress modestly.  Modern society would do well to consider this idea.  Keeping focused on the work at hand and not letting one's eyes wander where they should not go are very worthy things, and they are quite often learned only the hard way, after the fact.   

Comporting oneself with an appearance of modesty and dignity matters.  Speaker Ryan gets it and has the right to expect it of others.

Avrohom Gordimer is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, a public policy institute reflecting traditional Jewish thought.  He serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine, is a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website, and is a frequent contributor to Israel National News, Yated Ne'eman, and a host of other publications.  He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, and he works as an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan.  The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the writer.

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