Ties, top hats and T-shirts: What is the dress code for MPs?

·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
MPs in the House of Commons do not have a formal dress code. (PA)

When Labour MP Tracy Brabin wore a shoulder-revealing dress in the Commons, she faced fierce criticism for her sartorial choice.

The shadow culture secretary defended her choice of outift but critics said it was not “appropriate attire” for Parliament.

But are there any actual clothing rules for MPs while sitting in the Commons?

What were the past traditions?

Until 1998, MPs were forced to wear a top hat when raising a point of order, but this was scrapped by the leader of the House at the time, Ann Taylor.

She said during a debate on the modernisation of parliamentary procedures: "I know some members may feel that they look particularly fetching in the opera hat, but it really does make the House of Commons look ridiculous.”

What about clothing?

According to Erskine May, the bible of dos and don’ts for MPs, members “should dress in business-like attire”. MPs are also not permitted to wear any military insignia or uniform inside the chamber, while those voting in a division should not in principle have their face covered.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 21: Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake leaves the BBC Broadcasting House in central London on 21 July, 2019 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Liberal Democrat Tom Brake was questioned for not wearing a tie in the Commons (Getty)

Do male MPs need to wear ties?

Erskine May once again states that business attire “need not include a tie”, something that former Speaker John Bercow made clear in 2017.

He told MPs that ties were “no longer essential” after Liberal Democrat Tom Brake asked a question in the Commons while tieless.

Mr Bercow said: "It seems to me that as long as a member arrives in the House in what might be thought to be business-like attire, the question of whether that member is wearing a tie is not absolutely front and centre-stage.

"Do I think it's essential that a member wears a tie? No.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
MPs must wear 'business-like attire' inside the Commons. (Getty)

Who decides what is “business-like attire”?

Again, Mr Bercow said it was up to the chair to decide what is “seemly and proper”, adding that female MPs were also free to wear ties if they chose.

So is there a formal dress code?

No. Erskine May says it remains custom for male MPs to wear a jacket and tie, “but the Speaker has not enforced the practice in all circumstances”.

Parliament’s website states: "The Speaker has, on a number of occasions, taken exception to informal clothing, including the non-wearing of jackets and ties by men.”

Deputy leader of the Labour party Harriet Harman wears a feminist T-shirt during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
Labour MP Harriet Harman wore a feminist T-shirt during Prime Minister's Questions in 2014. (PA)
Caroline Lucas was told to remove a slogan T-shirt during a debate in Westminster Hall (Parliament TV)
Green MP Caroline Lucas was told to remove a slogan T-shirt during a debate in Westminster Hall. (Parliament TV)

Has anyone fallen foul of the chair in recent years?

Yes – most notably Green MP Caroline Lucas, who was reprimanded by the chair in 2013 for wearing a “No More Page Three” T-shirt during a debate in Westminster.

She was asked to stick to the more formal dress code if she wanted to continue in the debate.

Harriet Harman managed to avoid a similar reprimand when she wore a T-shirt saying “this is what a feminist looks like” on it during Prime Minister’s Questions in 2014.

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