Barbara Mikulski Helped Lead the Pantsuit Rebellion of 1993

Back then, women were required to wear dresses or skirts on the Senate floor.

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enator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, speaks during an event to announce legislaltive reforms to help combat cell phone theft in the metro system on February 20, 2014 in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Carmen Turner Maintenance and Training Facility, in Landover, Maryland.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

In 1993, when Barbara Mikulski had been a senator for five years, the Maryland Democrat flouted the rules by wearing a pantsuit on the Senate floor. 

Let that sink in. Whitney Houston's cover of "I Will Always Love You" predates women being allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor by a year.

At the time, the Senate dress code required that women wear either dresses or skirts with jackets on the floor. Mikulski, along with Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat who was the first black woman to be elected to the Senate, rebelled by donning pantsuits and female support staff soon followed. Soon after, "a silly rule was struck down and one of the prime symbols of gender inequity was removed," according to Robin Givhan of The Washington Post

Mikulski, who is expected to announce her planned retirement on Monday, was the first Democratic woman to be elected to the senate. When she joined, in 1987, there was just one other woman serving. Now, there are 20.

In 1992, the number of women in the Senate jumped up to seven, and it was popularly referred to as "the year of the woman." According to Senator Dick Durbin's retelling of events, Mikulski said then that “calling 1992 the ‘year of the woman’ makes it sound like the ‘year of the caribou’ or ‘year of the asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”

Rep. Barbara Mikulski wearing a pantsuit during a talk in 1978.
Rep. Barbara Mikulski wearing a pantsuit during a talk in 1978.
Photographer: Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images

 

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