Teach Your Children about Dressing Appropriately


One of the things I love most about working in Washington, D.C., is seeing all the people who come here from across the world. For some, it is a life’s goal to just once stand in front of the White House and take in its iconic message of hope and opportunity – regardless of who happens to live there at the time.

For others, it’s a chance to explore the many remarkable public places that span the city; from viewing the Declaration of Independence to wandering through the endless museums, which by the way are free.

Though we are now in the chilly clutches of winter, tourists and school groups still descend upon the Capitol City with regularity. And as they do I still wonder at how often I see many of these children – and adults – dressed like they are going to wash the family car.

School groups in particular are unfortunate examples of what happens when those in positions of responsibility choose to abdicate roles of authority. In a nutshell, too many visitors to my city dress like slobs. It’s embarrassing.

While I love to see wide eyed kids gazing upon the Capitol dome for the first time, many of them, with seeming parental approval, express a total lack of decorum. During the summer in particular I regularly witness clumps of high schoolers marching off to visit their senator or congressman in baggy shorts, oversized tee shirts and flip flops! Girls sport the equivalent of beachwear and guys look like they just rolled out of bed and into last week’s laundry.

Now, I’m no stuffed shirt and am all for freedom of personal expression, etc.; but I firmly believe there are times and places for showing sartorial respect. I actually find it offensive that America’s schools and their D.C.-bound chaperones can’t even muster up enough backbone to require a decent clothes when walking though the Capitol rotunda, the hallowed ground where presidents and luminaries have lain in state.

What happened? I know that my parents would have ground me into the floor if they learned I showed up for a White House tour looking like I was heading out to mow the grass. Speaking of the White House, last year it was compelled to enforce a strict dress code for all visitors regardless. No jeans, no shorts, and no flip flops. This had to be enforced, seriously? Do parents even teach basic manners anymore?

As an American, I am frustrated to no end when I see this total lack of respect for others and for the dignity of our most significant public spaces. Dressing well to go out in public is a show of reverence to others and to the places you visit. It is a nonverbal acceptance that you are not the center of the universe and at times it is appropriate to convey a message that supports the idea of community.

Do we really have to require that people not wear halter tops or have underwear hanging out when they visit the Smithsonian? Apparently. I readily admit that in my personal experience, most often the well-dressed visitors I see wandering around this city are from other countries.

Parents, and everyone else, this is my plea: show your Capital City, your fellow Americans and everyone else, some respect.


Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice


  1. What is the appropriate attire to these places? I completely understand your disapproval towards such tourist-wear, but I didn’t catch what you believe is correct. For example would a polo shirt, shorts, and shoes be respectful enough? Or should one wear a button down shirt? Are jeans ever acceptable?

  2. Chris,
    I should have commented earlier, but I wanted to say thank you for this post. I’m a younger man, and would be glad to have the youth today take a step towards respect, despite what’s happening in politics.

    I’m also Canadian, but don’t let that stop you. Keep up the good fight.

  3. Thank to both of you for your questions.

    I am a perfectly modern guy and appreciate that jeans are now a staple of many guy’s working wardrobe. We wear them everywhere so I don’t a problem with jeans per se. However, the White House does; they are formally banned.

    Generally speaking, I just want people to dress well. So jeans are OK by me as long as they are in good shape and paired with a nice shirt and sweater.

    Same goes for shorts. In the dead of summer it is hot here and a nice pair of Bermuda shorts will hit the spot.

    That said, I do have a problem with shorts in the Capitol. People should plan ahead and pay attention. That’s what we do when we travel.

    Just my two cents.

  4. Richard Lim says:

    That is totally true!
    I have seen pictures of people just walking around in whatever and in front of the Lincoln memorial! And honestly Lincoln siting in his chair does not look to happy!