The competition is fierce for the AJC’s “Best-Dressed Lawmakers”

The annual competition is always government reporter Maya T. Prabhu's most controversial story

AJC Best-Dressed Lawmakers
Representative Inga Willis (D-Atlanta) was a winner in 2023.

Photograph by Natrice Miller / AJC

“I cover abortion, I cover guns, and somehow the best-dressed list is the most controversial story I write all year,” says Maya T. Prabhu, government reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and unofficial chief fashion critic of the Georgia General Assembly. She shakes her head. “I get the angriest emails, people stopping me in the hall, very upset that they weren’t included. I’ve had the parent of one lawmaker complain his son wasn’t on the list, and another lawmaker’s husband complained his wife wasn’t on the list.”

Prabhu launched her “Best-Dressed Lawmakers” list in 2019, a year after joining the AJC as a legislative correspondent. She credits Senator Elena Parent (D-North DeKalb) with inspiring her to turn lawmakers’ session styles into a competition. “There were a few days in a row where I saw her and thought, Oh, I like your dress, I like that coat,” she says. Over the many days she spent sitting in the back of legislative chambers, watching representatives wheel and deal over bills, Prabhu compiled a meticulous and entirely subjective list of sartorial icons. Just before the end of session, the AJC published her top 10 winners, among them Representative Park Cannon (D-Atlanta), Senator Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton), and, of course, Senator Parent. Overnight, Prabhu managed to inaugurate one of the most cutthroat political races in the state of Georgia.

“Best-Dressed Lawmakers” has since become a hotly anticipated event of the legislative session, with elected representatives elbowing fiercely for Prabhu’s favor. She often gets urgent texts from lawmakers asking her to find them in the halls—not to update her on legislation, but to show off their outfit of the day. “One lawmaker told me he was getting all his suits altered to have a better chance of winning,” she says. Prabhu has a no-repeats rule, so she’s always on the lookout for new trendsetters. “I was glad we had such a large freshman class [of lawmakers] last year,” she adds. “I was starting to run out of folks.”

The competition has grown in prestige over the years: The AJC now takes official portraits of the winners in their very best legislative duds. Senator Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), a 2021 awardee, arrived at the photo shoot with his personal clothier in tow.

Prabhu is quick to note that she has no legitimate credentials to adjudicate a style contest: “Everything I know about fashion I learned from Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model.” But she does her best to be fair. “I try to choose a variety,” she says. “I’ve got men and women, different demographics, both parties.” Not that it matters: Her list generates a hailstorm of controversy no matter who’s on it. This year, as a gesture of democratic goodwill—or to better diffuse criticism—Prabhu is running “Best-Dressed Lawmakers” as a 16-lawmaker bracket, pitting new style nominees against past winners and allowing the public to vote on their favorites. The winner will be announced by the AJC toward the end of session in late March. “Or maybe a few days after we’re done,” Prabhu muses. “Just to cut down being cussed out in the hallways.”

This article appears in our March 2024 issue.