I have a lot of hair. It has quite a bit of curl. It tends to get frizzy. It took me years to figure out how to take care of it and it’s still kind of tricky. At one point that involved a hairdryer on low with a diffuser. I bought a couple of electrical adapters suited for Eastern Europe and packed them into my luggage. It will come as no surprise to anyone with a little knowledge about voltage and electricity that an adapter isn’t going to save a hairdryer. However as a young missionary I lacked this knowledge and the thing blew the first or second time I turned it on.
Hairdryers weren’t easy to find in Moscow in 1994, and they weren’t cheap. My companions and I found a store where five hairdryers were laid neatly in a row beneath glass. I looked at all the prices and with no money to spare picked the red one, the smallest and the cheapest. It seemed good enough. The next morning I plugged it in below the 12 inch diameter mirror the three of us shared. There was a sudden yank at the back of my head. I tugged back. The pull was only stronger and then the smell of burning hair, smoke, and a crackling sound before I ripped the cord from the wall.
I managed to untangle the thing without losing too much hair, and opted to mostly wash my hair in the evenings instead, pulling the covers over my head at night during the winter. It was mostly dry by the time I left the house the next day. The first time I saw an Elder from my MTC group I wasn’t having a good hair day, and he wasn’t kind about it. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like my hair met the missionary dress guidelines for sisters.
When I served a mission the instructions were a little different than they are today. But they were new then, too. They had just started asking sisters to not wear prints and cheery colors, but instead wear dark colors and longer hemlines. Rumor has it such drab attire scares away female investigators who are afraid they too would have to dress so drab after baptism; hence the change back to bright colors sixteen years later. The instruction I received with my call didn’t mention things like “modest” bras (I’m not at all sure what that means, just that it says to only wear modest ones) or request they be cream or white colored. We had to wear nylons back then, at least in the MTC. My sister didn’t have to wear them in Alabama, and my sister in Ecuador was actually asked not to wear them, just like my sister-in-law in the Philippines, who wore dark skirts and white button up shirts, at least to meetings. The new instructions encourage shoes that aren’t made for walking (by the looks of them), be “colorful”, or at least dress that way, unless you’re a senior sister serving with her husband, in which case the instructions are the exact opposite. “Conservative colors are preferred,” they read (banned are multi-colored sweaters!). Mid-calf to ankle length hemlines are requested, while younger sisters are given more room for shorter hemlines. For senior sisters bras are not discussed with the same stipulations.
I can guess at rationale for the discrepancies, but mostly it seems kind of random, like my stake missionary prep teacher who had recently returned from serving as mission president, worked for the missionary department in Salt Lake and said sisters should not wear button up shirts and jackets. His reason was that they were too masculine and sisters should instead wear blouses (flowery); this at the very time the mission department was mailing out instructions to sisters to adopt precisely that “masculine” attire. Or the mission president in Missouri who instructed the sisters to always wear lipstick, or the complaint from the mission president in Ecuador, Guayaquil North mission to the mission president in Ecuador, Guayaquil South that the sisters in the South mission looked terrible, and shouldn’t wear sandals, when they had been instructed by the mission nurse to wear only sandals. The recommended straight skirts weren’t worn there either, because how would they climb up and down a ladder to get in and out of their apartment?
I realize that in a world-wide church some standard needs to be maintained. I like the idea of missionaries looking professional, they are ambassadors of the Church, and of God. Despite the idea by some that the more bedraggled you look, the harder you must be working, sisters need to look presentable. But somewhere there is a disconnect. Sure, my sister who served in Wisconsin dressed precisely in the dark professional attire depicted in the guidelines she received in the mail. Meanwhile her twin in Alabama was asked to dress more colorfully long before the new guidelines arrived last fall. She also had the option of color coordination classes and fashion instruction, along with makeup application classes if she liked. But I, with my blow-dryer-eaten hair, purchased Chinese face powder that made me look like a Geisha from an old lady on the street, and tried to smooth fly aways when I took the
Frank Bruno, the father of two returned sister missionaries points out,
“When their missionary call comes they will receive specific instructions from their mission president on what is appropriate clothing attire. In some missions they dress casually and in others there are specific cultural differences. Some mission presidents allow light blues, browns, or grays while others insist on ultra-conservative attire.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that at least one of his daughters drew too much attention. While she followed the missionary guidelines with great care, was asked to…(you’ll just have to read it).
A close friend of mine serving with her husband, who is Mission President, was unsettled when the wife of an area authority recently visited and criticized the sisters in her mission for not looking good enough. She complained that some were not wearing makeup, or their hair wasn’t pretty enough; while saying nothing about their love, obedience, hard work and effective teaching. I’m not sure where the extra preparation day and extra money come in for the hair salon in that foreign country, or what meeting with an investigator will be cut out to allow for all the extra primping. I’m certain the critical sister did not understand the limited resources the sister missionaries are working with. In the pictures my friend sends me, the Elders and Sisters all appear well groomed.
My point is most sisters do their best to look nice and do their job. They teach the gospel of Jesus Christ with the power of the Spirit and with and love. They get into houses two men dressed in dark suits can’t. They’re ok with telling investigators they can wear shorter skirts than sister missionaries do after they get baptized (or they could say that until the shorter hemline rule appeared). People aren’t afraid of them.
I’m not sure what the answer is. The subjective decisions in different missions regarding proper attire and grooming for sisters suggests that if guidelines were sent out only by mission offices, there could be more confusion. However the depicted attire for sisters now is for those serving in places with a western standard of living. There’s an old missionary saying: The harder you work, the prettier your wife will be. The unwritten words to sisters seem to be, “The prettier you are the more effective you’ll be,” tempered by, “but not too pretty.”