After 181 Years of No Hats in Congress, Dems Eye Exception for Religious Garb

Ilhan Omar will become the first federal legislator to wear a religious headscarf

Member-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., will be the first member of congress to wear a hijab. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Hats have been banned from the House chamber of the Capitol for nearly two centuries — 181 years, to be exact. Under a new proposal from Democrats, the rule would be relaxed to allow religious headwear, like a hijab or kippah. 

The change was proposed jointly by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Incoming Rules Chairman Jim McGovern and member-elect Ilhan Omar as part of a larger overhaul package.

When Omar is sworn in next year, she will become the first federal legislator to wear a religious headscarf. Her arrival will mark a number of other “firsts” as well. The Minnesota Democrat will be the first Somali-American in Congress and the first woman of color to represent her state in Washington. She’ll be joined by fellow Midwestern Democrat, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, as the first two Muslim women in Congress.

Hats of any kind have been banned from the House floor since 1837. The rule was put in place with little debate.

The hat ban is included in the rules of the current Congress in a section on comportment. “During the session of the House, a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may not wear a hat or remain by the Clerk’s desk during the call of the roll or the counting of ballots,” the section reads. “A person on the floor of the House may not smoke or use a mobile electronic device that impairs decorum. The Sergeant-at-Arms is charged with the strict enforcement of this clause.”

Back in 2010, Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson tried to fight the ban on hats. She has a large collection of colorful and sequined cowboy hats that she wanted to wear while serving in the House.

“Hats are what I wear. People get excited when they see the hats. Once you get accustomed to it, it’s just me. Some people wear wigs, or high heel shoes or big earrings or pins. This is just me,” Wilson told the Miami Herald in 2010.

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