Recovering Fetterman Finds Workaround for Dress Code

Senator is back to hoodies for much of his work, provided he's not on the Senate floor
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2023 3:40 PM CDT
'New Dress Code' Part of Fetterman's Recovery
Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., center, speaks as Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., left and Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., right, listen during a news conference on the debt limi, Thursday, May 18, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Before Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman checked himself in to the hospital for clinical depression in February, he walked the halls of the Senate stone-faced and dressed in formal suits. These days, he’s back to wearing the hoodies and gym shorts he was known for before he became a senator, per the AP. Male senators are expected to wear a jacket and tie on the Senate floor, but Fetterman has a workaround. He votes from the doorway of the Democratic cloakroom or the side entrance, making sure his “yay” or “nay” is recorded before ducking back out. In between votes this past week, Fetterman's hoodie stayed on for a news conference with four Democratic colleagues in suits, the 6-foot-8 Fetterman towering over his colleagues.

People close to Fetterman say his relaxed, comfortable style is a sign that the senator is making a robust recovery after six weeks of inpatient treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where his clinical depression was treated with medication and he was fitted for hearing aids for hearing loss that had made it harder for him to communicate. His hospitalization came less than a year after he had a stroke during his Senate campaign that he has said nearly killed him, and from which he continues to recover. “He’s setting a new dress code,” jokes Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, who is the only other newly elected Democrat in the Senate and spent a lot of time with Fetterman during their orientation at the beginning of the year. “He was struggling. And now he’s a joyful person to be around.”

Senators do occasionally vote in casual clothing, but Fetterman’s regular attire is redefining fashion in the stuffy Senate. He’s turning heads on a daily basis as he walks the halls in his signature baggy Carhartt sweatshirts and saggy gym shorts, his hulking figure surrounded by much more formally dressed Washington types buzzing around the Capitol. The senator’s staff had originally asked him to always wear suits, which he famously hates. But after a check with the Senate parliamentarian upon his return, it became clear that he could continue wearing the casual clothes that were often his uniform back at home in Pennsylvania, as long as he didn’t walk on to the Senate floor.

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Meanwhile, his physical recovery from the stroke continues. Fetterman’s words are still halting and sometimes hard to understand, due to his stroke. He has auditory processing disorder, which makes it harder to speak fluidly and quickly process spoken conversation into meaning. He uses iPads in conversations, meetings, and congressional hearings that transcribe spoken words in real time, and when he speaks publicly he often appears to be reading closely off a sheet of paper. He rarely speaks with reporters in the hallways. (Read the full story.)

(More John Fetterman stories.)

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