Florida Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost took the stage at the Washington Metrobar wearing a dark green Express suit and Cole Haan dress sneakers. This summer, he spoke at an event for Run for Something, a political action committee that supports young Democrats seeking state and local office.
“How is everyone doing?” Frost, 26, asked a crowd of about 200 people, finding more than one brightly colored Telfar bag among them. Many attendees, including Mr. Frost, are members of Generation Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2012.
“One of the cool things about our generation is we’re super open to whatever fashion and creativity people bring to the table,” Frost said in an interview after the speech. Much of his business attire was It was a suit, but he said he also wore a bomber jacket and Dr. Martens for casual events and a T-shirt on the campaign trail.
“I feel like there’s a direct connection between Doc Martens and a certain style and progressive youth,” Mr. Frost said.
He is the only member of Congress from Generation Z, but as more young people turn out to vote, others from his generation are being elected to state legislatures and city councils across the country. A 2021 study from Tufts University’s Tisch School of Civic Life found that 50% of people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2020 election, an 11% increase from 2016.
Although Gen Z politicians often wear formal attire that lawmakers have worn for decades — in part because of workplace dress codes that date back before they were born — some say their clothing choices reflect a priority of appearing authentic. A 2021 survey of U.S. Gen Z by consulting and accounting firm Ernst & Young showed that 92% of participants said authenticity was a top priority. This authenticity can be an important tool as these elected officials sometimes take on less high-profile legislative work.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have rules of procedure that govern members’ attire. But neither chamber has a formal dress code.
For example, in the Senate, male members are expected to wear a jacket and tie. House rules have been relaxed in recent years. In 2017, the chamber began allowing female members to wear open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops or dresses; in 2019, the rules changed to allow hijabs to be worn for religious purposes.
State and municipal governments have their own protocols, some of which have recently drawn attention. A flier distributed to Florida legislators’ offices in January at the Capitol in Tallahassee warned women not to wear skirts that were more than an inch above the knee. That same month, the Missouri House of Representatives updated its dress code to require female members and staff to wear jackets; their male colleagues had been required to do so for years.
Mazie Boyd, a Missouri House Republican who has worked in the Trump White House, said the Legislature’s new dress code has not stopped her from embracing her personal style at work.
“I wear what I want to wear,” said Rep. Boyd, 25, who describes her style as country and sophisticated. She favors colorful pieces from brands like Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Ivanka Trump’s namesake fashion line (which closed in 2018).
“I try not to match skirts with blouses,” she says. “If I’m making a tweed skirt, I don’t want to wear a matching tweed jacket. With a dress, it’s the same thing. I don’t try the exact same color or the exact same pattern on every element.”
Ms Boyd said her mix of colors and patterns caught the attention of some older colleagues, who commented that her outfits reminded them they “don’t have to wear black with a white shirt every day”. As she said.
“Now, am I saying people copy what I wear? Probably not,” she added. “I’m my own girl.”
West Virginia House Republican Caleb Hanna also said his attire sets him apart from his colleagues. He said some Republican members of the state House of Representatives had a decades-old tradition of wearing camel blazers on Friday, but he did not participate.
“I think politics today is a lot different than politics in the past,” said Representative Hanna, 23. “Politics in the past, especially in West Virginia, has been focused on this old boys system, which was more like a club.”
Hanna, whose favorite brands include Vineyard Vines, said he loves wearing sport coats but hates wearing ties. “If I walk around the Capitol after recess, usually the first thing I take off is my tie,” he said. “I always want to take my tie off.”
Chi Ossé, a 25-year-old Democratic member of the Brooklyn City Council, said he expresses himself at work through subtle details in his clothing (favorite pleated pants from Uniqlo) and accessories (thick-soled leather shoes from Dr. Martens) personal style. .
Councilman Osei is known to wear a black beret, a hat style adopted by the Black Panther Party, during public appearances, including at a New York City Rent Guidelines Committee meeting in June. He said he started wearing a beret in 2020 while organizing Black Lives Matter protests. Later, when he announced his candidacy for city council, it became a way for people to recognize him. “It feels right, and I feel that way,” he said.
Osei said he has never felt pressure to wear formal attire, but colleagues and constituents take him more seriously when he wears a suit or tie. “People treat you differently,” he said.
Rep. Joe Vogel, D-Md., said choosing what to wear often requires careful weighing.
Representative Vogel, 26, who is running for an open congressional seat in 2024, said he looks “more relatable” when he’s not wearing a jacket. He added that his Adidas Stan Smith sneakers are a must-have on the campaign trail. When he wears a shirt and tie, he often rolls up his sleeves for a more casual look.
Leaders of Run for Something and Run GenZ, a group that supports young Republicans running for state and local office, said the groups encourage candidates they support to wear clothing that boosts confidence.
“Our advice is to dress up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself,” said Joe Mitchell, 26, founder of Run GenZ and a former Republican representative from Iowa . When he took office, he added, “even when I came home and went to a county committee meeting wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, I thought I looked like that.”
Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something, said her organization supports female candidates, LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color who, as she put it, “can’t pretend to be rich like they used to be Old white man”.
“They can only be themselves,” Ms. Litman said. “They’re just not willing to pretend in a way that they’re really appreciated.”
It’s not just Gen Z politicians who are dressing more casually.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, 52, a Democrat, likes to wear pink — fuchsia, to be exact. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 58, R-Calif.; Sen. Mitch McConnell, 81, R-Kentucky; Rep. Hakeem, 53, D-N.Y. ·Hakeem Jeffries recently wore formal sneakers to an Oval Office meeting. It’s hard to imagine Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, 54, wearing anything other than a hooded sweatshirt and shorts.
Rep. Sara Jacobs, 34, a California Democrat and a millennial, said she believes many elected officials now make it a priority to appear authentic, “rather than some of the common standards that politicians have historically “.
In June, members of the recently formed Congressional Sneaker Caucus, led by Reps. Jared Moskowitz, 42, D-Fla., and Lori Chavez-DeRemer, 55, R-Oregon, hosted the inaugural Sneaker Day on Capitol Hill.
“We no longer wear powdered wigs in Congress,” Mr. Moskowitz said. He added that bringing some youth fashion and youth culture to Capitol Hill “isn’t a revolution; This is the evolution of the way we dress. “
Nabeela Syed, a 24-year-old Illinois House Democrat, said she usually wears white sneakers to work — she also likes the Adidas Stan Smith — because she prioritizes dressing. Comfortable. She said white sneakers have been a staple in her wardrobe since high school.
“I still stand by what I’ve always done,” Rep. Said said. “It feels like me.”