Three years ago, a Kansas lawmaker made a rule on attire that included specifics for women testifying before a state committee: no low-cut tops, no miniskirts.
This week, it made news and raised some hackles. But Republican state Sen. Mitch Holmes defended his choice.
Holmes wrote an 11-point guideline for the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, which he chairs. It details instructions for etiquette and rules for witnesses testifying on elections or ethics bills.
Rule number 2 reads: “Conferees should be dressed in professional attire. For ladies, low-cut necklines and miniskirts are inappropriate.” It offers no additional guidance on how long a skirt should be or what constitutes “low-cut” for women’s necklines.
Some of his fellow lawmakers found the second line of the rule offensive.
The dress code is sexist and insulting because it singles out women, state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, told CNN affiliate KWCH.
“I think my first thought was, ‘For crying out loud, what century is this?'” she said. “There was no suggestion that men needed any help deciding what to put on in the morning.”
“It’s hard enough to get people to come and testify as it is, and now we’re giving them a particular dress,” Democrat Rep. Barbara Ballard told the affiliate.
Holmes didn’t get much support from fellow Republican Rep. Peggy Mast. “An individual is an individual and I don’t judge what other people would choose to feel is appropriate,” Mast said.
Holmes: Applies to men, too
Holmes defended his rules, and said they apply to men as well.
“First off, there’s a misunderstanding that I have a rule that only applies to women. And that’s just not the case. The rule says all conferees should be addressed in professional attire,” Holmes told the affiliate.
Regardless of dress, he said, no one has been blocked from testifying. And he has never had to confront anyone so far about attire before the committee. He decided to add the rule after the wardrobe of a lobbyist piqued his ire.
“[She] had a low-cut that extended way down almost to the navel,” Holmes told KWCH.
He is thinking of adding some wording on what might not be appropriate attire for men.
Holmes said the rule has been around for three years, so he’s surprised it’s creating a stir now.
“A particular reporter, one known for not joining in the pledge of allegiance, decided to make an issue of the committee rules I use,” he said in a message to KWCH.