Occupy Wall Street protesters had some stiff evening competition when ardent activists donned their Thursday best with suits of white-and-blue stripes, pink socks, and yellow ties.
This was no grunge college protest. It was an event led by Washington’s elite, including former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. Guests gathered at Occidental Grill & Seafood to “occupy Pennsylvania Avenue” in solidarity for their favorite day on the Senate calendar: Seersucker Thursday.
The annual event dates to 1996, when Mr. Lott, who had decided to run for Congress in the same restaurant in 1972, started the annual fashion display, usually held the second or third week in June.
Mr. Lott encouraged U.S. senators to wear the lightweight, summer-friendly pastel suit style as a sign of bipartisanship even during the most contentious debates.
“It was a part of a pattern that I started when I was majority leader to enjoy each other’s company and create a better atmosphere to get things done,” Mr. Lott said, citing the bipartisanship of welfare reform, a balanced budget and a budget surplus.
“It was always a way to loosen up the Senate a little and have some fun,” he added.
At its prime, the event attracted as many as 30 senators and was always a favorite of Capitol Hill press corps members, who enjoyed seeing senators in their trendy displays.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, even bought one of the traditional Southern-style suits for each of her female colleagues — a gesture so well received that 11 of the 14 female senators participated in the event the following year.
Still, the event has caused controversy this year.
Senate staff decided in June not to hold Seersucker Thursday this year, saying it would be politically unwise to be seen doing something frivolous when there’s so much conflict over major issues.
Mr. Lott said he sees that rationale as missing the purpose of the event.
“If you don’t have a good laugh, you cry,” he said. “You can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company.”
At Thursday’s “protest” event, the restaurant circulated a petition to reinstate the yearly event and rewarded loyal seersucker wearers with a free dessert or a Kentucky Derby-inspired mint julep — a deal several Hill staffers enjoyed because many of the 20-somethings wore seersucker suits in solidarity with the former senator.
“I encourage others to sign the petition, and we will send it to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to get this event up and running again,” Mr. Lott said.
There were about 10 to 15 people at the event.