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How to Dress for Success on Capitol Hill

Do bright colors make a statement in the Capitol Hill suit-and-tie culture? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Do bright colors make a statement in the Capitol Hill suit-and-tie culture? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted October 21, 2015 at 5:00am

Dress for the job you want, right? While many businesses are trending casual, Capitol Hill still keeps the suits-ties-blazers-heels look at all hours. A formal dress code is mandated by House and Senate rules while on the floor, so staffers naturally follow along. But what if an attempt to brighten up a work outfit draws unwanted comments? Hill Navigator discusses.

I consider myself a very professionally dressed staffer. I am mid-level but newish to my office. Recently two more senior staffers made comments on my outfit on separate occasions; they were not complimentary. Both were about the color of my attire (too bright). I am wondering if it was their way of telling me not to wear what I was wearing and they thought I would take a hint? Thank you!

Hill Navigator is a staunch defender of bright hues. The black-navy-gray uniforms of Capitol Hill suits could all benefit from a pop of color to break the monotony. But if you’re garnering multiple comments from co-workers, rather than an isolated one, seek an outside opinion to find out if your otherwise-professional outfits are a mismatch for your office culture.  

Ask someone whose professional advice you trust if the outfits in question may have crossed any workplace-appropriate lines. Even if their answer is an emphatic “no,” if you’re certain the comments were meant to be hints and not unsolicited Tim Gunn-wannabes wisecracks, it might be worth toning the bright colors down a notch.  

To be clear: You are well within your rights to wear the bright hues. But Capitol Hill offices expect staffers to conform to their own culture, and that tone is often set at the top. If your office prefers the grayscale blends that define Washington fashion, you may be expected to play along, or at least restrict those bright colors to accessories, for now.  

And if those comments were disparaging and not intended as professional feedback, consider having a confidential conversation with the Office of Compliance . It’s well within a workplace’s right to provide feedback on professional dress, but there is a line where such comments on appearance are inappropriate.  

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