J. Pharoah Doss: What stands out more than Fetterman’s hoodie?

U.S. SENATOR JOHN FETTERMAN

During the mid-twentieth century, anti-capitalist leaders all over the world fashioned themselves after the working class. These leaders dressed like common workers in order to position themselves as “men of the people.”

Long-shot local politicians in the United States acquired the “man of the people” persona over time in order to run non-traditional campaigns. Working-class voters appreciate the sentiment, but many expect the “man of the people” to stop the act after the election. Since becoming the Democratic U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania in 2022, John Fetterman has not retired his “man of the people” attire.

From 2006 to 2019, Fetterman was the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a borough of less than 2,000 people. Fetterman’s mayoral role was part-time and paid very little, so he dressed casually—like most people in those local positions—but Fetterman’s casual clothes were an oversized hoodie and shorts.

In 2019, Fetterman became Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor. Fetterman continued to dress in hoodies and shorts. The media started to refer to Fetterman’s hoodie and shorts as his uniform. There are, however, numerous photographs of Fetterman wearing a suit and tie while performing his professional duties.

Obviously, Fetterman knows how to balance the act.

When Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Pat Toomy retired in 2022, Lt. Gov. Fetterman ran for the vacancy. Throughout his campaign, Fetterman portrayed himself as a “man of the people,” but he was running against a well-known, well-dressed television celebrity, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Pennsylvania topped CNN’s ranking of the ten Senate contests most likely to switch party control of the Senate. Fetterman made sure he wore a suit and tie during the television debates, but after he won the election, he gave his acceptance speech in his “man of the people” uniform.

During the Senate election, reporters wondered if Fetterman would dress “properly” if elected. Fetterman’s campaign stated that their candidate would dress professionally. Following Fetterman’s election, The Guardian quoted a sociologist as saying, “It’s powerful how John Fetterman’s hoodie won the popular vote in Pennsylvania… He broke the Republican grip on Pennsylvania’s White working class while wearing a black Carhartt hoodie, a garment that isn’t fancy, is well made, and crucially last—all the qualities that a politician like Fetterman wants to convey.”

The Associated Press reported now that Fetterman is a U.S. Senator; he “unapologetically” wears shorts and votes from the doorway to avoid getting in trouble for his informal clothes.

It’s one thing to project a “man of the people” image while campaigning, but there’s no reason for Fetterman to project that image to his Senate colleagues, especially when his own senatorial staff pleaded with him to wear a suit, unless Fetterman has upgraded his image from “man of the people” candidate to “anti-establishment” Senator.

In other words, the man who knew the balancing act as lieutenant governor thought the US Senate did not deserve the same respect. That’s fine. It’s even better if his constituents don’t mind. Furthermore, the dress code was an unwritten norm that was only enforced on the Senate floor. So, Fetterman could have continued to vote from the doorway, and no one would have cared.

However, to accommodate Fetterman’s fashion statement, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader directed the sergeant-at-arms to cease enforcing the unwritten dress code. Of course, this sparked debate between people who believe there’s a professional way to dress and those who believe dress codes are more about conformity than professionalism.

A writer for The Guardian suggested that more politicians should dress like Fetterman, adding, “The Senate’s new protocol comes at a time when workers in various sectors are rewriting the rules on what’s appropriate for the office. Since the height of the pandemic, many workers have continued to prioritize comfort over formality.”

This writer overlooked a minor detail.

The Senate’s new look, which is prioritized by “workers”, only applies to the 100 senators. Staff members are still obligated to adhere to the existing dress code. Senatorial employees, I presume, aren’t the “workers” Fetterman’s “man of the people” image is crafted to represent.

At the end of the day, the Senate’s dress code doesn’t matter, but the double standard stands out more than Fetterman’s hoodie and looks just as bad.

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