Being esteemed as filthiness: What Not to Wear

Last year my family and I were fortunate to spend a significant portion of our summer in Japan. One of the things Brother J and I admire about the Japanese is that they are, generally speaking, much less slovenly than Americans. You don’t see Japanese people walking around in public wearing sweats or raiment in ill repair (what used to be known colloquially as “grubbies”—at least that’s what my mom called them). Almost everyone is dressed neatly and stylishly. I like to think I take a modicum of pride in my appearance, at least if I’m going to be seen by people not related to me by blood or marriage, but I rarely felt presentable in Japan. They are a very well-dressed people.

I probably noticed this only because the cultural differences were so striking. At home in the United States, I don’t think a lot about how other people are dressed, unless someone has committed a Glamour DON’T so egregious that it can’t be missed, even by the likes of me. I’m just too self-absorbed to be judgmental about clothes. Also, I have no taste. I know what I like, but that’s just, like, my opinion, man. At the same time, I try to dress appropriately for the various occasions, situations, etc. I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and at my age, I particularly don’t wish to appear undignified.

So I have mixed feelings about dress codes. On the one hand, I’m a live and let live type of person. If you want to go to the Burger King in a cropped tank top and a leopard-print miniskirt, that’s no skin off my nose. If your grandchildren don’t mind being seen with you, why should I? On the other hand, I sometimes find myself annoyed that schools keep having “Pajama Day.” I’ve never worn my pajamas in public—even the cute ones—and I don’t understand why anyone would want to. Does it bother me that people sometimes wear their pajamas in public? I guess I don’t care about that. I guess I just resent the idea that one ever ought to wear pajamas in public because, really, deep down, I feel there should be a general understanding that one ought not. (Also, as a parent you spend all these years hassling your kids to get dressed, and then school turns around and tells them not to bother. I mean, come on.)

Possibly I’m just a selective curmudgeon. No, that’s probably exactly what it is, which brings me back to dress codes and my mixed feelings.

Mormons have a Sunday dress code that is for the most part unwritten. When youth have activities, the dress code is quite explicit, especially if the activity is to be attended by young women. But there are no actual rules for what to wear to sacrament meeting. Everyone is welcome. Generally speaking, no one’s going to be turned away at the door if they’re not dressed “appropriately.” At the same time, everyone who’s attended Mormon church knows what is expected in terms of Sunday attire. If there aren’t explicit rules, there are easily-observed norms. Women wear dresses and skirts. Men wear ties. Men in leadership roles wear ties and suitcoats.

Is there anything wrong with these norms, these (mostly) unwritten rules? Well, some women don’t like wearing skirts or dresses. They’d prefer to wear trousers. Personally, I don’t mind wearing skirts or dresses to church, probably because I don’t have much occasion to wear them otherwise, and I have collected quite a lot of them over the years because I think they’re pretty. I do wish women who prefer to wear trousers felt more comfortable wearing them to church because I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. Mormons don’t believe it’s inappropriate for women to wear trousers generally, so why should we object to women showing up to church wearing dress slacks comparable in quality/formality to men’s dress slacks? It doesn’t make sense. (And if you’re going to be working with young children, say, in the nursery, skirts can be very impractical and potentially even immodest. I’ve attended church with young children. I know of what I speak.)

But when it comes right down to it, I’m not sure it’s right that we have rules, even unwritten ones, about what is appropriate attire for church. I get—and am sympathetic to—the argument that our dress represents and informs our attitude and behavior. Of course this is true. There’s a professional way to dress and a non-professional way to dress. Sometimes it’s good—even preferable—to wear a uniform. (And if you don’t work at Target, you should definitely not wear red to Target.) If you got invited to tea with the queen, you would probably wear your best clothes. If you were invited to the Oscars, you would probably buy a new outfit, and it would probably not be jeans and a t-shirt. If you’d dress up for the Oscars, why wouldn’t you dress up for church? Is church more or less important than the Oscars?

Well, I think church is different from the Oscars. Or tea with the queen, or a state dinner, or whatever. There’s nothing in the scriptures that says you should dress up for church. There’s plenty of scriptural support—particularly in the Book of Mormon—for the argument that it shouldn’t matter what we wear to church. The poor folks Alma preached to were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel, and that was clearly wrong. The Book of Mormon prophets did not make ambiguous statements about costly apparel. I don’t think Mormons (or other church-going people) wear nice clothes to church in order to show off or make themselves look better than other people. Well, maybe some of them do, but I don’t think most do. I think most wear nice clothes to church because they think it’s the respectful thing to do, and because that’s what they were taught to do. But our dress code definitely reflects an upper-middle class sensibility (even if we’re not all upper-middle class). How many men among the general population actually own suits? How many teenage boys own (white) dress shirts?

I always think of this conversation I had with a friend at college, who was a Baptist but had attended a Mormon sacrament meeting once. She said it was a beautiful service, but she’d felt uncomfortable because she wasn’t dressed like the other girls. Well, yes, I was surprised that she thought the service was beautiful, but mainly I was dismayed that she felt uncomfortable because her dress made her conspicuous. For the record, she was wearing a knee-length skirt, and the other girls were all wearing tea-length or longer. Now, this seems like a really small thing. I rather doubt that anyone in that room looked at her knee-length skirt and thought, “Hussy.” Certainly I’ve worn plenty of knee-length skirts to church in my day. (Confession: I’ve worn above-the-knee skirts to church, and the only time I felt uncomfortable was the Sunday after I’d started wearing temple garments and I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t advertising my recent endowment. This is probably why so many Mormon ladies like the tea-length skirts.) But regardless of what everyone else in the room was thinking or not thinking, my friend noticed the difference and felt uncomfortable as a result. How must it feel for a woman who doesn’t own a dress or a man who doesn’t own a tie to walk into Mormon church for the first time? If we’re doing our jobs right, people should feel welcome regardless of what they’re wearing, but I wonder how many nevertheless think, “I’m not like these people,” or “I don’t belong here.”

I don’t know what the answer is. Lifelong members aren’t going to feel comfortable wearing casual clothes to church. We are definitely not going to see a bunch of Mormon priesthood leaders implementing Casual Sunday to make a point. And it’s not as though Mormons are alone in this “church = nice clothes” mentality. It’s a tradition that started way before our time. I’m not keen to start a Wear Dungarees to Church movement. For one thing, I doubt that would accomplish anything meaningful. For another thing, I don’t even know if I have the right idea. Am I uncomfortable with the prospect of church becoming another space where it’s acceptable for people to let it all hang out (sometimes literally) because for all my sartorial ineptitude, I’m still kind of a snob? Or do I just suspect that dress standards have an ennobling effect, which makes me reluctant to deep-six them? Have I been brainwashed? Am I overthinking this?

The other story I’m thinking of is about a friend who was getting off work early and decided that he would do a session at the temple before going home. He works in a casual office, so he wasn’t wearing church clothes, just regular clothes. Not even business casual. The person at the front desk told him he couldn’t come in dressed as he was. Not past the lobby, anyway. So he didn’t do a temple session. He went home instead. Did he put on a suit and tie and go back to the temple? No. Should he have? I dunno, maybe. Who cares? The distance between the temple and his house, combined with traffic, combined with the fact that he still had young children at home, made a special trip inconvenient and not obviously the best choice. It’s not like he had a powerful witness from the Holy Ghost that he was “supposed” to go to the temple that evening. An opportunity spontaneously presented itself, and he thought it would be nice. But since he wasn’t dressed respectably (or “respectfully”) enough, he ended up not going.

The funny part was that if he had been allowed past the front desk, the very first thing he would have done was change his clothes. No one in the endowment room would have known how he’d been dressed when he arrived at the temple because everyone inside the temple is dressed the same. You can’t tell who has more money or status or better fashion sense. Are they special clothes? Yes. But they’re not necessarily “good” clothes. They’re as practical as white clothes can be. They’re not designed to be noticed. Each article of temple clothing has significance, but unless you put it on backwards or something, none of it is going to be of concern to anyone but you. Is there some principle at work here that should (or can) be applied to our meetinghouse dress codes?


  1. I was a temple worker for a time and there was an occasion in which I showed up to temple in jeans and a plaid button down shirt. I suppose you could call it “casual” but the desk worker didn’t even blink and let me in after scanning my recommend.

    I’m tempted to try in jeans and a plain t shirt one day.

    I do think there is too much focus on dress and appearance, that goes without saying because of the whole facial hair thing with BYU. When I was in young men’s we couldn’t pass the sacrament without a white shirt or tie.

  2. I had the opportunity to spend the week in Laie, Hawaii and attended the temple a few times. On my departure I had the strong impression to return one last time but was dressed in capri pants. I entered the front doors and was greeted warmly, offered a sarong and thanked for my desire to come to the temple.

  3. Gordon Stirling says:

    I’ve thought about this because we never want to turn anyone away. But what if our General, overarching goal is to wear the best we have, whatever that may be, to honor the Father and the Son and the ordinance we participate in with specialness, separated out from the world’s standards. The best we have differs from culture to culture – Ghana, India, Samoa, but the principle is the same – coming to worship and honor God by wearing the best we have.

  4. Aussie Mormon says:

    Gordon somewhat addresses my thoughts. “Why do we want to want to wear what we want to wear?”
    Am I wearing this because it’s the only one I have? Am I wearing it because I totally look handsome in those pants? Am I wearing it because my significant other makes me wear it?
    Am I wearing it because I was at a service project with thousands of others where we stopped mid way through to have a sacrament meeting (such as these members did )?

  5. I’m going to the temple today and will be wearing trouser. I usually wear trousers and have never been turned away. Even when visiting Utah temples. I’m sad this is still a thing. I thought we were past this 🙁

  6. Since I’m a class warrior I think it’s odd that the church has adopted the charcoal grey/navy blue robes of a false priesthood, so to speak, as the (aspirational) dress code for everything but temple ordinances, and even there the fanciest get up is simply a normal business suit in white. I wear a suit to make money during the week and feel nothing special about donning one yet again to take the sacrament and make comments in Sunday school. From a sartorial point of view, it’s odd that said business suit, which is by definition informal, counts as the gold standard and not, say, patent leather shoes, a tailcoat and top hat (silver-topped cane optional).

  7. Some years ago I accepted an invitation to attend a church service with a friend from another Christian faith. The first thing I noticed was the absence of any dark suits and ‘Sunday’ dresses. This was a group of totally committed Christians who obviously didn’t feel they needed to wear a ‘uniform’ to worship Jesus.
    Another experience that informs my feelings about Church dress codes was one Sunday when a sister who had been inactive for many years came to our ward following repeated invitations from her home teachers. She was wearing pants/trousers, which no one to my knowledge made any comment about. It was fast day and to our agreeable surprise she stood up to bear her testimony. At the end of it she apologised for not wearing a skirt and said how uncomfortable she felt. We never saw her again.
    I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that the handbook talks about women attending church in clean and modest clothing but doesn’t specify more than that. How much of this is gospel teaching and how much is Utah culture and tradition? Would a loving Saviour say ‘you are only welcome to worship me on Sundays if you wear a white shirt and tie/dress or skirt’?

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Rebecca J.’s writing is one of BCC’s best features, and it was nice to take in some more of it. One scripture comes to mind where proper attire plays a role, the wedding in Matthew 22:

    So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

    Now this passage is a parable, a story. It’s symbolic of something; not literally about clothes. But that idea of being so incorrectly dressed for something that you don’t belong there, was considered by Jesus useful to make some point that he wanted to make.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Three stories (I’ve told before, so they might sound familiar):

    1. My father loved the temple explicitly because everyone was dressed the same inside. You didn’t know whether the person next to you was a janitor or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, so there were no class divisions based on clothing inside the temple.

    2. Years ago I was with a group of friends in Nauvoo. At the last minute some of us decided to go to the newish temple (my first time inside) and do sealings. I hadn’t planned on going to the temple, so I walked in wearing shorts, a tshirt and sandals. There was not even a hint of disapproval; they were just happy that we were there, which is how it should be. I may be wrong but I think temple workers are actually trained not to sweat what people wear when they come in.

    3. On my mission to Colorado back in the 70s we had invited a woman we were teaching to come to Church. To our great surprise she actually showed up one Sunday, wearing a very elegant pants suit. I was on the far end of the chapel as she walked in. To my horror some old guy (not a leader) told her she was dressed inappropriately for church. I can still in my mind’s eye see her spinning around on her spiked high heel and marching out of the building. We never saw her again. It took every ounce of restraint I possessed not to punch that officious old asshat right there in the chapel.

  10. My mother, a sister totally active all of her life, most of her service spent as RS President both at a ward and stake level, would never miss a meeting even when she was in her nineties. When she got into her eighties, she found it difficult to put on pantyhose, so decided to switch to pants. They were much more comfortable and modest. She attended every Sunday and no one said a word. She was elegant and modest and totally accepted. Of course, being one of the oldest and most outspoken in our ward, perhaps no one dared say anything! Nice dress pants are totally acceptable to me at any time.

  11. I have attended the temple (DC) in jeans and flip flops. It wasn’t on purpose, but it was impromptu, and it was what I had on. The desk worker didn’t bat an eye, and welcomed me to the temple. I felt a little out of of place, but not because anyone said anything. I rented my clothes and proceed as one does.

    I have also witnessed this first hand at the Nauvoo temple.

  12. petterllc’s comment makes me wonder if criticizing someone for wearing a suit to church might be about the same thing as criticizing someone for wearing jeans to church.

  13. On my mission a visiting GA told us missionaries to always dress in a dress or shirt, tie, and slacks before morning prayers. His rationale was that we should always be at our best “when addressing the God of the Universe.” I remember he used that specific phrase. An all powerful being deserves the highest degree of respect.

    The next month my mission president – after the GA left – told us all to forget that advice, and he did it in an angry tone, referring to the GA as an Army General exercising his authority. His rationale was that Heavenly Father doesn’t care what we wear as long as we’re humbly seeking his help.

    A compassionate vs unlimited cosmic powers Heavenly Father resonates with me more and it seems that the “God of the Universe” cares more about our attitude than clothes.

  14. Now that we have a baby I’m amazed at the little baby suits and ties and dresses and glued on bows in church. Ours is the only one rocking a onesie on Sunday.

  15. I’ve never had such a warm greeting at a temple as when I went to the Ogden temple in dark jeans and a polo shirt. The first worker I met came out from behind the desk to shake my hand, hug me warmly like an old friend, and ask if I could use a small badge identifying me as being in that particular temple for the first time, so workers would have a heads-up that they might need to point out where I needed to go next. I suppose people in some temples feel they don’t have the luxury of turning people away who might not have planned to attend the temple when they left the house ten hours earlier.

    At the last youth conference I assisted with, we were in Nauvoo and had rotating assignments to do baptisms in the temple there. The church has built a “Receiving Center” across the street now – kids out doing service projects and visiting sites can go to the Receiving Center, change into church clothes, enter the temple, and change into white coveralls for doing baptisms. Upon finishing, they dry off, put church clothes back on, walk across the street, change back into jeans and T-shirts, and then lug Sunday clothes around in a backpack for the rest of the day.

    I’ve also been in Bishopric meetings where we have sat in abject terror that some well-meaning idiot Utard was going to take our sweet new member aside and chew her out for wearing an exceptionally nice pantsuit to church. Our only question was if it was going to be the High Priests Group Leader or his wife, and would it look bad if we beat them both in the parking lot as a pre-emptive strike. My daughter wears a suit jacket, slacks, and tie to church about half the time, and the next time somebody takes me aside and says something about “the unwritten order of things” or “she just doesn’t have a good enough understanding of the Restored Gospel” I may have to punch them in the nose. Lucky for us, our current unit seems to be nearly free of the sort of people who would make that kind of remark.

  16. It certainly is a weird juxtaposition. I see the biggest problem being when someone tries to comment on the dress of someone else. We want everyone to come to God in their best, but we also don’t want to turn anyone away. I think the only way you can really comment on someone else’s clothing choices is when you’re already established as their friend. Not passing acquaintance, but actual friend. Parent only fits the bill when the child is young, and lessens as they get older.

    The only trouble I know of in temple going dress involved a young man who had a recommend marked female and was asked by his Bishop to come in a skirt. It really threw the welcomer at the door, but thankfully was cleared up by a supervisor.

    I’ve still not braved asking if I could wear a white kilt for inside temple clothes. Are white sarongs a thing? Do all women have to wear skirts as their whites?

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Years ago a black woman came to visit our sacrament meeting. She had a very ample décolletage that was busting out all over the place (not sure how else to describe it), and because of my prior experience recited above I was nervous that someone was going to ham handedly try to talk to her about it. But I needn’t have worried, so far as I could tell no one did. My ward is very diverse, very missionary oriented, and I’ve never seen a visitor there made to feel uncomfortable for what they were wearing.

  18. Dog Spirit says:

    To Peter LLC’s point, it’s true that the dress code is not actually to wear one’s best. You don’t see well off folks showing up to church in ball gowns and tuxedos, nor should you. My best clothes are the suits I interview in for jobs, and I don’t wear those, either. As long as you can’t see that as a woman my legs go all the way up to my rear end rather than terminating at my knees, it doesn’t matter how casual my dress is, I’m still in uniform. And no one will ever be able to convince me that a short sleeved white dress shirt is nicer than a long sleeved colored one.

    When we say to wear your best, it’s code for a very specific set of cultural rules. So I find arguments about dressing one’s best as a way of respecting God unconvincing. Not to mention how in all the many times I’ve worshipped in other congregations without a dress code, fights, lewdness, foul language, and horseplay have not yet been forthcoming.

  19. The questions you posed have plagued me for a long time. My personal feeling is that respectful attire in the House of the Lord (whether it’s a chapel for Sunday meetings or a Temple) should be automatic. What ‘respectful attire’ IS, is a different question. Some folks don’t have a lot of fancy clothes and if they’re shut-ins with chronic illnesses of long standing, they may not even own a skirt or dress (if they’re female). I had a friend who had diabetes, and toward the end of her life was ridiculed for wanting to attend a sacrament meeting wearing what clothing she had – a pantsuit. She didn’t own any dresses because she rarely left her home. The pantsuit was a leftover from days when she worked. The Bishop of that Ward actually told her she wouldn’t be welcome if she couldn’t attend wearing a dress or skirt. My friend had been actively challenged for years and this Bishop did nothing to change her attitude about the priggish ways of the Church in some Wards. When my friend told me this, I said she was welcome to attend my Ward, because there, they welcomed people regardless of what they had on. The ATTENDANCE was more important than the clothing. I think the Savior looks more at our inward ‘clothing’ – our respect for Him and His house; than he does about what we have on physically. Aren’t we cautioned to live apart from the physical man anyway? I never understood that attitude about certain attire being the ONLY attire (not in the Temple obviously), and I know personally that it can lead to inactivity or disfellowship of individuals who feel the difference.

  20. I had an experience from the opposite perspective — and just as cringe worthy.

    Almost ten years ago we baptized a young woman from Nepal in our ward. Soon after she was eager to do baptisms for the dead for her first time. I had arranged a temple trip for the many new converts in our ward, both men and women, to do baptisms for the dead and made the rounds early that morning to pick all the converts up at their homes to drive us all to the temple (we had an 8 seater minivan). Other ward leaders were set to meet us at the temple.

    This young woman came out from her flat dressed for a temple visit — an amazingly intricate Hindu sari gown, bangals, jewelry, traditional make-up, everything. She had put in every effort to dress appropriately for the temple, as she understood it. I cringed to know she would be required to change out of it into a stock white temple frock for baptisms and confirmations. No one had told her what to expect, it seems. I had considered myself the logistics person behind the trip in addition to providing the ride for the new converts in my mini-van. But I should have also taken a few moments to provide some of the mundane details about what happens — I assumed someone else (the missionaries who’d been involved in her baptism or the ward mission leader or his wife?) would have done that.

    So, yes, this faithful young woman, very confused, was given a stock white frock, underwear, socks, at the baptistery desk to change into from her elaborate Hindu sari and jewelry etc.

  21. I get that we shouldn’t be excessively focused on the quality of apparel, but at the same time there needs to be some semblance of giving a damn. One of the things I’ve noticed about contemporary evangelical Christianity in my (non-Jello Belt) part of the world is that you get people who have the money to buy “toys” (ATVs, jet skis, boats, etc.) and $50k pickup trucks (with $5-10k of aftermarket modifications) to haul them, but can’t be arsed to put on a shirt with a collar to go to the local megachurch. These people are not poor. They can do better, but they don’t want to, and the “As I Am” school of Protestantism from which this approach to Christianity descends doesn’t ask them to.

    I have a real problem with this. Ours is a church of self-improvement, spiritual and temporal. We often put far too much weight on the latter, but it shouldn’t be ignored altogether.

  22. John F: cross-cultural fluency always has been a problem for the Church. When the Church first came back to the Baltic States after a 50-year absence following the Soviet invasion in 1940, people thought the missionaries were just another group of the neo-Nazis that were abundant in the time. The reason is not only that they were young, clean-cut white men with gelled side-parted hair wearing white shirts and monochromatic ties (often red) under dark trench coats, but that they referred to each other as “Elder”–which happened to be the title that the Nazis assigned to the chief collaborator in the villages they conquered.

  23. Bishop Bill says:

    My father worked the front desk at the Laie Temple years ago, and they were specifically told to let everybody in, no matter what they were wearing. They were told that tourists would be driving around the island, sometimes in a swimsuit, and when they see the Temple, will want to come in.

    I did not know this the first time I went to the Laie Temple. I was working on a ship in Pearl Harbor, and after I got off work, drove straight to the Temple. I had on jeans, a work shirt and steel toed shoes. But I brought a par of slacks, a white shirt and tie, and dress shoes. The Temple entrance is far removed from the visitor’s center, so I just went to the front door, thinking they had a restroom just inside like so many other temples. A very large Samoan man was sitting behind the desk. I walked up to him and told him I needed a place to change so I could enter then temple. He looked at me strange, asked if I had a recommend, and said he didn’t understand what I was asking. So I repeated myself. He then said “what are you talking about?” After my third try, he leaned around the desk to get a good look at me, and finally said “just go in” as he waived his hand for me to move along.

    All the above stories just show how “leadership roulette” is still alive, and old policies/customs/doctrine, while no longer valid, are rarely explicitly repudiated, lest we disparage the former leader that championed that now defunct policy/custom/doctrine.

  24. These unwritten dress codes have so much potential for backfiring, but it seems that the ones who love them will never be dissuaded. The other issue is that if everyone wears their “Sunday best,” it’s an automatic class system dress code. That’s the only thing the scriptures are clear about with dress codes is that the wealthy shouldn’t look down on the poor, and the poor shouldn’t feel like they are unwelcome. But that’s exactly what happens, every time.

    As for pants vs. skirts and suits for men, we’ve adopted some weird 1950s style that isn’t easily adopted by newcomers and is seldom going to be what visitors will spontaneously wear. I guess that’s fine if we don’t care to grow or be inviting, and I know plenty of the self-appointed clothing police don’t. Our RS prescy was visiting a sister who hasn’t been coming out to church, and she said it was because she wanted to wear pants and knew everyone would look down on her. We volunteered to wear pants too if it made her more comfortable. (I prefer wearing dresses myself because with garments, I’m already wearing pants no matter what, thankyouverymuch, and it’s 115 degrees out–although it’s usually a brisk 65 degrees in our Gospel Doctrine class).

    I’ve heard from lots of people that the temple workers are told that no matter what people are wearing they should welcome them and thank them for coming, be it jeans & flip flops or whatever, particularly because going to the temple is a sacrifice, and sometimes people do it when they are on a business trip or vacation. But given the way people are treated at church when they don’t dress the norms, it’s not surprising that some Church Lady types can’t refrain from taking someone to task when given the opportunity.

    We had a foreign exchange student staying with us, and he said he wanted to come to church with us, even though we said it was up to him. He came down dressed in jeans and a logo’d tee shirt, norms for his church attendance. I didn’t want him to feel weird so I offered him a button down shirt of my son’s (not white), which he wore. I doubt he had even packed anything like that for his trip to the states. I doubt anyone would have said anything to him, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have felt weird.

  25. petterllc’s comment makes me wonder if criticizing someone for wearing a suit to church might be about the same thing as criticizing someone for wearing jeans to church.

    I didn’t suggest criticising anyone (I wear a suit to church because it’s what I have a closet full of); I was just inartfully trying to make Dog Spirit’s point: “When we say to wear your best, it’s code for a very specific set of cultural rules. So I find arguments about dressing one’s best as a way of respecting God unconvincing.”

  26. A “Sunday best” dress standard is not communicative even within what some people assume is a unified culture. Some years ago the “Sunday best” standard was announced in our stake for a youth dance. The young men from a rural area 40 or so miles away came wearing blue jeans, white shirts and ties. They were excluded from the building by a stake presidency member because of the blue jeans (though that is what they wear to Church regularly) despite their having been dropped off and having no ride back home at that time. I think that stake presidency member was an officious “Church lady” — I guess that’s the only kind of lady in a stake presidency.

  27. In a gospel that is supposed to be about what is within, where did the concept of “Sunday best” come from?

  28. Has anyone or any part of the Church figured out how to work dress codes in cultures where white is traditional for mourning and red is what you’d choose for something important like an ordinance or sacrament? Like when a young man showed up for his baptism wearing (and expecting to continue wearing) red underwear?

  29. I have mentioned this here too many times, but I spent a lot of time in my 20’s and 30’s in largely impoverished wards and branches. And so I developed the mantra–one I still use today, even in my no-so-impoverished current ward–that I didn’t care what clothes people showed up dressed in, *so long as they showed up.* Period. Pants, shorts, sweatshirts, whatever. They showed up and that’s all I cared about.

    That said, I think APM’s point is well taken. I think there’s something to be said for dressing a little better than a normal day. Obviously, everyone’s normal is going to be different, so we should train ourselves not to be judgey.

  30. I would intentionally not wear a suit jacket to church when I was EQ president in an area where many people were not well off. The bishopric would catch flack if they dressed down too much, so I was the highest level leader who reasonably could dress down, so I usually did. I would wear the jacket on a major holiday or for other infrequent occasions, but almost always stuck to a shirt and tie.
    There were others in the ward who would always wear a suit, but would not dream of trying to make new or returning members feel uncomfortable for not dressing up quite as nice as normal Mormon Sunday dress.
    The big deal about dressing nice to go to the temple is that you can then go eat fast food while dressed up and get all sorts of interesting looks.

  31. When I was a YM, my ward wasn’t anal about how we dressed. I remember going to a Stake Aaronic Priesthood meeting where two of my fellow YM showed up sweaty and in gym shorts. It seems they were playing basketball when the YM Prez showed up and dragged them to the meeting. I remember the bishop commenting to my father something like, “Showing up is more important than dressing up.”

  32. In Provo there is a well known woman who dresses formally always. Long beautiful skirts, beautiful jewelry, upswept hair, etc. always. She was called to be Relief Society president and took her turn at the welfare cannery. A worker approached her and said, At the cannery we can wear old clothes.” She replied, “These ARE old clothes!”

  33. I’ve wondered a lot about the cross-cultural issues that APM and john f. mention. I’ve attended church meetings in several different African countries where no one in the congregation ever owned a white shirt and tie before joining the church. As a result, most of the men in the branch or ward that do wear one have a second-hand, ill-fitting shirt and are often wearing slacks left by departing missionaries. Those who come in traditional clothing honestly feel more respectful in many cases, although obviously intentions matter and as a visitor to the cultures I’m probably missing a lot of context.

    As a result of these visits, the white tie I wear to the temple is made out of white plastic beads strung together with fishing line, rather than cloth. I have sometimes wondered if choosing to wear it during the session might be vain. But I choose to keep wearing it because for me it is a way to remember the members I have met who can’t make it to the temple as easily as I can, having lived less than two miles from temples for most of my endowed life. I’ve now worn that tie in six temples in four states, and the few times it has been mentioned by temple workers have only been positive.

  34. I didn’t know that schools in the states have “Pajama Day” in the UK we have “non-uniform days” in which pupils make a donation to charity to wear their own clothes to school. Italians are also very tidy people. The British, less so!

  35. It seems to me our expectations of dress are more rooted in Western culture, and Mormon tradition has added its own twists. I reject the premise of coming before the Lord in “your best dress,” and can’t find anywhere that justifies this attitude outside of GA talks in the past quarter to half century. (If anyone has references, I would be grateful if they were shared.) How about we come to the Lord as our best selves?

    I know many investigators who found our dress culture to be intimidating and off-putting because it signaled they had to quickly become someone they were not. I think it would be nice if we saw a GA counter signal by wearing an open collar at general conference. President Uchtdorf could pull it off and think of how many in the church would sigh in relief.

    To @christenkimball’s point, I have friends who served missions in Hong Kong. White is symbolic of death. They shared with me that non-member families attending a family member’s baptism were quite alarmed because of everyone being dressed in white, particularly the missionary and soon-to-be member, who were both dressed foot to neck in white baptismal suits. Given a choice, my friends told me the Chinese would choose a nice red for these ordinances, the color or good fortune and luck.

    Dressing in western civilization is a means of signaling many things, one of them class. Mormons, from Joseph Smith on, have always displayed upper middle-class aspirations. It’s no wonder our choice of church uniform is a smart suit and tie for men, and an equivalent level of dress for women, and the more professional the look the better. The question is if it makes us more reverent or if it’s unintended consequences–signaling elitism to investigators and non-Mormons–come at too of a high cost.

  36. BigSky: do note that our expectations of dress are shared by virtually all Afro-American Christians, and many Latino, immigrant African, and Afro-Caribbean ones as well, while they’ve been abandoned by upper-middle-class whites (who hardly ever darken the door of a church anyway).

    An Ethiopian-American college buddy/ex-bandmate who grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland–and therefore spent lots of time at his Afro-American friends’ evangelical churches as well as his own Coptic Orthodox one–once remarked to me how pathetic it was that he knew so many white frat boys at our expensive private university who drove luxury cars but didn’t know how to tie a necktie and didn’t get their suits properly altered.

  37. If you live in a hot climate, it seems terribly wasteful to expect men to wear suit coats as a sign of “respect for God.”

    We crank up the air conditioning, so they look like ridiculous, sweating profusely at the pulpit.

    Meanwhile, we tell the struggling, low-income parent to pay his/her tithing and, of course, the money won’t wasted.

    Why don’t we use common sense?

  38. Sorry. Hit send by mistake before editing.

    Meant to say–

    We crank up the air conditioning, so the men in suit coats won’t look ridiculous, sweating profusely when it is 100 degrees outside.

    What a waste of resources and the “widow’s mite.”

    Let’s use common sense, instead of throwing money away, cooling down people in summer who are dressed like it is winter.

  39. Yesterday at church everybody got an old “welcome” pamphlet for visitors. It talked about clothing, and there was a line: “Women will be wearing dresses.” I ALWAYS wear pants to church when I go, and I don’t even think about it any more. I look nice, and nobody sees my chronically swollen legs. Who cares about this stuff? And why do we care about them? Life is too short to worry about what other people think. But I digress.

    I mentioned to Left Field, “Some of us are not wearing dresses.” He replied, “Woman who are not wearing dresses will be wearing pants. Well, we hope they will be wearing pants.”

  40. This “Sunday best” talk drives me crazy! Even the talk of bringing your “best self” drives me up the wall! People should feel welcome at church when they are at their worst (in dress and in spirit)! We should be embracing the “least of these”, not assessing their worthiness.

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