Wearing a dark green Express suit and Cole Haan dress sneakers, Rep. Maxwell Frost, Democrat of Florida, took the stage at Metrobar in Washington. He was speaking this summer at an event hosted by Run for Something, a political action committee that supports young Democrats seeking state and local office.
“How is everybody?” Mr. Frost, 26, asked a crowd of about 200 people, in which more than one brightly colored Telfar bag could be seen. A number of participants, including Mr. Frost, were members of Generation Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2012.
In an interview after his speech, Mr. Frost said that “the cool thing about our generation is that we’re very open to any fashion and any creativity that people bring.” Much of his professional wardrobe is suits, but he has worn bomber jackets and Dr. Martens shoes at more casual events, he said, as well as T-shirts while campaigning electoral.
“I feel like there is a direct connection between Doc Martens, a certain style and young progressives,” Mr. Frost said.
He is the only member of Congress from Generation Z, but others of his generation have been elected to state legislatures and city councils across the country at a time when more and more young people are heading to the polls. A 2021 study by Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life found that 50% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2020 election, an 11% increase from 2016.
Although Gen Z politicians are often visible in the type of formal attire that lawmakers have worn for decades — in part because of workplace dress codes that predate their births — some have said that their clothing choices reflected one priority: appearing authentic. In a 2021 survey of American Gen Z by consulting and accounting firm Ernst & Young, 92% of participants said authenticity was a priority. This authenticity can be an important tool to the extent that these elected officials carry out legislative work, which is sometimes less visible.
The House of Representatives and the Senate have procedural rules that govern, among other things, how members must dress. But neither room has an official dress code.
In the Senate, for example, male lawmakers are expected to wear a jacket and tie. House rules have been relaxed in recent years. In 2017, the chamber began allowing female members to wear open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops or dresses; in 2019, the rules changed to allow head coverings for religious purposes.
State and city governments have their own protocols, some of which have recently gained attention. A flyer distributed to Florida lawmakers’ offices in January warned women not to wear skirts that landed more than an inch above the knee at the Capitol in Tallahassee. That same month, the Missouri House updated its dress code, requiring female lawmakers and staff members to wear jackets; male colleagues have had this requirement for years.
Mazzie Boyd, a Missouri House Republican who previously worked in the Trump White House, said her legislature’s new dress code hasn’t stopped her from adopting her personal style at work.
“I wear what I want to wear,” said Rep. Boyd, 25, who described her style as country and sophisticated. She favors colorful pieces from brands like Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Ivanka Trump’s eponymous fashion line, which closed in 2018.
“I try not to match my skirt with my shirt,” she said. “If I wear a tweed skirt, I don’t want to wear the matching tweed jacket. With dresses, it’s the same thing. I don’t try the exact same color or the exact same pattern on every item.
Ms Boyd said her mix of colors and patterns caught the attention of some older colleagues, who commented on how her outfits remind them that they “don’t have to wear black on black with a shirt white every day. like she said.
“Now, am I saying that people are replicating what I wear? Probably not,” she added. “I’m kind of my own daughter.”
Caleb Hanna, a Republican in the West Virginia House of Delegates, also said his clothing could set him apart from his colleagues. On Fridays, he said, there is a tradition among some Republican members of the state House of Delegates to wear camel suit jackets, a decades-old ritual in which he did not participate.
“I think the politics of today are very different from the politics of the past,” said delegate Hanna, 23. “Politics in the past, especially in West Virginia, has focused on that good old system, and it was more of a club thing. »
Mr. Hanna, whose favorite brands include Vineyard Vines, said he liked to wear sport coats but hated ties. “If I just walk around the Capitol after adjournment for the day, usually the first thing that comes off is my tie,” he said. “I’m still trying to take off my tie.”
Chi Ossé, 25, a Brooklyn Democrat on the City Council, said he expressed his personal style at work through clothing with subtle details (a favorite pleated pants from Uniqlo) and accessories (platform shoes in leather from Dr. Martens). .
Councilman Ossé is also known for wearing a black beret, a style of hat adopted by the Black Panthers, in public appearances, including at a New York City Rent Guidelines Board meeting in June. He began wearing the beret while organizing Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, he said. Later, when he announced his campaign for city council, it became a way for people to recognize him. “It felt good to wear, and it made me feel good,” he said.
Mr. Ossé said he never felt pressure to dress formally, but that when he wore a suit or tie, he was taken more seriously by his colleagues and constituents. “People treat you differently,” he said.
Joe Vogel, a Democrat in the Maryland House of Delegates, said choosing what to wear often requires careful balancing.
Delegate Vogel, 26, running for an open congressional seat in 2024, said he looks “a little more relatable” when he’s not wearing a jacket. His Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, he added, are a campaign staple. When wearing a shirt and tie, he often rolls up the sleeves to appear more casual.
Leaders of Run for Something and Run GenZ, an organization that supports young Republicans running for state and local office, said the groups encourage the candidates they support to wear clothing that will boost their confidence.
“Our advice is to dress up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself, too,” said Joe Mitchell, 26, founder of Run GenZ and former Iowa Republican state representative. When he was in office, he added: “I felt like I could look like this character even when I was back home attending a meeting of the county party central committee, wearing a shirt flannel, jeans and tennis shoes. »
Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something, said her organization supports female candidates, LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color who, as she put it, “can’t pretend to be like the rich, old white men of old.” .
“They can only be who they are,” Ms. Litman said. “They just don’t want to pretend in a way that’s really appreciated.”
And it’s not just Gen Z politicians who are dressing more casually.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, 52, a Democrat, likes to wear pink — fuchsia, to be precise. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 58, Republican of California; Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, Republican of Kentucky; and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 53, Democrat of New York, all recently wore dress sneakers to a meeting in the Oval Office. It’s hard to imagine Sen. John Fetterman, 54, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, wearing anything other than hooded sweatshirts and shorts.
Rep. Sara Jacobs, 34, a California Democrat and millennial, said she thinks many elected officials now make authenticity a priority, “over a generic standard of what a politician has always been like.” looks like”.
In June, members of the recently formed Congressional Sneaker Caucus, led by Rep. Jared Moskowitz, 42, Democrat of Florida, and Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, 55, Republican of Oregon, organized the first Sneaker Day on Capitol Hill.
“We no longer wear powdered wigs in Congress,” Mr. Moskowitz said. Bringing a little fashion and youth culture to Capitol Hill, he added, is “not a revolution; it’s an evolution of the way we dress.
Nabeela Syed, 24, a Democrat in the Illinois House of Representatives, said she usually wears white sneakers to work — she also prefers Adidas Stan Smiths — because she makes dressing comfortably a priority . White sneakers, she said, have been a staple in her wardrobe since she was in high school.
“I’m still sticking to what has always been me,” Rep. Syed said. “What looks like me.”
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