This column first appeared in Broad + Liberty.
I have always needed someone else to dress me.
From my earliest days, I was pretty much taken care of in the fashion department. First, my mother made most of my clothes, including my holiday dresses, my First Holy Communion outfit, and all the costumes I wore for Halloween and school pageants. Her skills were legendary, including the year she made my three brothers, my little sister, and me a living tableau of the American Revolution. It was 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, and she turned my three brothers into a raggedy band of colonial fighters, me into Betsey Ross, and my five-year-old sister into the Liberty Bell.
Sadly, in a move that would foreshadow other costume fails, the bell made out of papier-mache was so wide that it prevented my sister from going through doors, thereby frustrating the entire purpose of seeking candy from strangers. If you can’t get within five feet of the neighbor, you go home with an empty bag.
When I was old enough to go to school, I was immediately enrolled in a series of all-girl Catholic institutions where, suffice it to say, there was no room for sartorial creativity. You wore what the nuns decided you needed to wear, and you went to Whalen and Whalen uniform distributors on North 12th Street to order the frocks. They were all invariably navy, tweed, and itchy.
In my last year of high school, we were able to vote on our uniform, one of the few perks of being a senior. My class chose a lovely maroon and pink ensemble, which I still have hanging in a closet somewhere. And, to the delight of my mother and the horror of some old classmates, I wore that plaid kilt even decades after I graduated. This was not me attempting to be a Brittany Spears-Lolita schoolgirl. Neither my weight nor my dance skills would have made me a threat to the ”Hit Me Baby One More Time” crowd.
The reason I reused my kilt was because I literally had no fashion sense and no ability to figure out what worked with my figure and my personality. To this day, I suffer from the “Catholic Girl School” syndrome, wherein I find something I like, usually black, and buy ten versions of it. That is because I never developed the ability to express my creativity through my clothing. I may be a 61-year-old professional, but inside I’m still the girl who got yelled at for having droopy knee socks.
I write this to explain that I empathize with those who aren’t stylish gems. I write this to show that I don’t judge someone based on the value of their clothing or the number of “name” brands they carry on their arms and hang from their ears. I am the last person in the world to criticize someone for being nerdy and unfashionable.
But I am also someone who respects herself enough not to appear in public in a slovenly manner. My clothing is always laundered, ironed, and my hair combed. I wear makeup because I look better with it. My shoes may sometimes have holes in the soles, but no one but yours truly knows it (especially when it rains). And I dress appropriately for the occasion. I don’t sport shorts at the office, I don’t show cleavage in the courtroom (as if), and I don’t ever, ever, ever wear jeans when I’m planning to meet clients. I have respect for myself and for other people.
None of us can say the same about the junior senator from Pennsylvania.
John Fetterman has a lot of flaws, and many of them are much more serious than the way he dresses, but the mere fact that he has so little respect and concern for his constituents that he parades around in cargo pants, oversized shirts, and unruly facial hair is a sign of absolute arrogance. And now, he has essentially forced his Senate colleagues to get rid of any semblance of a dress code.
The fact that John Fetterman, a man who has a Harvard degree and lots of money, mostly given to him by other people, doesn’t have the decency to put on a suit and a tie when he is representing the people of my Commonwealth, many of whom did not even vote for him, is reprehensible. It is a sign that he just doesn’t give a damn.
His supporters will say that this makes him “real” and that they love the fact that he doesn’t play the game. They think he’s a maverick, a working-class guy, and cool.
He is none of those things. He is, at best, lazy. At his worst, though, he is a person who thinks the rules do not apply to him, that civility is not in his job description, and that immaturity and a questionable sense of hygiene are entirely appropriate in the halls of Congress.
Some will say they would rather have a man like John Fetterman, who doesn’t pretend to be what he is not, instead of well-dressed demagogues like Matt Gaetz, who has apparently adopted “Exxon Valdez” as his hair care regimen. But while Gaetz has questionable politics, at least he has the decency to show respect for his office and the institutions of Congress by not showing up to work as some hulking, non-musical Beach Boy.
There are many reasons not to like John Fetterman. His politics, his disregard for the sanctity of human life, his wife, his slacker personality, and the fact that he basically lied his way into office by hiding his severe medical disability.
But the fact that he didn’t even try to pull up his damn pants particularly repulses this former Catholic schoolgirl. If only Sister Madeleine Marie were around to deal with him.