Kansas state representative Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) recently proposed a comprehensive code of dress and conduct for legislative interns. As reported, the code would have required a very specific look for the “ladies” and “gentlemen” of the incoming class of interns. Violations of the proposed would lead to dismissal.
Women would have to wear business or “dressy” attire, and avoid, amongst other items, “skirts/pants that are too tight, skinny dress pants and revealing necklines.” Men would be required to wear a suit or other business appropriate dress, and abide by various hair restrictions: clean, neat hair without “over-the-top colors,” and either very short or no facial hair. Further, only women could wear earrings (and only one in each ear), and interns could have no visible tattoos and would have to remove all other piercings.
The reason for these detailed restrictions? While the code is apparently in response to “a few complaints about decorum,” Representative Mast is also reportedly concerned with the inner lives of interns: “We want to set it up so they can take pride in the position they hold. Hopefully, they’ll benefit from it.”
However, one wonders how stripping persons of their self-expression and enforcing rigid conformity will result in pride or benefit. The linking of “pride” and “benefit” to a dress code obscures the underlying assumptions about what kind of people take “pride” in their work, and the limitations on access to intern positions that might arise from forcing participants to purchase and wear potentially expensive clothing.
Luckily, the proposal did not find support among Kansas lawmakers, and the rules were “edited out” of the legislative intern guide. The dress of interns remains at the discretion of individual lawmakers, at least some of who will not “worry about facial hair, tattoos, and piercings.”