Senate Shirts Stiffly Starched Under Seersucker

In the summertime, politicians on Capitol Hill appear more relaxed. But underneath the seersucker, the attitude remains tightly buttoned down.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In the Senate this week, there was an ice cream social in the Republican leaders' office and the first of the summer's seersucker suit days.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook set out to have a little fun with that story and found that even when the Senate tries to lighten up beneath the pucker its shirts remains stiffly starched. Here's her Reporter's Notebook.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Summer is a weird time in the Capitol. The stately, elegant halls fill up with herds of tourists in shorts and sneakers. The dress code takes a more frivolous turn especially on Thursdays when senators and representatives don their dandy seersucker suits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: So I wanted to capture the feeling here. About a dozen senators in seersucker are horsing around and having their pictures taken. Leading the fun is Mississippi Republican Trent Lott who started the tradition. He tells me why.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): Because it is the first day of summer. It's been pretty hot in Washington. And also, it's a time when the Senate needs to loosen up and lighten up a little bit. I've learned over the years that humor is the best rubber sword because it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.

SEABROOK: Or rubber chickens?

Sen. LOTT: Well, yeah.

SEABROOK: Lott's even wearing a pink tie and pink socks. Lott also started Tartan Day, and he reminds me gleefully that he was the first man to wear a skirt on the Senate floor. Okay. Right. I know, it was a kilt, whatever. Great, I'm thinking, I almost have a story. Then across the tiled hallway, I see a whole bunch of lanky young men in seersucker and I think, oh, these guys will be perfect. I approach.

I'm Andrea Seabrook of NPR. Who are you?

Mr. HUNTER KITCHENS (Intern, Senate): I'm Hunter Kitchens. I do a Lott intern this summer.

SEABROOK: And you're hanging out with a bunch of sort of Gatsbyesque-looking guys.

Mr. KITCHENS: We're in seersucker today for a seersucker Thursday.

SEABROOK: But then Lott's own press secretary, Nick Simpson, steps in to put the kibosh on the interview.

Are you all in Trent Lott's office?

Mr. KITCHENS: We are.

Mr. NICK SIMPSON (Press Secretary, Senator Lott): Hey...

SEABROOK: Oh, come on, it's Andrea Seabrook with NPR.

Mr. SIMPSON: Why don't you just get the senator when this is all over?

SEABROOK: I've...

Mr. SIMPSON: I mean, honestly, just talk to the Senators...

SEABROOK: Okay. And I'm reminded that no matter how loose and light the summertime dress code is, there's a stronger unspoken code that doesn't change for any season. Never trust a reporter, it dictates, and only let the big dogs talk into the microphone.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Andrea Seabrook.

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