Hats Off for New Congresswoman

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson wore her trademark hats during her tenure in the Florida House of Legislature. But hat wearing is a no-no in Congress

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson wore her trademark hats during her tenure in the Florida House of Legislature. But hat wearing is a no-no in Congress

Washington—When Frederica Wilson was sworn in Wednesday into the 112th Congress, the freshman congresswoman started her first day on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives without her signature look—a hat.

Elected Nov. 2, 2010, to South Florida’s 17th Congressional District, Wilson garnered press not only for her political savvy but for her fashion finesse as well. She is seldom without one of her trademark hats (she boasts some 300 styles in her wardrobe). “I like to dress up. I dress up every day, and I feel dressed from head to toe,” Wilson told reporters when asked about her favorite accessory last fall.

While the Washington Post reported Wednesday that Wilson wore a red sequined hat to her swearing in, she had to remove the hat–which coordinated beautifully with her red suit–upon entering the House chamber. That’s due to an 1837 rule which prohibits members of Congress from wearing hats inside the chambers. Wilson even had to remove her hat for her official Congressional portrait.

 Hats Outside the House Only

The 68-year-old Wilson began her political career as representative to Florida’s House of Representatives from 1999 to 2002 when she was elected state senator, later rising to minority pro tempore and minority lead whip. Wilson ran unopposed for her Congressional seat, where she replaced Kendrick Meek, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. Through it all, Wilson wore her trademark hats, everything from cowboys to church hats to pill boxes.

In December, South Florida press asked Wilson if she planned on wearing her hats in Washington. Wilson–who is among only nine Democratic freshmen who bucked the national trend in November that flipped the House to Republican control–said she planned to appeal John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, for an exemption to the ban.

But as they tend to do, politics trumps fashion. Contacted Wednesday, Wilson’s spokesperson told Accessories magazine that the freshman congresswoman “won’t be wearing her hats on the House floor. She’s received a lot of press over her hats, but Congresswoman Wilson wants to focus on issues”–not fashion.

Indeed, Wilson, who considers herself a “progressive politician,” plans to focuses on “minorities and low-income people. AIDS awareness,” and “reintegration of former prisoners.”

Wilson isn’t the first headwear aficionada to run up against the hat ban. Back in the 1970s, tough-talking Congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York, known for her omnipresent hats, also failed to overturn the House hat ban.

Wilson, who told reporters hat wearing was a tradition in her family back to her grandmother, will still wear her hats in public appearances outside the Capitol building, her spokesperson said.

Who knows? Maybe if she keeps her head held high, Wilson may make the Headwear Association’s Hat Person of the Year.

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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com