Growing up in the U.K. in the 1980s and ’90s, I was deeply envious of my peers across the pond. Hollywood told me that American adolescents — Ferris Bueller, Teen Wolf, that Pump Up the Volume kid — could wear whatever they wanted in school, although most opted for an unofficial uniform of Converse, stone-washed Levi’s, and a varsity jacket. At my high school, and at nearly all British schools, the uniform was official and enforced. Every morning, I left the house in black shoes and slacks, a white button-down, a striped tie, and, in winter, a black sweater emblazoned with the school logo. Kids got innovative to show their individuality: They’d make their necktie knot extra chunky or skinny; half untuck their shirt; wrap their sweater around their shoulders. At the time, I found the uniform — modified or not — stultifying. But I can see now that it helped breed a certain sense of camaraderie, and smoothed socioeconomic divides that would have been on full display if we’d been allowed to indulge our fashion whims.
Still, those years left me with a loathing of ties, so I can empathize with the lawmakers who lobbied Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to drop his chamber’s unofficial dress code. The teenage me wants to cheer Sen. John Fetterman (D–Pa.) for shunning a suit and tie and for marching — in considerable comfort — onto the chamber’s floor in shorts, sneakers and a hoodie. But I’ve come to believe that the reasons why uniforms are useful for schoolkids also apply to lawmakers in Washington. At a time of hyper-partisanship, demolishing the dress code will surely only fuel division. Do we really want MAGA Republicans giving floor speeches in red caps and “Build the Wall” polos, or progressive Democrats holding forth in “Defund the Police” T-shirts and “Eat the Rich” beanies? So, for the sake of the nation, let’s hope our lawmakers stay buttoned up. And if they really want to rebel, I recommend an especially skinny knot.
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