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Senator’s Style Sets Off Denim Debate

After coming under fire from Democratic colleagues and constituents for her role in holding up the passage of President Biden’s infrastructure bill, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has tongues wagging for an altogether different reason.

On Tuesday, the senior Senator from Arizona set Twitter ablaze as she presided over the Senate Chamber wearing a medium-wash denim vest. Buttoned to the neck over a black T-shirt dress, the ‘90s-inspired garment featured an embroidered heart and sword on its left breast pocket. The lawmaker paired the look with patent-leather cupsole sneakers featuring exaggerated bows across the vamp.

Sinema leaving the Senate Democrats' luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
Sinema leaving the Senate Democrats’ luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. Tom Williams / Associated Press

While Sinema’s eye-catching ensembles have garnered attention in the past (see: wigs, thigh-high boots and bodycon dresses), the denim vest may have been a shade too far for conservative D.C. dressers who consider bare shoulders a breach of decorum.

Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Karen Tumulty pointed out that Sinema’s Tuesday ensemble violated Senate rules precluding denim. “There used to be a sign in the Senate Press Gallery admonishing journalists they were not allowed to wear denim into the chamber,” she tweeted. The outlet’s congressional reporter, Paul Kane, confirmed that the ruling still stands, posting a photo of the placard, which clearly states that business attire is required and lists denim among verboten accessories from hats to overcoats and purses.

Sinema at the Capitol, June 2020.
Sinema at the Capitol, June 2020. Tom Williams / Associated Press

An evolving wardrobe staple for many Americans, denim traces its roots back over 100 years in the U.S. Levi Strauss & Co. released its first pair of jeans in 1873, crafted for durability and sturdiness to support laborers at the bottom of the economic ladder. Decades later, denim became the symbol of grassroots movements as young people flooded the streets protesting the Vietnam war and calling for civil rights. Since the ’60s and ’70s, denim jeans, jackets and accessories are a mainstay in the market season after season.

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While denim might be the most quintessentially American fabric on the market, onlookers are dubious about whether the material has a place in the Senate Chamber. Sinema’s shirking of protocol has divided Twitter users in the ensuing days, with some users calling out the attire as unprofessional and unbefitting of her office, and others characterizing her fashion choices as unpredictable, like her stance on key party issues.

Sen. Sinema and Sen. Tillis leave the Senate chamber on Feb. 25, 2020.
Sen. Sinema and Sen. Tillis leave the Senate chamber on Feb. 25, 2020. J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

“Yeah, I can’t unsee @SenatorSinema in a denim vest, denigrating the office she holds presiding over the senate,” user @justrun_08 tweeted. “A complete lack of seriousness and respect for the ppl of this nation and those that elected her.”

@ConfiscateDeez had a different take on the ensemble. “The only thought I have on Sinema’s denim vest is, maybe if politicians dressed more comfortably they’d actually read bills before voting on them. Call me optimistic.”

Sinema arrives for the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
Sinema arrives for the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Bill Clark / Associated Press

“The View” co-host and political commentator Ana Navarro attempted to highlight a double standard in her Twitter post. “The truth is, no woman of color could possibly dress like this, and act like this, and be taken seriously, much less elected,” she tweeted.

When asked whether Sinema’s style has the potential to usher in a more casual manner of dress on The Hill, a Senate aide said, “I think she’s a Lone Ranger for now.”