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No jacket … end of story

A product of the public schools, I don’t think I’ve ever been scolded for not conforming to a dress code.

Or, at least I hadn’t been until I showed up at a state Assembly hearing last week in my usual garb – slacks, a shirt and tie – only to be informed by an attendant that the rules require adding a jacket to the ensemble. I wanted to tell him that a reporter is usually doing pretty well if he wears socks and has bathed in the past week.

Instead I watched as he gave me a warning and wrote down my name, no doubt to give him something to check against in case I ever reappeared in a dishabille state. Fortunately, a few of the other reporters admitted to being guilty of the same transgression.

We should have all known better.

In a February announcement of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget address, held that same month, the state Capitol Sergeant of Arms warned members of the press corps that a new dress code had been adopted. To make sure we didn’t overlook the most important point, she used not only italics, but also bold letters, to insist that everyone who comes to the Assembly “dress appropriately, which has traditionally been considered to include a coat and tie for men and appropriate attire for women.”

It appears she meant it.

Now, I’m not opposed to the Legislature’s attempt to raise the standard of dress. But this experience has raised a few questions in my mind. For one, why do the rules specify that men must wear a jacket while letting women get away with “appropriate attire?” Is it that men are so much less attentive about their appearance that they can’t be trusted to take the necessary steps to avoid looking like slobs when they walk the halls of power? Probably.

But what about the effect this rule will have on reporters’ budgets? It’s well known we don’t make huge salaries, and lawmakers are often solicitous about ensuring their policies don’t drive workers out of the state. So how about a tax credit to offset the required addition to our wardrobes?

Finally, what about the Dalai Lama? Granted, if he shows up in usual robes when he addresses the Assembly on Tuesday he should receive the same warning I did. But they should also mark down his name just in case “His Holiness” ever has the audacity again.

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