Fashion statements: dress as communication

Quite recently, Levi Peterson wrote a post entitled “Don’t Come to my House in a Shirt and Tie.” This provocative post and the fascinating comments about it clearly signaled how standards for dress remain one of the most contested spaces as we attempt to negotiate our identities as church members. Struggles over what constitutes respectful and modest clothing, and the related struggles over whether the paradigm of “modesty” dis-empowers more than empowers women and is culturally relative or not, continually surface as sites for everything from adolescent rebelliousness, to deep explorations of our spirituality, to humanitarian causes.

What each person who cares about dress and considers the choices they make (or evaluates those others make) about where they shop and what they wear seems to clearly understand is that dress constitutes one of our simultaneously most visible and understated ways of communicating our identities, our values, and our affiliations. I suspect it is this fact that makes the rigid rules for dress that Peterson diagnosis often so frustrating. Or, in an alternative situation, what made the schoolgirl in me rejoice that I had a uniform that freed me from having to make fashion statements.

Rather than prescribing rules for dress or bemoaning those we do not like, perhaps we should begin focusing more on what people communicate through their fashion statements and how people perceive our own. In other words, we need to focus more on the principles and consequences of our fashion choices so that we can better understand which messages we wish to send and which messages others send us.

For example, in the specific case of whether or not to home teach in a white shirt and tie, we need to pay attention to the consequences that follow from wearing a suit. On the one hand, the suit does show respect, but it also creates a distance between people that blocks intimacy from developing. In another example, the fact that missionaries always wear suits most likely contributes to one New York Times writer’s recent claim that people perceive the LDS church as having the soul of a corporation. Or, finally, when we consider what constitutes appropriate dress for Sunday worship, we probably should consider whether our goals include creating a uniform for expressing reverence or encouraging people to attend church – and if this is indeed an either/or choice. Recently, I asked the mother of one of my young women what we could do to help her come to church, and I learned that this young women would not attend, despite the fact that she enjoyed church, because she was anxious about her body and did not feel comfortable in a dress.

The decisions we make about how to dress will inevitably impact what type of conversations we can have, to whom we can speak, and the power dynamics of any given situation. If we better understood the messages people communicate through their dress we would undoubtedly learn quite a bit more about the needs and hopes of members within the church. And, if we began focusing on what we wish to communicate through dress – a task that would require defining precisely what we hoped to accomplish in situations like home teaching – we would be better able to decide what specifically would constitute being well-dressed for a given situation. I would love to hear more about precisely what principles, commitments, and goals underwrite the fashion statements that we make as church members.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    What does the church seek to communicate by its increasing insistence that men wear white shirts? I suppose that we’re successful, white-collar types; that we aren’t outlandish bearded fundamentalists, but rather normal; that we are conservative; that we are obedient and submissive to hierarchical, corporate authority (like young executives are); that we are about as far removed from those dirty hippies of the 60s as it is possible to be.

    What do I seek to communicate by not always wearing white shirts to church? That I am independent and can think for myself; that I am liberal-minded; that I value diversity and don’t value the same lockstep notions of conformity and obedience that the Church is seeking to inculcate; that there is nothing inherently more righteous or spiritual about a white dress shirt over one with colors or stripes; that I can recognize a clear case of cultural conditioning and am free to reject it.

  2. To a great extent, there is a desire on the part of members to conform to expected dress standards as a statement of identity, and claiming a place in the community of Saints. Another example of this is bearing testimony during Fast & Testimony meeting.

    There is also a sense of not wanting to offend. Since being called to some leadership positions a few years ago, I have to admit that I have only worn white shirts on Sundays since that time, and generally buy a new suit once a year. Church service is just about the only place I ever have to wear a suit, or even a tie, as the workplace becomes more and more casual.

    Conversely, there are also members who deliberately wear something other than the perceived “uniform” just because they want to highlight their differences and apartness. My ward’s most outspoken democrat, who has also served in a bishopric and as gospel doctrine teacher, routinely wears pinstripe shirts on Sundays. I have known him well enough to know that he resists the uniform, although as an attorney, he certainly has enough white shirts and suits. It’s odd to think that he might be deliberately as you say “creating distance” but in the opposite way.

  3. Whatever we mean to communicate through the missionary dress code, it seems to help reinforce the common perception in Latin America (and perhaps elsewhere?) that missionaries are CIA agents.

    In part, what I think we might want in these discussions is a recognition that symbols such as modes of dress are inherently polyvalent. A white shirt and tie means reverence to one person, class status to another, a corporate worldview to a third. None of these perspectives is incorrect, because the symbol has no inherent meaning. So perhaps one lesson we could take from Natalie’s fascinating and probing post is that we should make greater efforts to communicate about our intended communication when we dress in one way or another.

  4. Our dresscode is like the thees and thous in prayer to me. To some people, maybe older generations, it is the most appropriate and respectful way to deal with God. To many others, outside that generation and or culture, it turns out to be not so applicable. Or even weird.

    I’m a thrift store dresser, I’m sure it speaks volumes about me. Mainly that I’m cheap. And trying to fake it as a hipster.

  5. I call shenanigans on post #2… There’s no way an outspoken Democrat can serve in a bishopric! I’m a convert of two years and even I’ve figured that out…Next thing you’ll be telling us is that he has facial hair, the Ultimate High Calling Repellent…

    LOL

  6. I wear a white shirt to church in order to avoid communicating anything. I just don’t like to be noticed. I know, it’s impossible for my attire to communicate nothing. Kevin might see me as communicating acceptance or endorsement of the message that he sees the white shirt communicating, even if that’s not what I intend to communicate. I actually intend to communicate nothing.

    This concept of attire as communication is one reason that I feel that it’s appropriate to teach modesty standards in church, despite the feminist objections (which I don’t think are 100% without merit). There are words that we avoid saying because they communicate something we shouldn’t communicate and/or they have negative effects on others, just like I feel that there are ways of dressing that we should avoid because doing so communicates something we shouldn’t communicate and can have negative effects on others. The attitude that we should dress however we want to and it’s other people’s problem if it affects them negatively makes as much sense to me as saying that we should say whatever words we want to and it’s other people’s problem if it affects them negatively.

  7. Veritas says:

    I think we should all just wear what we like and feel comfortable in and not be so obsessed with what others think. If my religious community cares so much about what I wear that I cannot find acceptance as myself, that is a HUGE problem with the church. Huge.

    And as was mentioned, different clothes mean different things to everyone, so why don’t we put all this time and energy on focusing on something other than whats on the surface? By our fruits they will know us, right?

  8. I have to admit that, by not wearing white shirts to church, I have something far less noble in mind than Kevin, namely, that I don’t like white shirts (I’d say two years on a mission and a year teaching at the MTC did it to me, but I didn’t much like white shirts before my mission either). I own a couple, both wrinkle-free, and when I wear them to church (or, frankly, to work), it means one of two things: either all of my other shirts are dirty, or I didn’t have time to iron that morning.

  9. a spectator says:

    I have never met a CIA agent in a suit (and yes, I have met several). Still, any American in the middle of nowhere in another country will get that question; Peace Corps volunteers hear it daily and I would guess that exactly none of them brought a suit with them.

    I suspect that the “white shirt” rule is a lazy but easy way to convey: we want you to look neat, but in a conservative, non-stand out kind of way. The color of the shirt is not so important, but they don’t want Church to become a fashion show (and plenty of women [we do not have the handy "white shirt" rule] feel that it is) or get too casual, as it undoubtedly would.

    Still, it bothers me. I don’t like uniforms and I hate for people to be made to feel inadequate because of their dress.

  10. Nick Literski says:

    If you truly want your attire to convey “nothing,” wouldn’t you go…..Oh, wait…that won’t work.
    ;-)

  11. Oh yeah, when I was on my mission I had a couple of women contemplating baptism and their main concern was that they’d have to start dressing plainly, like sister missionaries. When we told them they could be as trendy as they liked, they were ready to jump in the water.

    My mission was the only time I didn’t use my clothing as rebellion.

    In the singles’ wards I’ve been to in major cities, though mainly Boston, it’s super high fashion.

  12. You know, I was a member for about 2 years before I was even aware of the white-dress shirt thing. My husband (and both my boys) wear whatever shirt is clean and ironed in their closets… sometimes white, sometimes not.

    As for me, put me again in line with Amri. Thrift store city, baby. I love vintage and second hand stuff.

    It’s interesting though. Those symbols have absolutely no meaning on their own- only what we asign to them, and I agree with JNS in #3.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, Natalie.

  13. I seek to communicate that with the right tie, a pink shirt with a blue pin-stripe suit (with some carmel-colored leather shoes) can look better than with a white shirt.

  14. Tony, re # 5. You must live in what some call the MCR (Mormon Cultural Region) of Northern Utah and Southeastern Idaho. 7 or 8 years ago, more than half of the bishops in our stake in the Puget Sound area had facial hair, myself included. All have now cut it for the same reasons they first grew it: it made us look older.

    And while my friend is an outspoken Democrat, I am a modestly well-spoken Democrat. Around here, I haven’t found a calling repellent other than very bad behavior, which my wife and I decided was not an option for me.

  15. StillConfusing says:

    Conserative Dress. Interesting topic. I dress very conservatively because that is my comfort level. I do not like tight clothes or clothes which reveal that I am riding the g-force. Unfortunately, many women do not subscribe to that philosophy. My boyfriend and I were discussing that at dinner last night (at a popular Utah County eating establishment). He was commenting on how dissheveled many LDS adults look. The teenage girls on the other hand wear clothes that are so tight that it is just plain nasty.

  16. Fact is that most of the time our church changes incredibly slowly. That might be because the “octengenarians” as some say and it might not be. But often people assume that simply because it hasn’t been done before it must be bad.

    It is pervasive in our “mormon thinking”. Things are just done because that’s just how they’ve always been done. It amazes me how much it still exists. I mean when confronted about not wearing white shirts (which has happened tons) no one has been able to give me a good reason. It’s just because.

  17. W. O. Taylor says:

    It breaks my heart that dress and appearance are even a salient aspect of Mormonism. It seems to come from basic western traditions of the “best suit” or “Sunday dress” vs. the daily work clothes. It is a sign of respect to our culture, not to God. I’m sure the robes and sandals of the apostles at the last supper were acceptable (or entirely irrelevant) to God and that navy blue suits and power ties wouldn’t have made the event any more sacred.

    Even more important in the development of our current obsession with appearances has probably been the culture war of the 60s and the desire of the majority of Mormons (or at least of influential ones like E. Wilkinson) to declare that Mormons are firmly on the RIGHT. I don’t recall Joseph ever getting all that worried about fashion.

    Whenever caring about and paying attention to dress and appearance are discussed in the New Testament or Book of Mormon, it is a problem (usually a sign of pride), not something that is encouraged by the prophets or the Lord (James 2 or Alma 32, anyone?). I am leery of our earnest striving to keep our sepulchers so white or to make sure that our collars are stiff.

    I would prefer a culture where we judge each other more by the content of ones character than by the color of ones shirt. Wasn’t it the pharisees who washed their dishes to look good on the outside, but left them filthy on the inside (Matt. 23)? Didn’t Christ suggest that they focus on cleaning the inside, and that the outside would then be clean enough (it’s not the part that gets dirty in the way that matters).

    I realize that it is a lot to require of a human society to ask them to see beyond the easy ways of judging others and actually take the time to get to know others beyond human fashion. I just wish the superficiality weren’t so entrenched.

  18. That attire has no inherent meaning and can mean different things to different people doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter how we dress. Words also have no inherent meaning, only what we assign them, and words can mean different things to different people, but it still matters what words we use. Like words, certain ways of dressing have generally accepted meanings. In the U.S., wearing huge black “shorts” that ride low on the butt and a huge black T-shirt communicates to most people that you’re a thug and you’re looking for trouble. That’s probably not what it communicates to everyone, but as long as that way of dressing communicates that, I will not let my kids dress that way.

  19. I just wish the superficiality weren’t so entrenched.

    Isn’t this the point of this post? That in fact, we DO communicate with our dress, so while it may seem superficial to be thinking about how we look, it’s actually a valid part of our communication with the rest of the world?

    Sundays are the only day I ever wear a skirt. The rest of the time my clothing is pretty much functional, and I probably wouldn’t want to wear a skirt in any case because I’d hate to be mistaken for someone who cares about my appearance. Dressing up, even without also doing my makeup or putting on jewelery, automatically makes the day feel set apart from the rest of the week. I communicate not just with others, but with myself, the importance of the day by wearing something more formal.

    That said, it’s much easier to be friendly, open, and informal on any other day of the week. I’d agree with others who claim formal dress is an impediment to getting to know others in our culture

  20. a spectator says:

    As a Peace Corps volunteer headed to an African country, we were advised that while people in America dress as a form of self-expression, people in Kenya dress to show repect for those around them (much neater and more conservatively than us).

    I wonder, when expected to follow certain norms of dress (white shirt, dress/skirt, etc) are we being asked to go against our American instincts and dress for others?

    Or are we being asked to briefly assume a different identity?

    My experience with missionaries (on a mission and then teaching at MTC) was that they generally behaved better when “in uniform;” I cannot think of one silly or sinful act that was NOT made in P-day clothes. Maybe we behave better when dressed up?

  21. How about a question? How many of you really are put off or intimidated by the white shirt/dark suit thing?

    I also have to admit that as I read the BOM about the pride of the Nephites in their fine clothing, I wonder where the line is. At what point do we cross the line from wanting to conform, to saying “I’m better than you”? I find that we often are more likely to go for the pride thing in the cars we drive than the clothes we wear to church.

  22. I live in a stake that has, apparently since long before we moved here, asked those administering and passing the sacrament to wear white shirts and conservative ties. Why? A principal reason, I believe, is the “principle of nondistraction” that Elder Oaks talked about some years ago — which I phrase to young men as, “If you bless the sacrament or pass it to someone and they remember your tie rather than the sacrament, it was the wrong tie.” When I was called to work with the deacons, I dropped my colored shirts; I couldn’t ask them to dress one way while I dressed another. I kept the bow ties, though — until I was called into the stake presidency. No one told me I had to; I simply didn’t want to be known as “the counselor who wears bow ties.” (By contrast, I wore them as bishop — after all, the whole ward know I wore them by then.) I wanted people to remember what I said, not what I wore. If I lived in a ward or stake where colored or striped shirts or bow ties were unremarkable, I’d consider going back to my old ways (i.e., dressing as I do for work). But for now I’ll stick with my own fashion statement, wearing what you might call a “uniform,” but that I wear simply not to distract from what I teach.

  23. John Williams says:

    I have a nose for fashion. I can see the future of style. In the mid-1990s I thought that random T-shirts with corporate-type / vintage logos were cool, and then about 8 years later these types of T-shirts were all the rage at the trendy shops in the mall. In 1999 I thought that black frames on glasses were cool, and by 2003 they were ubiquitous.

    OK, so what do I see next on the horizon? 1950s-era conservatism. White shirts and ties, baby. Clean-cut haircuts. No beards. WASP-ish casual wear.

  24. This is always a subject of discussion in our house. My husband hates the white shirt look all the time. He’s an attorney, but he’s also an artist, and as an artist, he finds it incredibly boring to always wear a white shirt. He nearly always does wear white however, because he was the Bishop of our ward for 5 years and if he doesn’t wear a white shirt some bizarre meaning is read into that “rebellion”. He’s already pushing his luck in this Stake which is a very Red Stake in a very Red State, while we are quite vocally true blue democrats (yes #5, a Bishop & a Democrat). He grew a beard for a brief period after he was no longer the Bishop but shaved it after he realized that many of the older ladies in our ward were quite unhappy about it, they loved him as the Bishop but the beard was somehow ruining their former warm feelings towards him.

    All of this causes him to feel that it is incredibly silly the amount of symbolism we read into a person’s ability to lock-step with these odd cultural norms, and yet a realization that to spend much effort and energy bucking these norms is to say something else which would not be quite intended either.

  25. Re. #14: Actually, Kevin, I live in the Illinois suburbs of the St. Louis metropolitan area.

    Regarding facial hair, I figured it was verboten because absolutely no one in any calling that might even be remotely considered “high” or “important” has any facial hair. In fact, our current EQ president had a goatee before he was called and then all of sudden it was gone when he was called. Like you, I have a goatee because it makes me look older. I’m 42 but without facial hair I could pass for 30. I was clean-shaven for a while last year but I kind of got tired of 35-year old high priests talking down to me like I was some sort of kid so I grew it back so everyone could see some grey hair!

    I, too, am a “well-spoken” Democrat so your comments give me hope that one day I might be trusted with a calling of some importance.

  26. W. O. Taylor says:

    I wear the uniform and have since at least my mission. The reason being that people simply do judge by the easiest indications, and I don’t want to cause any problems for others. I don’t think suits make their wearers feel better than the group, but a part of it.

    I just worry about the metaphysical/spiritual weight we put on fashion and the way it can make us view and interact with outsiders (where our own pride is a possible problem). Other religious cultures also put a lot of emphasis on appearance (conservative Christian groups, often). And yet other religious groups/cultures don’t put any weight on it, and it doesn’t matter to the members. As with proscribed words, forbidden styles only have power because we continue to proscribe them. If we didn’t care, they would lose their power.

    Little kids wouldn’t judge those in tank tops if they weren’t taught that they are evil.

  27. a spectator says:

    Kevinf–
    I am not personally intimidated by a suit, but I have around them my entire life. For someone who does not work a corporate job or previously attended a Church with so many suits or corporate types, I can easily see them feeling intimidated and underdressed and very much like an outsider (or like they were at a funeral).

  28. Tony, # 25:

    I, too, am a “well-spoken” Democrat so your comments give me hope that one day I might be trusted with a calling of some importance.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  29. I think we are missing a critical point in most discussions of dress and appearance, and it is what Natalie directs us to consider in her post, IMO. So, a foundation point:

    An exact definition of appropriate dress and appearance has not been articulated by the FP and 12. There is no official proclamation on appearance – and the one in For Strength of Youth is amazingly in accordance with most of what has been said in this post and others. It says: “Show respect for the Lord and for yourself by dressing appropriately for Church meetings and activities, whether on Sunday or during the week. If you are not sure what is appropriate, ask your parents or leaders for help.” In essence, we as parents and leaders are told to “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

    In that vein, I view HT as service that might require helping do house or yard work at any given moment. For that reason, I think insisting on a white shirt and tie for HT shows a lack of understanding of the full meaning of HT – but I respect the right of any parent or leader to promulgate that view. I just don’t support their right to try to enforce (even for their own YM, YW and congregations) what the FP & 12 clearly have defined as an individual choice to be “helped” by input from parents and leaders.

    I encourage my children, and those who ask me in my calling for input, to dress in whatever way they feel shows the greatest respect for the Lord – or in whatever way they fill best fits the purpose of the activity. For our Sunday meetings, that means I encourage dress shirts (polo or “business” – any color), ties (just about any pattern that isn’t inherently offensive), dresses or skirts – but I do not try to enforce that standard. My oldest son will be 19 tomorrow, and he never wears a white shirt and tie to Sunday meetings. My second son is 17, and he always does. A “foster son” who lived with us for about a year went in jeans and a t-shirt every week. Frankly, I don’t feel disappointed in any of their choices, although, just as frankly, I would be disappointed if either of my biological sons decided to wear jeans and a t-shirt.

    I have been asked about attire and facial hair on more than one occasion when I was being called to a specific position. My answer has been the same in each instance: “If there is a particular way you want me to look in the performance of this calling, I will do so.” In those instances where I was asked to wear a white shirt and tie and/or be clean-shaven, I have respected that request – at those times when I have been performing the duties specific to that calling. I have never had a leader complain that I was dressed differently in other situations – like HT, chaperoning at a youth dance, attending a quorum or group dinner, etc.

  30. Kevin #28,

    Oh trust me, I’m in no hurry for anything, I just don’t want to be discounted based strictly on my appearance or politics, however, should should the Lord see fit to call me to some sort of “higher” stake or ward calling.

  31. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Great post, Natalie.

    I appreciate modesty, especially compared to what many young people are wearing (wow, I sound old). I love that we can communicate our respect for church by our dress on Sundays. I don’t love that we often pretend to know what others are communicating by their dress and judge based on it.

    That said, I feel more comfortable with my bishop who wears purple shirts and had a beard for the first two years of his calling than I did with the strictly white shirt dark suit of the previous but equally wonderful bishop.

  32. Tony, # 30:

    You’re making me very uncomfortable with the reference to “higher” callings. While we know the church is a truly hierarchical organization, I am really a believer that no calling is unimportant, unless we treat it that way. I’ve seen as much spiritual influence in teaching primary as in any leadership calling I’ve ever had. Learn to love, love to serve, and you’ll be happy in any calling you might have. That being said, some callings are happier than others. :)

    Emoticon disclaimer: I have no recollection of how that emoticon entered this discussion.

  33. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Let me add convert experience to this. My first year as a member I committed many a faux-pas against the unspoken rules of church membership. Quite a few of these involved dress. As a fragile new member in a ward far from home, it was humiliating to have someone mention to me that my sleeveless shirt from the previous Sunday was inappropriate. Why was it humiliating? Because even though the shirt was a modest sleeveless, I realized that some people might have thought I was a brazen hussy as I sat in sacrament meeting. And now that I know everyone in my ward better, I know a couple here and there who most certainly were thinking that.

    Or perhaps it’s my own insecurities. My motto isn’t “don’t judge me!” for nothing.

  34. Veritas says:

    W.O. Taylor – your comments are spot on. Especially this:

    I would prefer a culture where we judge each other more by the content of ones character than by the color of ones shirt. Wasn’t it the pharisees who washed their dishes to look good on the outside, but left them filthy on the inside (Matt. 23)?

    One of my good friends is blind, and he joined the church. Being that he is totally blind from birth, he doesn’t care what you wear, and he certainly doesn’t know what color your shirt is. So, when members, including the biship, chastised him for wearing a black shirt and jeans (oh the horror) to church he was a little confused.

    I wish we were all blind.

  35. Kristine says:

    kevinf,

    You’ve nicely stated the ideal; Tony has perceptively grasped the reality of how we view callings in the church. Let’s face it, we don’t devote entire Sacrament Meetings to hearing from the just-released Nursery leader and her husband…

  36. Bizarro Kevin (aka kevinf) says:

    Kristine, re # 35:

    Oh that we did!

    Veritas, re # 34:

    Seriously? A bishop actually chastised a blind person for wearing a black shirt to church? That’s why we ought to recognize the nursery leader and her husband!

  37. I never thought much about what men wear to church. Before my son turned 12, he’d wear polo shirts and the like. These were dress shirts to him because to school he’d only wear t-shirts.

    My parents started going to a Methodist Church, and my dad wears gray and pink and yellow and blue dress shirts (plural – not the same one!)and I can’t think of a more handsome man this side of the young Marlon Brando. :-) I just don’t get the whole white shirt thing and this thread and the one on FMH really opened my eyes!

    I am a thrift store shopper, by necessity. I went to Goodwill on Saturday and bought my son a very nice royal blue dress shirt for church. I would have bought him a white shirt if I found one, but I couldn’t. I don’t think anyone would say anything about it – some of the boys wear tennies to pass the sacrament. And that’s okay, too. I’m lucky I can get him to wear a tie!

    The idea that some would think less of my son or my dad because they aren’t in the Mormon corporate uniform just makes me sad.

  38. CS Eric says:

    Like Tony, I wear a beard because it makes me look older. I am in my mid-40s, and without it I look like I’m in my 20s. As a civilian working in a military environment, I don’t have any rank on my shoulders to demonstrate my experience, so I do what I can to look like I’m old enough to know what I’m doing.

    I rotate my shirts between colored shirts and white ones. If it is time for a white shirt, then that’s what I wear on Sunday. If it isn’t I don’t. However, I have more than twice as many colored shirts as I do white, so white shirts rarely make an appearance on Sunday.

  39. And yet other religious groups/cultures don’t put any weight on it, and it doesn’t matter to the members.

    Can you give an example of a group that doesn’t care about the appearance of adherents? Even getting away from religions/cultures, I find there’s a lot of conformity in any social group. We all wear our individuality on our sleeve, so to speak, but we also wear our membership badges there as well.

    Have you ever seen a group of serious cyclists together? Typically, they’re all wearing spandex, brightly colored shirts, aerodynamic helmets (not that you can find anything else anymore), and sunglasses. There’s a lot of function associated with the dress code, but there’s also a significant component of “looking the part” of a serious cyclist. Climbers are much the same–there are very few people who climb who do so in anything that wasn’t purchased at REI or another outdoors store. I don’t wear anything from REI when climbing or biking, and let me tell you, it impacts the dynamic of my interactions with other climbers/bikers. Expectations are lower, and patience and assistance are less forthcoming. That said, I’m not as serious about my outdoors activities, and my non-conformity to the dress code signals this.

    As a woman in science I am very careful to *not* look attractive in a typical girly way because I want to be taken seriously. As Natalie pointed out in her post, the way you dress impacts the power dynamics in subsequent interactions. I don’t want to loose the already tenuous power I have because I look wrong. I don’t want to communicate non-seriousness with my dress. If I screw up and destroy someone’s opinion about me with my actions, fine, I’ll accept that; but I don’t want to stack the deck against myself.

    While I’d love to say the way you dress doesn’t matter, I don’t think it’s true–we are a very visual species, and we communicate a lot with our physical appearance and manners. I do think the SP in Levi’s post was overstepping his bounds, but I think one could easily interpret his request for a dress code during home teaching as a request for more seriousness about the calling.

  40. Modesty in my opinion is all about not drawing attention to yourself based on your appearance. A three piece suit could be immodest if the attitude is such that the individual is being perceived as taking a “better than” attitude. The proscription against dressing “immodestly” in the Book of Mormon is not based on being too revealing, but on the pride with which they wear it. When you wear a blue or a white shirt, are you being modest?

    We are always communicating something by our dress.

  41. Veritas says:

    Krizarro – I think what you said in #39 is way off. Just because the ‘group’ judges you based on your appearance doesn’t mean you ‘need to conform’ as with the bicyle example. The serious climbers etc who judge others based on their dress are the ones with the problem – they shouldn’t be judging the book by its cover.

    And KW – if the person is wearing a nice suit because he wants others to know he is rich, that is a matter of heart. He should work on his Pride, not his wardrobe.

    It seems to me people just need to quit judgeing OTHERS by what they wear, and they will not worry so much about what others think of them. Wear what you like, don’t think about what someone ELSE will think about it. Its YOU and YOUR wardrobe. Period.

  42. Veritas–I didn’t say I needed to conform. I was trying to make the point that by not conforming I am signaling my lesser commitment to the outdoor activities. It’s a nice sentiment that we not “judge a book by it’s cover,” but it’s not realistic. We communicate too much visually as a species to ignore information gathered visually.

  43. WO Taylor says:

    krizarro, I’m sorry, I’m probably not being clear enough. I’m not sure how “other religious groups/cultures” reads, but I am specifically referring to the culture within a group of any certain religious denomination.

    In Germany, I worked with an investigator who found our dress code strangely corporate and unnecessary. He was Lutheran and said that his congregation did not put any emphasis on appearances as a spiritual issue (as there is no biblical mandate to do so).

    I live in North Carolina, and I have Christian friends who think that the tendency to reinforce any particular dress code within a church is strange. Their congregations don’t do it, and they don’t understand why mine does.

    I know one of them is a Christian of some flavor, but I don’t know the exact name of the group or its wider affiliation. The other is a Unitarian (though she is uncomfortable with self-identifying as a Christian).

    I would suppose others know people who belong to religious groups where fashion is not made into a spiritual issue.

    I couldn’t agree more with you that we humans are visual and that people do automatically make judgments based on appearance. The natural man makes judgments as quickly and as easily as possible.

    That is why I dress the part. I try to remove any unnecessary impediments to healthy relationships with others. I don’t care about the color of my tie, but I know others do, and I accommodate their expectations.

    What makes me nervous in the church is the way that appearance is linked with judgments about commitment level to the gospel or about righteousness (instead of to arbitrary, cultural norms). Not only does this practice seem unsupported by any scripture, it actually seems to run against the few scriptural passages we have that deal with judging others based on appearance.

    In American culture (my, and perhaps your, wider cultural context) there is a much wider range of fashion choices that don’t set off any alarms in the work place, at a restaurant or in other public places. The tighter range of choices we approve of in the church has been actively restricted and perpetuated by us.

    We actually maintain the continuance of a more acute focus on appearances than is made necessary by our wider cultural context (I apologize if I am assuming too much and your wider cultural context has different fashion cues than the U.S.). I just don’t find any justification for doing this in the teachings of the Savior. I also see possible harm that is done by it.

    I’m also nervous about using fashion as a “membership badge.” I prefer the idea that if we love one another as the Savior loves us, then it is by this that all people will know that we are His disciples. A white shirt is easy and arbitrary. Loving without judgment is much harder, but is the actual commandment and prescription for identifying our affiliation.

  44. Kristine, Would it be in line with what you are saying to think that a lack of need for this type of discussion would be wonderful and the ideal in a perfect world, but the need for it simply reflects “the natural (wo)man” state in which we live?

    If so, I agree and go back to the statement in For the Strength of Youth:

    Show respect by dressing appropriately. Make that decision on your own, with input from your parents and leaders, if necessary.

    That seems like a principle that allows for both individual expression AND cultural sensitivity. Does anyone have a better way to state the principle than that?

  45. Veritas says:

    I was trying to make the point that by not conforming I am signaling my lesser commitment to the outdoor activities.

    Don’t you see how this isn’t necessarily true? Why is dress a symbol of commitment or skill? You could still be the best biker on the road without wearing the same thing as Lance Armstrong. Your actions should dictate your commitment, not your uniform.

    Like W.O. Taylor said:

    I’m also nervous about using fashion as a “membership badge.” I prefer the idea that if we love one another as the Savior loves us, then it is by this that all people will know that we are His disciples.

  46. Wow, two posts on dress code inside of a week?

    I must be missing something. I haven’t warn a white shirt since my mission, in church or out (and I’m an attorney), and no one has ever said word one to me about it. Not when I was EQP, not when I was in the YM presidency and not now. I’m not rebelling, it’s just not my taste. I don’t see it as an issue and no one has ever mentioned it to me. Do you guys belong to the same church I do? Does it say “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” on the outside? Just checking.

  47. Veritas,
    I agree that we shouldn’t judge people based on what they wear. It would be wrong for Kevin to judge me as a lock-step lemming because I wear a white shirt, just like it would be wrong of me to judge him as a silly conforomophobe because he refuses to wear a white shirt. But I disagree with this,

    Wear what you like, don’t think about what someone ELSE will think about it. Its YOU and YOUR wardrobe. Period.

    because whether we like it or not our attire communicates and it affects others. Would you say that we should say whatever we want without thinking about how it will affect others? Just like there are things that we should refrain from saying in certain situations, there are things we should refrain from wearing in certain situations.

  48. RE: Tony and Kevinf.

    Yes it is true Kevinf there are no unimportant callings. However Tony is very right as well. In my ward (a conservative Puget-Sound area one) it is very true that you will not be called to a teaching or leadership position and many other callings if you delve in the sin of wearing non-white shirts and have facial hair (beyond a mustache). This isn’t just anecdotal it’s the official stance. So what do we get? An eerie room full of white guys in white shirts and ties. A friend of mine mentioned that walking into Priesthood was like being transported into a strange 50s horror movie.

    I’ve been asked about trading in my short, well groomed beard and non-white shirts for a calling (not by the bishopric but others) to which I reply that man looks upon the outer appearance but God upon a man’s heart.

    I know I’ve ranted a bit, but this drives at the heart of something I’ve noticed about the church. It seems that we can’t call it church if we aren’t at least very stern or suffering in some way about it. I’ve had the opportunity to attend many different churches and meet many non-mormon religious people. I remember a friend who loved to go to church with such zeal that you’d think she was going to a carnival. She commented on how on Fridays I would be trying to “pysche” myself up for the block and how she couldn’t understand it. To explain (and trying to do some missionary work) I went with her to her church in return for her going to mine.

    Her church was a wonderful celebration of Christ. No, it’s not one of those rock concerts churches with light shows and a rock band. It was just joyous. The sermon was short the music was uplifting. People came as they were and you really felt a part of it. Bible class too was short but colorful and well prepared (though they were wrong on somethings, which I pointed out). All told it was an hour and a half that left me feeling energized.

    The next week she came to my ward. First thing she asked was why everyone was dressed up like accountants. I jokingly told her Joseph Smith had a short career as an accountant (I think she might’ve taken me seriously). She sat through sacrament meeting pretty well. She did make serveral comments on how serious it was, she liked to say even the hymns were sung in a very serious business-like way.

    She made it through the first hour then we went to gospel essentials. Which after a sacrament meeting that went over because no one could keep to their allotted time, she just had a hard time with. After that I told it was time for the third hour of the block she just said flatly she wasn’t going. She said it was all very “catholic” I guess she meant serious and stern. I’ll never forget what she said as she left, “You’d think someone died.”

    Honestly, I think that we’ve gotten so caught up in these traditions and doing what others would expect that we forget that church is supposed to be a celebration, not a funeral.

  49. John Williams says:

    ronito,

    I like the formality of Mormon services. They are an island of refinement in a crass world.

  50. WO Taylor says:

    Honestly, I think that we’ve gotten so caught up in these traditions and doing what others would expect that we forget that church is supposed to be a celebration, not a funeral.

    Amen and Amen.

  51. MCQ, This tells me that at some level, it’s working. I certainly have seen both sides of this. I had a SP that would only wear dress pants, dress shoes, and a white shirt sans tie, to girls camp. I wonder what the girls thought when they saw him like that in the dust and dirt? He also forbade bishopric members from having any facial hair. This was about 15 years ago, in my previous life on the Wasatch Front.

    Similarly, I know there is no written dress code, only the guidelines in the Strength of Youth booklet. There is still “the Unwritten Order of Things” to quote Elder Packer, that is the reason we seem to identify so much with the white shirt for men, and dresses with nylons for women.

    We all I think are insecure in many ways, and either our conformance to the unofficial standards or our non-conformance, all are calculated statements about our identity with the social constructs of the Church.

    I work in an office where most of our business in sales and marketing is done via phone, and the majority of men that work in our particular group wear shorts and T-shirts much of the year. I have a hard time being that casual all the time (he says while wearing khaki shorts and a black Hawaiian print shirt), so mostly I wear jeans or khakis and some sort of shirt with a collar. I would not go in jeans and a T-shirt to meet with one of my customers, even though many of them, working in IT, are wearing shorts and T-shirts. No one tells me I should dress a certain way for either work in the office, or at a customer site, but I try to dress with respect for those that I am with. More casual for office days, dress shirts and slacks for customer site visits, and suits and white shirts for Sunday church stuff.

    I have to admit that I do dress for what I think others want to see me as in my perceived role at the moment. That probably means jeans and a dress shirt for home teaching. If I had to go to a hospital to give a PH blessing, I’d upgrade to dress slacks, and perhaps a tie, but that would depend on who I was going to see, and what their expectation was.

    My earlier questions stands, as I have only seen one response. Is a suit and tie really that intimidating? Seriously, I want to know if that is really such a negative.

  52. Veritas says:

    whether we like it or not our attire communicates and it affects others.

    Ok, please explain to me how what I wear AFFECTS anyone else. Especially in the context of this discussion – what we wear to church. I understand how we think what we wear communicates certain things (I think it is completely irrelevant whether it communicates anything) but I don’t see how my choice to wear something AFFECTS anyone else.

  53. ronito, I agree with the problem of funeral vs. worship, but I don’t think it is caused by issues of appearance. Having a Bishop and/or Ward Council full of people who refuse to issue callings to someone who doesn’t come to church in a white shirt and tie or mid-calf length dress or skirt certainly can have an enormous effect on the general attitude and spirit of a ward, but that’s not what I have seen in any of the wards I have attended over the past twenty years.

    My current ward thrives in large part because our last two bishops both stress(ed) reverence and spirituality in Sacrament Meeting (not silence, but true reverence) – and preparation and accountability in the other meetings. They ask that those who pass the sacrament wear a white shirt and tie, and, while I don’t agree with that as a hard rule for all (as should be apparent from my other comments), it works in our ward – which is quite multi-ethnic for this area. That’s the only “appearance” requirement; nothing at all for class, auxiliary, group or quorum leadership or participation. They teach the proper principle (reverent and respectful worship) and leave the specifics to the individual members.

    I know there are too many local leaders who try to impose more restrictive requirements, and I know some of them personally, but that’s not my experience as the rule – rather it is my experience as the exception. For example, there are nine units in our stake, and I would say that this is a “systemic” issue in 1 of those units. The other 8 units – not a wide-spread issue.

  54. Ronito,

    It took me to long to post. Your friend was obviously intimidated by the dress code and other facets of our worship.

    I guess I must live in one of the liberal stakes, and I bet I could guess which stake you are in, as that kind of behavior (no facial hair) is not evident in our stake, nor has been for many years. We always speculate about surrounding stakes. I’ll bet we have more blues shirts at church than you do!

    Again, cultural differences within short geographic distances. Who says we are a completely homogeneous church?

  55. Re: John #49.

    I would argue that it is possible to still be that island without having to act like church is some sort of formal dissertation on some esoteric kind of calculus.

  56. I just remembered something from years ago in my teaching days that a well-respected teacher told me. (In fact, one of my students (who is Catholic) told me that he revered God, the Pope and this teacher – and not necessarily in that order.) This teacher said, as best I can remember the words:

    “I require rote memorization of the minor details, so that I can focus my students’ attention and minds on the important concepts. I don’t want them to waste time and energy on the things that don’t matter; I want them to use that time and energy immersed in the aspects of science that can thrill and amaze them.”

    In schools, uniforms are used to eliminate discussions of and competition over appearance. Again, while I don’t accept a prescribed uniform for all members, I understand the desire to use a “uniform” of some sort to eliminate tension over clothing and focus discussions on the weightier concepts of the Gospel. The line is crossed, I believe, when the principle of a respectful uniform (however that is expressed by individual members) is replaced by specific and detailed directives that focus on defining “respectful” based on one person’s perspective.

  57. John Williams says:

    while wearing khaki shorts and a black Hawaiian print shirt

    kevinf, khaki was hot… in 1994. Also, as a rule of thumb, only wear shorts if you’re swimming or at the gym. Shorts are sloppy.

    Now, let me give you some advice about Hawaiian shirts. If you have Hawaiian shirts in your closet, put them in a trashcan ASAP. Hawaiian shirts are a pure fashion Holocaust.

  58. WO Taylor says:

    John Williams

    #57 was a beautiful illustration of how the proper use of arbitrary human judgments about fashion can make us all one instead of dividing us (John 17).

    Sorry, I’m kidding as much as you are (but only if you are).

  59. Believe me, the Hawaiian shirts are beloved family members. All 100% cotton, with a regular dress shirt kind of collar. And they are a huge step up from Nike basketball shorts (the shiny ones) and an Addidas t-shirt, which is what one of the other guys wear many times. Seen him in long pants here twice in two years. Maybe I’ll offer him my Hawaiian shirts! I’ll save one for our ward 24th of July picnic.

  60. Ok, please explain to me how what I wear AFFECTS anyone else.

    If I wore a speedo to work, I think it’s safe to say that that would affect others. It would distract them from their work, and make them uncomfortable as they tried to go about their business. Whether people should be distracted is irrelevant. If I know they will be affected, I should take that into account.

    If I dress like Larry the Cable guy at church, it will distract people from their worship. (This doesn’t mean that people who dress like Larry the Cable guy shouldn’t come to church, just that those of us who know better shouldn’t dress like Larry the Cable guy at church. Further, the fact that it’s me, an active member, dressing as Larry the Cable guy would make it more distracting than Joe Investigator coming dressed that way.)

    If I dress like a thug it will make the people I encounter nervous and uneasy.

    None of this supports the notion that people should only wear white shirts to church, just that what we wear affects others. And it communicates, whether we want it to or not, and we don’t get to choose what it communicates. This imparts moral significance to how we choose to dress.

  61. Stephanie says:

    #56: Ray, I have really appreciated all your comments on this entry.

  62. See, I caught myself in my own trap. I’m better than the guy across the room because I wear Hawaiian shirts to work occasionally in the summer, and he wears t-shirts and basketball shorts. If he starts wearing blue shirts, whatever will I do?

  63. WO Taylor says:

    Though Ray’s attitudes do perpetuate the notion of the value of a dress code, I must admit that he does seem to have the most pragmatic approach to the problem while taking the most power out of the possible judgments that could be made.

    I was counseled to obey ALL of my mission rules because some were in line with the teachings of Christ, and because others would simply make it easier to work with others. This ideas has always served me well (and informs my own church fashion).

    It seems that Ray’s ideas are somewhat along these lines.

  64. Veritas says:

    Well, the speedo example is not at all helpful.

    But saying that dressing like ‘larry the cable guy’ or a ‘thug’ says more about your appearance-based judgement than it does how someone’s dress affects others. All you are doing is advocating a conformity to your whatever your definition is of ‘not white trash’ and not ‘inner-city urban’. What you have said still doesn’t illustrate how it AFFECTS others. It may communicate something, in your opinion, but it is not DOING anything to you. Maybe you should’t be so easily distracted by others.

  65. John Williams says:

    WO Taylor,

    I’m kidding in the sense that I don’t think it’s a crime to have bad taste. I’m not kidding in the sense that I think that a lot of people do have bad taste. As it so happens, I think the white-shirt-and-tie look advocated by the Mormon church is very tasteful, and I think it’s almost comical to see people shoot themselves in the foot by trying to rebel against the church’s unspoken dress code. If people followed the dress code, they would pick up major style points along the way.

    kevinf, I’m persuaded that Hawaiian shirts are intended to be a joke or a gimmick, like the paper crowns at Burger King. I feel it speaks volumes about someone if they actually think that Hawaiian shirts are meant to be worn as regular clothing. But to each his own.

  66. Tom,
    Might I be bold and suggest that the problem is not with the person wearing the clothes but the people viewing him?

    If you wore a speedo to work I’d think, “Hmm….must be European.” And be on my way.
    I’ve seen people dressed like Larry the Cable Guy at church, and some who I’m sure many would consider “thugs”. It doesn’t distract me. If anything it makes me think, “Finally, now here’s someone with an interesting story.”

    Once in my youth I had long hair. Finally I got tired of it and had it cut. Everyone at church was so happy I had decided to “Clean up my life.” There was nothing wrong with my life. Nothing that would keep me from going to the temple or anything. But it taught me a lot that most people figured that because I had long hair something must have been wrong with me and/or my life.

    Maybe Ray’s right. Perhaps it’d be best if after baptism they’d shake our hands and say, “Congratulations on joining the LDS church. Here is your white shirt and tie and/or floral print dress with shoulder pads and nylons.”

  67. John Williams says:

    Fashion sends a very strong signal about your values. There’s no way around it.

  68. At last John, you and I agree. You can easily tell how much people value how others percieve them, and how much others value their own individuality based on their clothing.

  69. John Williams says:

    ronito, today I swung by Whole Foods and some of the people working there were in serious violation of typical Mormon dress & grooming standards. It’s cool with me if they want to be that way, but I think they definitely want to be noticed for being unique. And I think they would look better if they dressed and groomed like stereotypical Mormons.

  70. ronito, I really do respect what you are saying, but please try to say it without twisting what I have said. If there is one thing I have stressed in just about every comment I have made, it is that I do NOT support your mis-characterization of what I said – namely, that ANY local leader should require a particular uniform. I have said over and over and over and over again that I believe every member, individually, should be able to decide what constitutes respectful attire.

    The only comment I made that even remotely resembles your twist is that I personally have agreed to a particular look for a particular calling if a particular leader requested it of me – while dressing however I wanted to in every other church-related activity. In my mind, the calling was more important than what I wore while performing its duties – and I only limited my dress in those situations where it was requested of me explicitly.

    This can be a civil, enlightening discussion, but only if we make it such – and one of the best ways to do so is to not charge others with saying things they did not say.

  71. ronito, I take that back: I also said that my own bishop’s request that the sacrament be passed in white shirt and tie “works for our ward”. I also added, however, “I don’t agree with that as a hard rule for all (as should be apparent from my other comments).”

  72. I don’t mean it to be a twist, but just a sad realization and taking up a few levels. That perhaps we would all just be better off with it instead of having to have discussions like these.

    Just another of my snarks. Ray, you really gotta stop reading meaning into my posts. It’s just like everything I say. I don’t really have a meaning. See, your problem is you take me seriously. You should stop that. I most certainly don’t take myself seriously, you shouldn’t either. :)

  73. John Williams says:

    ronito,

    Quick question: why do presidential candidates dress like Mormon General Authorities?

  74. It wouldn’t bother me to see a guy dressed like Larry the Cable guy at church. I would also be glad. But if I went to church dressed that way, it would be a distraction. I would be more comfortable at church in shorts and a T-shirt, but going that way would not be right.

    Veritas,
    The speedo example is apt. You stated that our attire doesn’t affect others. I gave an extreme example that proves that some dress choices do affect others. It’s unreasonable to expect people to not be affected by my speedo wearing, to just say they should just get over it because I’m most comfortable in a speedo and it’s what I feel that matters.

    I don’t judge people who dress like thugs to be thugs. I don’t look down on people who dress like Larry the Cable Guy. It’s true that not all people who dress like thugs are thugs, but like it or not there is a uniform for thuggery to which many thugs conform. We all know what it looks like. It’s a symbol that has a generally understood meaning. And I don’t believe for one second that you wouldn’t get more nervous if you passed a group of men on the street dressed in baggy black clothing than if you passed a group of men dressed in slacks and polo shirts. Whether or not they intend to, and whether or not they actually are thugs, the way they dress has affects on others.

  75. #73. To easily get the mormon vote duh!

  76. WO Taylor says:

    The spookier question is: why do Mormon GAs dress like Presidential candidates? Presidential candidates do actually predate Mormon GAs.

  77. John Williams says:

    ronito, (75) LOL.

  78. Honestly though, why the suit and the tie? Because they know people have been conditioned that leaders wear suits and ties.

    Take that same example of presidential canidates. When they want to seem “like one of us” they trade the suit for jeans and button up shirt with sleeves rolled up.

    Politicians know the value of image. By the contrast can you remember the last time a politician lived up the supposed values a suit and tie inferr?

  79. ronito, :-)

    Not to belabor a point, but we can’t see each other in this type of forum, and our words constitute our entire appearance here. As with our clothing, our words have an effect – and I take that effect very seriously – at least when I am being serious. (Steve’s man-purse is an obvious exception.)

    I caught the nature of your quip, but attaching my name to it actually hurt – specifically because I had tried so hard to give exactly the opposite appearance / impression in what I said throughout the discussion.

    So to end this conflict correctly, “It’s all your fault, you liberal slob. Clean up and portray the proper image or face the fires of eternal damnation.” Sorry. I tried, but I can’t say that with a straight face. So, :-)

  80. #67 – i think i disagree (not entirely sure). our fashion certainly can signal things about us…but i guess i don’t see a real correlation between fashion and “values.” i believe how you choose to interpret/receive/analyze/critique my “fashion” or lack thereof sends a stronger signal about your values than it does mine.

  81. Clothing doesn’t interest me much. I own very little of it and I try to make it so I think about what I wear as little as possible. To that end, I have two skirts I wear to church, one solid black, one solid brown, and they both go with any tops I might wear–which are always plain t-shirts.

    Except for the guy who dresses like Rusty (his wife is in fashion design), I don’t notice what other people wear very much. That explains why my kids look so sloppy.

  82. Re: 48: “I’ve been asked about trading in my short, well groomed beard and non-white shirts for a calling…”

    If someone said this to me I would seriously have to reconsider my activity level in the church. Can you imagine those people 2000 years ago…”Sorry, Yeshua, You make good point on the whole savior thing but that long hair and beard just ruin it for us. Sorry.”

  83. veritas says:

    And I don’t believe for one second that you wouldn’t get more nervous if you passed a group of men on the street dressed in baggy black clothing than if you passed a group of men dressed in slacks and polo shirts.

    This is me exasperated. It says VOLUMES about your value judgements that you think baggy clothes = thug and polo shirts = safe. (BTW, when I say ‘you’ i’m usually speaking in a universal ‘you all’ so, sorry if this has sounded like a personal thing or something)

    SusanM, I like your style :)

  84. FWIW, the foster son I mentioned at one point was raised in a stereotypical inner-city environment. His favorite manner of dress was low-hanging pants, long white t-shirt and do-rag. He was 16, very dark black and 6’6″ when he lived with us. I can’t tell you how many times we had to defend him from incorrect assumptions by middle-aged white people – simply because of his attire and skin color.

    He was accepted in that attire (with waist level pants) at church more than in the community at large – specifically because the members knew him as a person, while the community knew only his appearance. He is one of the reasons I believe strongly in letting individuals choose how to express respect in what they wear. He wouldn’t have attended church with us if we had insisted he wear a white shirt and tie; now, almost two years later, whenever he comes to visit us for the weekend he wears Dickies and a nice non-t-shirt to church.

    I will rejoice if he lives long enough (I mean that sincerely.) and continues to grow spiritually enough that I see him one day in the temple wearing a white shirt and tie. I don’t have a lot of hope that it will happen, but until then, I am content with his attendance whenever he is with us – no matter what he chooses to wear.

  85. Well, the Hawaiian shirts are still here. So are the white shirts and suits for Sunday. Different clothes for different occasions. It’s relatively hot here in the Seattle area today, and not as much air conditioning as elsewhere, so the Hawaiian shirt makes me feel comfortable.

    Veritas, you are right that what you wear should not make a difference to anyone, but as others have pointed out, other people (including me) are subject to making judgments, usually subconsciously, about other people based on their clothes. Ray has the right attitude, I believe.

    There is a BYU professor, I believe, who has taken the issue of clothing to the extreme, equating worn jeans with artistic attacks on religion and order in society. No question that growing up in the 60’s, jeans and tie dyed shirts were a statement about questioning authority, which made the “establishment” uncomfortable.

    Now I am part of that establishment, so I really try hard to be open about this. Anytime I start to react to someone else’s clothing, I try and remind myself that my patched jeans, long hair, and mustache of my college days don’t define me any more than my suit and white shirts do these days. So when I see things that challenge my cultural view, I remind myself of all the things I heard said to me and about me back in the 70’s, and try really hard to be better. I think I am a little bit, so there’s hope.

    Some people dress to show they belong in a group, others to show they don’t. Others don’t care either way, and dress how they feel comfortable. So tomorrow, it’s jeans and a short sleeve shirt to work. I’ll save the Hawaiians for a hot day again, when I just want to be comfortable, and to heck with what the rest of you think! :)

  86. Veritas,
    It’s based on experience, not some irrational prejudice against baggy clothes. I don’t think baggy clothes=thug. I think that men wearing a certain kind of baggy clothes=more likely to be thug than men wearing polo shirts or other styles of clothes. And it’s true. It’s an ugly fact, but a fact nonetheless.

    I live in one of the most violent cities in the U.S. and my campus borders a bad area. We get regular email reports of crimes with descriptions of suspects. They’re almost always dressed the same way. Just this morning there was an attempted kidnapping of a student and as I read the account of the crime this afternoon I guessed what the description of the suspect would be and I was right. I will almost always be right with the same guess: oversized shorts/pants and an oversized, usually black, T-shirt. Sad but true.

  87. Tom, I know a deputy sheriff in this county, and few of the violent crimes here are committed by people dressed as you describe. Most of them are committed by people in jeans and a t-shirt, which happens to be the attire of choice for most people in this area. Most of the worst non-violent crimes (embezzling, tax or consumer fraud, etc.) OTOH, are committed by men and women in business casual or other professional attire.

    Having said that, most of the complaints that are filed with the authorities in this area that do NOT end up with charges being filed are about black men dressed as you describe. I find that fascinating.

  88. BTW, I know that sheriff from church and also from incorrect complaints filed about my foster son – the black kid who just had to be a thug because of how he dressed and his physical size – and because when he got mad and clenched his fists to stay under control he LOOKED like he could kill someone. He was using a coping mechanism we helped teach him, but others saw it as a sure sign that he was dangerous.

  89. On the one hand, the suit does show respect, but it also creates a distance between people that blocks intimacy from developing.

    it doesn’t have to, does it? i don’t find this to be true at all for me.

    has anyone mentioned the connection between clothing and the temple? (is clothing really always insignificant?) i heard one of our leaders (elder holland, maybe?) tying the mind to the temple with white shirts, and that seems meaningful to me. why not bring some of that symbolism pointing us to temple ordinances with priesthood ordinances at church?

    another thought. since the smaller temples require you to have your own clothing (white shirt is part of that for a man), it seems that the suggestion that a white shirt is somehow a financially exclusive request seems way overblown. (if a man can go to the temple, he probably owns at least one white shirt, and this all over the world!) i also find little solid ground for accusations for the idea that this is simply a cultural or class or corporate mentality thing.

    of course we shouldn’t reject people based on their dress, but i think we also shouldn’t reject the possibility that there is more to this whole thing than just shallow ado about nothing.

  90. veritas says:

    not some irrational prejudice against baggy clothes. I don’t think baggy clothes=thug. I think that men wearing a certain kind of baggy clothes=more likely to be thug

    You do realize what your saying here?

  91. I think I’m saying what I said. Where I live, people who commit violent crimes on the street are dressed in a certain way more often than they are dressed in other ways. What’s your objection?

  92. Is a suit and tie really that intimidating? Seriously, I want to know if that is really such a negative.

    Only when worn by Jerome Bettis.

  93. Submitting to a corporate dress code has nothing to do with submitting to Christ.

    To the extent the Church seeks to control for the sake of controling, it has lost its way.

  94. Random thoughts:

    I like the principle of non-distraction.

    White shirts aren’t terribly expensive. What’s the problem? If an attorney belonging to a firm that compensated him handsomely, a firm he loved, asked him to wear a white shirt when visiting a certain client, he’d do it, right? I only have to wear a tie to work when visiting certain clients. What’s the big deal about a Church preferring you to dress a certain way that’s not really a big financial imposition?

    That said, I’ve been a member all my life and yet to have anyone even SUGGEST to me to shave my goatee (and I numbers bishops and stake presidents as close friends). Not sure what Church you all belong to.

    Maybe we should all give Packer a break on the “Unwritten Order” talk. It wasn’t delivered at conference, and following the Church’s instructions the applicability of counsel being relative to stewardship and audience, it’s probably safe that it wasn’t intended as instruction for the entire Church. In the PBS special, he seemed to go to lengths to distance himself from the “3 Great Evils” talk, as well. Even lds.org says that not everyting a leader says is doctrine. Are references to the “Unwritten Order” talk a Mormon manifestation of Godwin’s Law when it comes to practices in the Church?

  95. Don’t you see how this isn’t necessarily true? Why is dress a symbol of commitment or skill? You could still be the best biker on the road without wearing the same thing as Lance Armstrong. Your actions should dictate your commitment, not your uniform.

    Veritas–sorry to come back into the conversation so late.

    Why is dress a symbol of commitment? Because there’s an investment involved in our clothing. Not only do you have to purchase said clothing, which is expensive in its own right for many of us, but you have to give up all the other clothing you could be wearing. Whether you like it or not, you have an investment in your appearance. To go back to the climbing example, the spandex people wear probably represents a sizable investment of money in addition to the money spent on shoes, ropes, harnesses, etc. Commitment really is a prerequisite for putting so many resources into a hobby/lifestyle.

    Is dress really a good indicator of skill? Not necessarily in theory, but in practice I’d be surprised if it weren’t an indicator of at least a basic skill level. Again, going back to the commitment issue, only those who are committed to a given activity/lifestyle really get good at it. As far as our dress indicates our level of commitment, appearance will be a good indicator of skill, and will be a good indicator of the groups with which we affilliate ourselves.

    That said, dress is only an indicator, and can be misleading. There’s always incentive for people who aren’t skilled to look the part to gain inclusion in the group, and there are always those who have skill but don’t choose to conform to dress standards. In fact, in my experience, often the best, or at least most confident, members of a given group are less likely to conform to group appearance.

    I’m not disagreeing that people should judge others based on actual character traits rather than making snap judgments based on appearance, but I do think we should recognize our appearance is a valid form of communication between ourselves and the rest of the world.

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