Outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) caused something of a scandal yesterday when he took to the House floor wearing nothing on top but a skin-tight tee-shirt and a draped jacket, upstaging his own speech by shocking C-SPAN viewers with a nipple-revealing wardrobe malfunction.
Although Barney Frank's thin blue shirt caused many to wonder just how cold it was inside the House chamber, the congressman had good reasons to go casual. Nor is he the first representative on the House or Senate floor to test Congress' vague dress code guidelines.
Story Behind Shirt
Viewers were quick to laugh at Frank's flabby chest and crack jokes about his need for congressional support, but the outgoing congressman was sporting a cast from a recent hand surgery. He also had his arm in a sling, making the traditional suit-and-tie look considerably more complicated.
According to reports, Frank had been in the office Dec. 19 with no plans to appear on TV. He was then asked to manage a bill, and nobody else was around to take his place. The Massachusetts Democrat had to borrow a jacket from a staffer before he even appeared on screen, but the lapels couldn't cover the wardrobe malfunction that followed.
What is the House Dress Code?
Nor is the congressman, whose three-decades-long career has had several memorable moments, the only member of Congress to have a wardrobe malfunction, or simply to be found in violation of the House's vaguely outlined dress code.
According to official floor procedure guidelines, men are supposed to be in a coat and tie, though the forms they take are somewhat negotiable, while women are simply expected to dress appropriately.
Overcoats and hats are banned, but there's no strict guideline against pairing a jacket with a bow-tie and a blue crew neck top if the congressmen and women desire.
Of course, this is not to say that House dress code is not strictly enforced, vague guidelines or no, and The Washington Post has chronicled several other notorious violations on the House and Senate floors, including a couple wardrobe malfunctions like Barney Frank's shirt scandal.
This difference is that women are usually the ones being chastised.
Clinton's Cleavage and Azbug's Hats
Although Jack Kennedy reportedly caused a scandal by showing up on the Senate floor in golf shoes, and John Ensign has been known to borrow a jacket from his colleagues before rushing into Congress, the vague rules that govern women's attire in Congress has caused several female Congress members to cause a stir in the Senate or the House.
Hillary Clinton caused a commotion in the Senate in 2007 when she appeared in a slightly cleavage-baring top, with news sources debating whether she was being too sexy for the Senate and others congratulating her on embracing her femininity.
Political veterans say Sen. Robert Byrd used to lecture women on wearing open-toed shoes, and it wasn't until Pat Schroeder supposedly broke the tradition in the 1970's that women wore pants on Capital Hill.
Bella Azbug and Frederica Wilson, both political crusaders known for their big hats, have waited decades for Congress to allow them to wear fashionable toppers on the Floor.
Barney Frank on House Floor
But Capital Hill is changing, and both women in Congress and Rep. Barney Frank have a chance to get off the hook more and more. It's unlikely that Frank will be targeted by House representatives for his casual attire and slight wardrobe malfunction considering he didn't expect to speak. Nor is the congressman likely to care about damaging his legacy with one shirt scandal before retirement.
But even if Frank had taken to the House floor in that shirt without a cast, it's likely he wouldn't have gotten in nearly as much trouble for it as even a decade ago, even if he became the butt of Internet jokes.
After all, sleeveless dresses were once forbidden, but after Michele Obama began sporting the bare-armed look(and received flack for it), that taboo has largely disappeared.
In the meantime, watch the C-SPAN video of Barney Frank on the House floor here: