One more from the top of the (David) Heap.
I am not the world’s snazziest dresser.
I did, however, win the “ugly shirt” contest in law school when I had not entered the contest (it was a shirt that had a pattern of printed shirts on it, I thought it was pretty cool, but I guess others did not). I even had a pair of electric blue bell bottom pants that went really well with the shirt. (Both the shirt and the pants found their way to Deseret Industries a couple of months after I married.) While serving a mission, my companion threw away one pair of my shoes because they were literally falling apart, and he was embarrassed to be seen with me and those shoes. After our law firm went to business casual a few years ago, my mother expressed concern about the polo shirts I was wearing, so I switched to dress shirts with the top button open (while I was a teenager a kind friend pointed out to me that buttoning the top button is not cool). When I was in high school in Illinois, I was “affectionately” known as “wing tips” among some of the boys in the neighborhood because I wore wing tips with white socks (I switched to colored socks after a while).
This extensive background in clothing assures that my opinions carry particular weight on the importance of appropriate dress in Church and in society at large.
The truth is, I don’t care much about clothing, as long as it does the job of protecting me from the elements and as long as I minimize my own embarrassment and the embarrassment of my loved ones.
I personally think it is kind of silly to worry about the color of the shirt of a man or whether or not he is clean shaven. I didn’t mind the dress code at BYU or the mission rules of dress, although I would have preferred to go longer between shaves and hair cuts. Fortunately, there were no rules against ugly shirts or electric blue pants, or I might have been a regular visitor to the standards office. If it keeps the primary funders of the university happy, then I would have been just as pleased to wear robes, to shave my head, or to wear cowboy boots.
I might add that if anyone questions the influence of women in the Church, I think the discouragement of male facial hair actually is the enforcement by the male hierarchy of a female preference. See this unbiased poll (by an aftershave company) showing that while 2/3 of males think they look better in a beard, 90% of women prefer a clean shaven man). I once had a beard for a few months; I shaved the beard not long after one of my daughters told me that, with the beard, I looked like Ted Kaczynski (I assumed that was not a compliment). (Note: I could not find a poll on whether women prefer their men to wear white shirts.)
“And so” you say, “it is easy for you, David, to defend the cultural, hierarchical preference for white shirts and being clean shaven, because you don’t care, and you look bad in a beard.” Well, that is a good point, to a certain extent. But I am still human, and I do not like (and I even resent) being told what to do—even when what I am told to do is good or right, and especially when it seems silly.
But in my mind, it is the lesser of two evils. I would rather that the unwritten boundary marker of an observant Mormon male be to be clean shaven (and nonpierced) wearing a white shirt on Sunday than that the marker be belonging to a particular political party or having a particular opinion about the allegorical or literal nature of scripture. Thus, to the extent BYU, our Church culture, or even our Church leaders focus on something I personally think is trivial—like dress standards—well, I would rather have my dress/grooming preferences abridged than my thoughts and opinions on other more important matters (like the location of the Garden of Eden).
“But,” you say, “Mormon culture does have implicit or explicit restrictive boundary markers for our political, moral, and religious thought and opinion, along with the objectionable boundary markers on dress and grooming.” I admit that. But thoughts and opinions can be held more private than dress. And more importantly, I would rather Church leaders and speakers spend lots of time pounding on the pulpit about wearing white shirts than I would a Church leader frequently proclaiming something like, “I was shocked to learn that almost 18% of you believe in evolution and, worse, 15% are democrats.”