Dress Shirts for the Destination: Capitol Hill

What they wear in the U.S. Senate

Ready to get dressed for Day 1, but not Week 1 of your new job? Not a surprise, because very few guys dress like they work on Capitol Hill before they join the team. But it's time to step up because first impressions matter. Poorly-fitting or inappropriate dress shirts put you at a disadvantage vs. your better-dressed peers. Here's the good news: you're about to learn how to look like you belong on the Hill. 

We analyzed the official portraits of the men of the US Senate to provide you with data on Capitol Hill style. Think of it as "dressing for the job you want, not the job you have." You can  decide to match the team dress code or show them that you “think different.” Either way, you’ll be choosing the outcome vs. running the risk an unpleasant surprise.

Bipartisan solidarity on patterns: just say no.

Capitol Hill dress code: shirt patterns

In a strong, veto-proof majority, both Republicans and Democrats vote for solids. One Senator from each party picked very small checks, and the final two Democrats chose stripes and a subtle plaid. When you go shopping, you'll see a lot of dress shirts with checks, stripes, and plaids, but these are rare on the Hill. (BTW, our Market index includes over 80,000 dress shirts from 17 top brands, available at The Wardrobe Essentialist)

Take-away: solids lend more credibility and gravitas to a look.

A second bipartisan agreement: keep it simple with white

Capitol Hill dress code: shirt colors

The US Senate is definitely a white collar job, so you're not shocked that the majority opt for white shirts. 72% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats wear basic white shirts. Blue comes in second, picked by 39% of Democrats and 26% of Republicans. Again, you'll see a lot more color choices in the marketplace. Blue is the #1 color, with light purple and pink almost as popular as white, but these work better for other teams.

Takeaway: white is a classic staple that's right for any formal meeting.

Split decision on collars

Capitol Hill dress code: point collar photo
On The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet wore point collar dress shirts
Capitol Hill dress code: spread collar photo
In House of Cards, President Garret Walker wore spread collar dress shirts
Capitol Hill dress code: shirt collars by party

Different parties chose different collars. Republicans stick with more traditional point and button-down collars. A small majority of Democrats have shifted to the more modern spread collars. Senators are more conservative than the marketplace, which is now 69% spread collar.

Capitol Hill dress code: shirt collars by generation

Different generations make different collar choices. Members of the Silent Generation (born 1925-45) continue to wear the point collars that were popular when they were starting their careers. Boomers (1946-64) are the most likely to continue to wear the more informal button downs. Senators from Gen X (1965-85) have switched to the modern spread collar.

Takeaway: wearing a spread collar is the most popular current choice and won’t be out of place.

And the “Think Different” award goes to…

Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders shows that he’s independent in menswear, at least by Senatorial standards. He wore a blue striped button-down dress shirt.

Capitol Hill dress code: Senator Sanders

In conclusion, when you’re building your dress shirt wardrobe to prepare for your job on Capitol Hill, you can’t go wrong with white and light blue spread collar shirts. Make sure they fit you well.

Still dreading shopping for your first week? Join 90% of men in America! Most men grit their teeth and go to a store, where they waste hours getting an "okay" solution. Walking back to the parking lot, they wonder if they're walking past something even better, but they just don't have the energy to go on.

Free search for dress shirts that fit Capitol Hill, your body, and your budget
Mark Hill

My name is Mark, and I’m the Founder & CEO of The Wardrobe Essentialist. I've spent my career in business and business casual offices, initially at Bain & Co in Boston and San Francisco, and then as a Business Unit General Manager at global Fortune 500 companies.

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