What do you wear when you go out with the missionaries?

When I go out with the missionaries, I rarely wear a suit and tie. Instead, I usually opt for trousers and a causal shirt.

This might be completely unsurprising for many people but it has recently come to my attention that, in general (just like when they go home teaching), members will very often wear their Sunday best when they teach with the missionaries. While I do not have strong feelings either way, my preference for something causal is principally motivated by the fact that Mormons are often perceived as weird. Wearing something smart but informal hopefully signals that not all Mormons wear dark, ill-fitting suits, hence reducing the weird-factor. Too much formality could also be a barrier to a spiritual conversation, especially if three men in suits are visiting a single women.

Clothing is clearly an important symbol of worship and sacred space. Hence I usually try to dress more formally at least some of the time while home teaching. But such symbols only work when they are known and understood. Those just learning about the church are unaware of the significance of such symbols and so wearing a suit and tie will be meaningless to them.

Does anyone else still wear a suit and tie?

Comments

  1. I think we should avoid creating the impression that we all look like Mormon missionaries all the time. Recently, the missionaries actually thanked me for not dressing up to go to a lesson with them.

  2. Raymond, I look forward to the day when someone thanks for being causal.

  3. Likewise, I want the investigator to identify with me as someone regular like them, than for them to think we always wear suits and ties. If they convert, they will know and associate with me a lot longer than they will with a particular missionary, so it is a means of lowering the perceived barriers between us.

  4. I’m with you on your choice. Even intelligent, well-informed folks often get the wrong idea.

    Our ward+ missionaries often plays Ultimate Frisbee on saturdays in the park, and there’s another group that starts about an hour after we do. Often times, players start in one and end in the other. Certain of us have been doing this for 5 years.
    The other day, one of the non-LDS guys (mid 30’s, smart guy) says, “so you’re all missionaries huh? Live here for a while and move on?”

    “No no, some of us live here permanently. We’re just normal people.”

    “Yeah, but I mean you live here before you go somewhere else, right? Cause you’re on missions?”

    I wanted to point out that several of us Mormons bring children, that this guy is an FBI agent and that one a lawyer, that it’s only the 18-21 yr olds with tags who are missionaries, formally speaking. But he gets called into the game at that point, and I don’t get to talk to him again.

    So it’s important to help people distinguish between missionaries and those of us who are much more permanently planted.

  5. Well I should like to see the look on the missionaries’ faces if I went out with them in a suit and tie.

  6. Cynthia, :) this was more than a little male-centric.

  7. I wear whatever I have on, but not because the missionaries call late, so I said smart casual, but that includes jeans and a tshirt now…

  8. It’s more noticeable for a woman when she wears pants and goes out with the sisters. I wear pants mostly to “side with” the investigator. I’m the “normal person”. with more sister missionaries and more splits. It’s an important discussion “even for sisters” sigh.

  9. I wear a suit and tie. :)

  10. How about a survey that encompasses female dress?!

    I usually wear business casual clothing, which for me does not include dresses or skirts. It’s not so much a statement, as it is what I usually still have on after leaving my office.

  11. “Too much formality could also be a barrier to a spiritual conversation.” This. I think it’s actually absurd for the missionaries to wear formal clothing to teach. Especially for the elders, the missionary “uniform” very much reminds one of the uniform of corporate America, a decidedly untrustworthy and spiritually bankrupt place. Why we want our elders looking like the guys at Enron and various mortgage lenders is absolutely beyond me. Also, since it’s clear that outer appearances have very little to do with the inner vessel, I’m not sure why we, as a church in general, prescribe dress for sacrament meetings, etc. It seems to me the best approach for missionaries is to dress appropriately for the area. If elders are serving in seattle, wearing tie dye and having tattoos and piercings would actually probably help their proselyting efforts. Just sayin’.

  12. johnnyS – I agree with you in principle. I have often wondered if formal dress is the best option for our missionaries. This was something I heard a lot on my mission from potential investigators. Even looking beyond the association with corporate America. Human beings don’t often want to be associated with weirdness. 18-21 young men and women in business dress riding bicycles is kind of weird looking.

    That being said, I think the uniform is a stark reminder to both missionary and non-missionary (maybe more for the missionary) that the missionary is different and is on a special errand. I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile the two.

    Going back to the OP though, I pretty much just wear whatever I have on (unless I have on pajamas or other such clothing). Similarly to other opinions that have already been expressed, I like to make it clear to the person we’re visiting that I am more like him or her, i,e., “normal.” I think it sends the message that we’re not expecting them to put on their business best and traipse around their neighborhood knocking on doors.

    Now that I think about it, I am in corporate America, so sometimes “whatever I’m wearing” happens to be a suit and tie. Maybe I’m not as edgy as I thought. Oh well.

  13. Where’s the option for slovenly casual?

  14. Hey NRB,

    Thanks for your comment. And yes, to get back to the original question, I usually just wear jeans and a t-shirt. And no offense meant about the corporate America thing. I agree that the missionaries are on a special errand and that it’s good for them to remember that. I just don’t know how much a suit helps with that. I guess I feel like if you’re on a mission and you need a suit to remind you, maybe you shouldn’t be on a mission in the first place. Just thinking out loud.

  15. johnnyS – No offense taken. Also, I think we are in complete agreement. I’m just not sure what to do to replace the suit and tie. Something based on local customs? I think it is an important conversation to have.

  16. Whatever I happen to be in the mood to wear – but never a suit and rarely a tie, unless I am going straight from a meeting where that is how I am dressed. In those cases, I usually apologize to the investigator and explain that I came straight from a meeting where I had to be in a suit and/or tie.

    Fwiw, I almost never wear a suit or tie when I go Home Teaching, either. I believe in formality when formality is appropriate, but my view of appropriate is different than some other people.

  17. Hedgehog says:

    I wear what I’m wearing anyway. Which is generally jeans, and a top or shirt of some sort. Same for visiting teaching. I do not dress up for either. Never have.

    Incidentally, in the recent push on missionary work during a ward presentation one of the bishopric mentioned that it’s nice for investigators to see ‘normal people’ (I probably don’t qualify for that apellation regardless), so we didn’t need to dress up to go out with the missionaries, something that hadn’t occured to him until an investigator had made the observation on the occasion he hadn’t had time to change…

  18. Jonathan M. says:

    What do I wear when I go out with the missionaries? Have things changed that quickly? In my day, missionaries dating members was a sending-home-in-disgrace sin!

  19. For some reason the missionaries usually ask me to go with them on Tuesdays. Because my wife died on a Tuesday, I wear black as a remembrance. So, whether “business casual” or just “casual”, what I wear is a real contrast to them.

  20. The missionary uniform is what everyone (Mormon and nonMormon males) wore in the 1960s, when many of the Brethren came of age. Just watch any movie from the 1960s, even the criminals wore nice suits when they are just going out for a walk. Of course, today, not just missionaries dress in white shirts and ties, nowadays, but so do a lot of computer repair people–and possibly some CIA officers (not sure about that).

    I expect that when people coming of age today are the senior church leaders 50 years from now, the missionary uniform will be slacks (maybe blue jeans?) or skirts and a nice shirt (or blouse). And nicely trimmed goattees or beards will be encouraged, though not required for males.

  21. Chad Too says:

    Is there an option for “smart correlational” to complement “smart causal?” ;)

  22. The inner city neighborhoods our missionaries often visit view suits and ties as highly suspicious. In fact, on one recent night out with the elders, a local resident asked if we were “the FBI.” Doors go unanswered not because the residents know it’s the Mormon missionaries, but rather because they think it’s law enforcement poking around. There’s no question that the naive young men sent to our area would get into more doors if they ditched the standard uniform, but that raises a host of other issues.

  23. One of my high school friends served in Chile 40 years ago. The LDS missionaries were often thought to be CIA because of their dress. Once, the missionaries heard a lot of whispering behind them on a bus “CIA, CIA”. So my friend took off his shoe and pretended to speak into it as if it were a telephone (Get Smart fans will get the reference). All the rest of the passengers cleared the bus quickly at the very next stop.

  24. We only have sister missionaries in my ward. I don’t think they care what I wear – they still won’t go out with me.

  25. No option for straight old casual. That gets my vote! I go out with the missionaries fairly often and I make a conscious effort to go out in jeans and t-shirt in an efort for the investigator to see a person like them. They don’t get dressed up for the missionaries coming to their home.

    I have done both in the past and found in the UK that casual seems to break down bariers and relax the atmosphere quite a lot more.

  26. well said, John

  27. Good point, John. I should have added jeans and t-shirt but in haste I neglected to include it.

  28. Joshua B. says:

    I do not match the missionaries. I want to be someone investigators feel comfortable talking to.

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