An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Mormons are possibly the only religious organization in the U.S. who maintain traditional dress standards for Sunday worship service. I know it’s a trivial complaint, but I’d like to see the dress code for women expanded to include slacks for Sunday meetings. I suppose it will happen someday. We’ve already progressed beyond the strict code of the ‘70s. Back then—at least in my Seattle ward—dresses were mandatory for all meetings. A favorite excuse for less-active women we invited to Relief Society was, “I don’t own a dress.” Girls who showed up in pants for after-school Primary were seated in the foyer until after opening exercises to avoid desecrating the chapel.

These days Mormon males actually have the more rigid dress code. Boys officiating in the sacrament ordinances wear white shirts and neckties. Grown men follow suit—in suits.  Only mavericks who never hope to be called as bishop or high councilor show up in colored shirts. And no matter how many GQ issues feature photos of sports-jacketed, tieless hot males with open collars—that trend is taboo for most wards.

For women and girls the only requirement seems to be a skirt or dress. While the Aaronic Priesthood boys show up clean shaven and conservatively attired on Sundays, the Young Women, sporting bare legs, flip flips, and untucked shirts topping very short or very long skirts appear headed for a day at the beach. Sunday dress for the boys is driven by their priesthood office. No such motivation exists for the girls.

Mormon women and girls are routinely reminded to dress modestly. Here again, I make a pitch for pants. Pants do not ride up exposing a panoramic display of thigh when a woman sits. And pants are not slit up the back—sometimes to mid-thigh—to allow walking room. In addition to pants, even dressy ones, sleeveless clothing is also a no-no in Mormon culture. A woman, even if she has not been to the temple, causes head-shaking if she reveals bare upper arms. Curiously, the design of LDS garments allows full-busted women to expose considerable cleavage while being righteously attired.

Our son Wort invited us to attend his evangelical church when we visited him, and my first question was: Do I have to wear a dress?” “Only if you want to be stared at,” he said.

Wearing nice jeans, I worshiped comfortably at Wort’s church—at least until a female vocalist appeared on stage exposing a bare mid-drift. My staid Mormon eyes are fine with pants on women and colored shirts on men, but surveying belly buttons while singing hymns makes me uncomfortable. I know that’s a personal character flaw, but I’m stuck with it. And maybe that’s where we draw the line. Somehow, I doubt God cares much about how we dress at church— so long as we don’t make others uncomfortable. And that’s why I keep two skirts in my closet. I’ll let someone else challenge the comfort level of my ward members.

Comments on: "Why I Don’t Wear Pants to Sacrament Meeting" (2)

  1. Mormons are possibly the only religious organization in the U.S. who maintain traditional dress standards for Sunday worship service.

    If by “traditional dress standards” you mean suits & ties for men and dresses for women, the historic black denominations are typically very into that as well.

    I’ve never been to an evangelical service where I saw anyone with a bare midriff, let alone a worship leader. I’m not questioning your account, but I think you got very unlucky. I’m fine with tank tops, sleeveless shirts, etc. in church, but if I caught someone with a bare midriff, even I’d have something to say about it.

    Unless we were in Hawaii or something. Maybe in Hawaii I’d let them get away with it.

  2. I don’t like this idea that garments are somehow directly related to modestly. Indirectly, I agree, that seems obvious. But the purpose–to me anyway–has nothing to do with the rest of one’s wardrobe choices. They are covered out of the believer’s view of their sacredness, not because they are supposed to enforce a dress code.

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