Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
When thinking of a uniform in the U.S. Capitol today, the first image conjured is most probably a middle-aged man in a dark suit. Business attire has long been the standard dress for both Members of Congress and their office staff. However, this de facto uniform is not the only dress code for the Capitol complex. Within these grand and historic buildings, it is often taken for granted that spaces will appear pristine and practical functions will be seamlessly maintained. The groups of laborers that have long helped maintain this illusion have also long been clad in assigned uniforms specific to their division - carpenter, painter, electrician, among others. House Pages, students who have (up until the fall of 2011) served as errand runners for Member's offices, are also part of the uniformed class of the Capitol. These useful but essentially invisible people have historically been uniformed, making them clearly identifiable as a separate class of workers within the Capitol. Rooted in the principles of analyzing material culture, this paper aims to investigate and discuss, through examples of historic clothing in the House Collection and archival images, the nature of these garments and how they functioned both practically in regards to labor functions and symbolically as signifiers of difference. The textiles used, the components of the uniforms, and the appearance in relation to other groups of workers will all addressed to this end.