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Capitol Dress Code and Guidelines


Proper dress is proportionate to the dignity of one’s activities; coveralls, for instance, are suited to manual labor but not testifying in court. Those who dress improperly display an indifference towards nobler pursuits. Accordingly, more formal dress is to be worn when attending class at the Capitol during the legislative session. Professional attire in this setting is not optional, but a GWU requirement. Our standard is for students to dress in alignment with college interns at the Capitol. This means to dress similar to the legislators. Given the constant presence of the media, elected officials and numerous professionals at the Capitol, especially during the legislative session, students should dress each day with the same care they would for an important job interview.

Dress Code
Men shall either wear business suits with neckties or wear blazers, slacks or dress khakis, neckties and dress shoes. Dress shirts should either be white or blue in a medium to light shade. Even if you occasionally notice a legislator wearing another color, these choices are generally not as well regarded as professional.

Women are to wear business suits or jackets, sweaters or blouses with either slacks or professional skirts of modest length.  Necklines and footwear should be modest and appropriate for business.

In keeping with GWU’s intention to maintain a dignified community of learning, as well as the Capitol’s dignified and noble purpose, extreme hairstyles and other such distracting bodily accoutrements are not permitted. Jewelry should be modest and professional. Personal grooming and cleanliness must be maintained to present a clean appearance, with contemporary hairstyles and makeup consistent with the professional business world. Men shall be clean shaven. Hair must be trimmed and maintained in a mature professional appearance. Clothing must not be wrinkled, but pressed–especially shirts and in particular the collar. Hair and nails should be modestly maintained and kept clean. Shoes should be kept free of scuffs and shined regularly.

Casual backpacks should be replaced by professional handbags and similar business accessories consistent with the Capitol environment. For cold weather, overcoats should be worn instead of parkas.

Students will be representing not only themselves, but their fellow classmates, alumni and future GWU students. Consequently, one’s attire and conduct will affect the internship and professional prospects of their peers, plus the reputations of all who are associated with GWU. Consideration of other people who we represent by association is a fundamental aspect of the diplomacy we declare in the GWU mission statement. Such thoughtfulness is one of its hallmarks. Given the high stakes for all, students not properly attired will be asked to change.

Additional Details and Guidelines:
While numerous retail outlets provide quality business attire, thrift stores generally provide the most affordable option for students on tight budgets. Discount stores like Ross, however, may save time by increasing the clothing options in one's size. By making careful selections, a discerning shopper can find quality items on a budget. Below are some guidelines to help in avoiding professional wardrobe mistakes.

• Solid suits are preferred over patterned ones. Black, charcoal and navy are the most reliably respected and versatile. Pinstripes are only for the experienced, and should be used sparingly.
• White and blue (medium to light) are the only business dress shirts that are universally respected. All other colors lose credibility with at least some of the audiences one encounters. Generally, women can ignore this rule. White shirts, however, still rank at the top for both sexes.
• Despite what anyone says, there is actually no such thing as a short sleeve dress shirt.
• A polyester necktie is never a good bargain, even if free. In modern times silk is universally affordable.
• Faddish and themed necktie patterns should be shunned. Timeless classics are always good investments and are universally respected. Solids are the most formal, descending proportionately in clout, class and dignity from the tightest patterns down to the largest. Floral and abstract patterns are at the bottom of the necktie hierarchy. Likewise, regimental stripes with uniform spacing are at the top, with stripes of increasingly varied and random widths ranking proportionately lower.
• Despite fleeting fads, the most timeless and proportionate necktie length occurs when the bottom of the necktie extends precisely to the bottom of your belt buckle, regardless of where the thin part ends up. A single, deep dimple that continues tightly under the knot adds a finishing touch. For the most timeless appearance, the classic European single overhand asymmetrical knot always prevails. Thick knots like the Double Windsor fluctuate in popularity.  Thick knots also increase the frequency of chin contact when you look down to read, glance at your phone, etc., increasing the amount of skin oil absorbed and shortening the life of your necktie.
• Leather, such as belts and shoes, should match in color.
• For men, solid socks are always safest. They should match pants both in color and at least approximately in texture. (Smooth black pants require smooth black socks. Brown semi-smooth pants require brownish, semi-smooth socks.) The exception is when wearing black shoes, which almost always require black socks.
• True dress socks for men are long enough so that when crossing your legs, no skin shows.
• Despite what many people attempt (including some shoe manufacturers) there is actually no such thing as a “slip-on” men’s "dress" shoe – especially in black. All things being equal, laces always out rank slip-on shoes.

Generally, women have a little more leeway within business dress guidelines. However, this can also lead to more confusion. A few basic rules can help.

• Colors should be based on a neutral palette (black, white, navy, cream, charcoal or gray). In moderation, a small splash of color such as in a blouse, cami, jewelry or belt can complement without drawing too much attention. When considering bright colors, use restraint and be very careful. Credibility often suffers unwittingly.
• All suits and skirts should appear tailored to fit without being too tight. Skirts should hit roughly at the knee. If you wish to cover your lower leg, wear slacks or suit pants. Maxi skirts (ankle length) are not professional.
• Shirts, blouses, sweaters, and turtlenecks are acceptable attire if they contribute to the appearance of professional business dress. Blouses should be conservative and free of wrinkles. As a rule, it is always best to tuck in your shirt or blouse, but if leaving your shirt untucked, ensure that the bottom of the shirt presents a tailored, neat appearance.
• Avoid gaudy or large jewelry and hair accessories. Think simple, sleek, understated and chic.
• Belts may be worn with outfits for either function or style. Choose belts that are simple and conservative in color and design.
• Wear scuff-free heels or flats in a neutral color that matches or complements your skirt or pants. When wearing heels, don't wear anything higher than 3 inches.
• Hair should be groomed, neat, not excessively long, and simple.  Straight hair is generally more professional and versatile since it can be worn either up or down. In order to match this look of professionalism with curly hair, it must usually be worn up.
• Makeup is important and should be used, but its effect should be modest and professional.
• Choose shoulder bags and purses that are both professional and durable. Backpacks are not professional.

Below are a few examples of college interns in standard attire appropriate for the Capitol.  Refer to the image at the top of this page as well.


Go to regular GWU dress code >>

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