We had a Relief Society lesson a couple weeks ago on appropriate dress. A few clear conclusions came from the discussion. Women’s pants are evil and flip-flops are of the devil. Denim and the chapel do not mix under any circumstance. And pantyhose make you more spiritual.
I’m stretching a bit. But just a little.
Let me say up front, I don’t mind dressing nicely for church and I do feel it shows a certain respect for the sacred. I dress in “appropriate” clothes except at choir practice. But when I saw the passion surrounding this topic, it gave me pause. One woman related an “inspirational” story about her rebellious 13-year-old granddaughter who came to sacrament meeting, angry and wearing (gasp!) pants. The grandmother sat in the foyer with the granddaughter because of her attire. Another woman reported how upset she was when seminary students spoke in sacrament meeting and all the young women wore flip flops and tight t-shirts that barely met the top of too-short skirts. A past temple matron talked about how skirts were kept at the temple to offer to women who showed up at the temple in pants.
The stories were heartfelt, but I was vaguely disturbed as I listened to them and uncomfortable about such a strong emphasis on externals. I thought we should welcome everyone to sacrament meeting regardless of what they wear, especially rebellious 13-year-olds. I questioned whether it was worth embarrassing somebody by offering alternate clothing and reflected on stories I’d heard of people who’d been offended when this happened. And, I wondered why dress is such a big deal to mainstream Mormons.
Or is it? The previous week I’d attended sacrament meeting in a ward in Manhattan. About a fourth of the women were wearing pants and nobody gave them a second glance. There were no flip-flops in sight but I suspect that was a fashion decision and not a moral one. Blue and yellow shirts were speckled throughout the men in the congregation, and a pink-shirted priesthood holder passed the sacrament. I briefly wondered whether that ward was an anomaly or whether the culture was changing. The lesson in my ward indicated that nothing has changed, at least in my Colorado ward.
There’s probably a balance between becoming Pharisees about dress and showing respect through our dress for our worship and our God. While I was in New York, I also attended a service at a Baptist Church in Harlem. I admired the congregants’ beautiful spring dresses, immaculate suits, and fanciful hats. Their Sunday best seemed to say something about their attitude toward worship. And maybe our floral skirts, pantyhose, and white shirts do the same.
Still, I’m not sure the answer lies in delineating the smallest details of clothing. Instead, the answer may lie in our hearts and minds, not on our bodies.