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Many "crazy law" sources claim that California motor vehicle law contains a bizarre sartorial proscription.

On CNN.com, the article "Do you know why I pulled you over?" by Craig Howie claims:

Some antiquated state driving laws are flat-out crazy. Got a housecoat? If you're a woman, it's illegal to wear one while driving in California.

The California law office of Merrill, Arnone & Jones, LLP claims (May 24, 2020):

Below is our list of 10 weird laws in California

  • Women are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle while wearing a housecoat.
  • ...

Adam Schubak at Car and Driver Magazine claims (Oct 3, 2018):

California has a dress code when it comes to women behind the wheel. It's actually illegal for a woman to drive wearing a bathrobe.

The garment named here is slightly different (bathrobe versus housecoat), but the theme is the same - a claim that women are forbidden from driving while wearing certain highly informal but not revealing attire.

Schuback claims a source for this quote, but that source is just another unsourced "crazy law" article.

Rich Martin, the sheriff of Lake County, Michigan, makes a similar claim (Jan. 7, 2021):

From California.com: It is illegal for women to drive a motor vehicle while wearing a housecoat. A housecoat is also known as a nightgown or a nighty.

This time, a California tourism company is claimed as a source, but only the homepage was provided and a search on that site for "housecoat" only turned up another unsourced "strange laws" page by Rachael Medina (July 22, 2020):

It is illegal for women to drive vehicles while wearing a housecoat.

A mainstream nationwide news outlet, a law firm, a major motor vehicle magazine, a public official, and a travel writer all agree that some sort of dress code exists for California drivers, or at least female ones.

Considering that many so-called "crazy laws" have some basis in fact and that there might actually be a California statute defining either positive or negative clothing requirements for drivers on public roads, I decided to search the actual California motor vehicle code (VEH). I searched for the words "housecoat", "bathrobe", "robe", "nightgown", "negligee", "dress", "attire", and "modest" and got absolutely zero results. Searching for "clothing" got me two hits (1, 2) that specifically relate to uniforms for California Highway Patrol officers and not regular drivers.

Does California law define a dress code for operators of motor vehicles?

Discussion:

I am aware that such a law as claimed by these sources, if it exists exactly as claimed, is likely Constitutionally infirm under void for vagueness or free speech considerations. Such a law also would likely contravene Federal anti-discrimination laws on gender. This leads me to believe that the "real" law is something much more reasonable that has been mangled by generations of journalists.

Another possibility that occurred to me is that these claims could be mangled references to the crime of Indecent Exposure, which generally has nothing to do with motor vehicles and can be committed by both women and men. A check of the actual California law on indecent exposure indicates that behavior must be done "lewdly" to fall under the statute. Wearing a housecoat or bathrobe out in public for a non-sexual purpose might be a crime against fashion, but it doesn't contravene this statute. I live on the other side of the country but I have a neighbor who frequently walks out of her home in her nightgown to pick up her mail. I've never considered this to be worthy of police intervention.

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    In my experience many of these cases considerably stretch what the law actually says, either adding specifics or ignoring limitations. (An example of the former is no looking at moose from an airplane--the law really says you can't use an airplane to locate game. An example of the latter is no sex without a condom--the law really says no sex without a condom in a brothel.) If there is anything to it it could be very different than how it's portrayed. Apr 16 at 5:11
  • @LorenPechtel that is what I suspect, too. Apr 16 at 12:09
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    This is a perfect example of how to ask a "notable" question. I however don't know if you'll get an answer. As @LorenPechtel noted, a lot of the so-called "crazy law" stories are stretched to the extreme, and some are total fabrications. Apr 18 at 13:05
  • @DavidHammen thanks. I've tried to make the question as clear as possible, with the best possible claim sources that "should" have been fact checked (law firm, mainstream magazine, etc.), as well as investigation into the actual statute books for signs of possible origins. I've also shown that the claim is phrased in a few different ways, showing that it has likely been internalized by people who repeat it in their own words as opposed to simply copypasting verbatim a quote they saw. Apr 19 at 10:29
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    @LorenPechtel better example of the former: "it's illegal to cross state lines with a duck on your head" when it's actually illegal to bring animals across state lines without inspection, or something like that.
    – user253751
    Apr 21 at 16:05

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