Heretical Thoughts: Of Pants in Church and Other Weighty Matters


Waiting in line for General Conference?


Being the tourist and vacation Mecca that it is, the Orlando area is favored with a large number of restaurants — some of them very good.  Thus far, we’ve eaten at a couple of thoroughly enjoyable ones.


On Tuesday night, going by a tip from the concierge at the place where we’re staying, we took our son and his wife to a nearby place called “Ciao Italia,” a ristorante Italiano where I had the best Vitello Alla Marsala (veal marsala) that I’ve ever tasted.  And, at her suggestion, the group of us went with a friend to Bosphorous, a Turkish restaurant, on Wednesday night.  I thought it was absolutely wonderful, as (from what they said) did the rest.  Except, to an extent, for my wife.  Truth in advertising:  She enjoyed it, too, but not as extravagantly as I did, and she thought it was somewhat overpriced.  Oh well.  As I often say, De gustibus non est disputandum.


And now, responding to absolutely no noticeable demand for my opinion about them, on to other matters:


I really don’t care whether women wear pants to church on Sunday.  Not at all.  Dressy pants are increasingly (in fact, nowadays, pretty completely) acceptable for women in our culture, and they’ve long been accepted, even preferred, in certain others.  Had a woman worn a wear a pair of pants to sacrament meeting in my ward when I was presiding as bishop, I wouldn’t have noticed.  In fact, some almost certainly did.  As I say, I don’t care.  I would just be happy to see such people in church.


I’m not, however, among those who don’t think it matters at all what one wears to church.  The way we dress affects how we feel.  On one occasion, before I was married, I was out driving in West Los Angeles for our family construction business on a weekday, dressed in my usual tee shirt and ragged Levis.  Suddenly, a call came in for me to stop by to look at something in the baptistry of the Los Angeles Temple.  I tried to get out of it, but they needed me there immediately.  It was a normal functioning day for the temple, too, and I had to pass by the recommend desk in the usual fashion.  It felt profoundly awkward.  On another occasion, in a distant country, the president of one of the very small temples asked me if I wanted to have a tour inside, at a time when it was closed and I wasn’t dressed for the temple.  It was a kind offer, and, having no other chance to enter that temple, I said Yes, even though I felt conflicted and strange about it.  Walking through the celestial room dressed in street clothes was, again, extremely odd, and, on the whole, I really didn’t like it.  Dressing up for the Lord has a psychological effect, I think, and — although it can also be an occasion for showing off, for attempting to allure the opposite sex, and so forth — can get us into the proper mood for worship.  It helps to mark worship time and worship space off as separate, distinct, sacred.


With regard to the pants-in-church demonstration, in particular:  I am troubled by any mention of politics in church — even when the political view expressed more or less agrees with my own — and I’m more than a bit uneasy about ideological statements in church, about using sacrament meeting (or any other worship service or worship setting) as an avenue for “agitation,” however gently it may be expressed.


That said, I’m sympathetic to many of the issues that faithful Mormon feminists raise.  I could easily see some changes being made in these regards.  Some changes, however, would require direct, explicit revelation — and, although I certainly don’t dictate to God — I’m not holding my breath for them.


Incidentally, I also see no particular reason for white shirts attaining quasi-uniform status in the Church, although, having served a lot in bishoprics, on high councils, and as a bishop, I’ve acquiesced without any resistance when I felt that the presiding authorities preferred white.  It’s not an issue that I think worth contention.  (Prior to that series of callings, I typically made it a point to wear a striped or colored shirt to church.  I know, I know: Daring rebellion.  But I never gave any speeches on the topic, or sought to call attention to my wildly unorthodox pinstripes.  And now I own so many white shirts that it would be silly to refuse to wear them.)  One of the most moving sacrament meetings in which I’ve ever been involved took place adjacent to an archaeological site in the remote Guatemalan jungle.  No white shirts, no ties, no slacks, no piano or organ, no building, just mud and prayer and the simple ordinance of the Lord’s supper.


Many years ago, when I was called to serve on the Church’s Gospel Doctrine Writing Committee, I went up to the Church Office Building to be set apart by a member of the Seventy.  We arrived a bit early, and went over for lunch at the then-ZCMI mall.  It was a blistering, blistering hot summer day, and, as we sat there watching Church employees walking by at lunchtime, all dressed in black suits and white shirts and ties, I couldn’t help but think of priests scurrying about in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, and of ultra-Orthodox Jews dressed in black coats and big fur hats in the heat of a Middle Eastern sun at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  In those cases, for no particularly good reason that I can see, the clothing styles of medieval Europe — traditional nuns’ habits are also, in many cases, simply a normal medieval woman’s garb — or of, say, seventeenth-century Warsaw have somehow become frozen in time, arbitrarily made sacred.  They’re not biblical.  They’re not divinely ordained.  They just stopped changing.  Nobody else in Salt Lake that day was wearing a black suit.  Even well-dressed businessmen were in light sport coats or, more commonly, no coat at all.  And I worried whether we were developing our own version of the Vatican curia.


To compound my sins:  I have no problem with facial hair.  I wore a beard through graduate school, and rather liked doing so.  And I’ve sported a mustache since before my wedding.  (I was thinking of shaving it off at about the time that I was called as a bishop, but, when I was called and the stake president didn’t require that, I decided to keep it on through my tenure as a way of quietly demonstrating the option.  Again, no speeches, no ideological manifesto.  And, as it turned out, the man I called as my first counselor — supremely able and committed — also had a mustache.  That certainly wasn’t a factor in his calling, but it pleased me.)


Just before my wife and I moved to come up to the faculty at BYU, our stake presidency in California was changed.  The new stake president was, it turned out, a stickler on dress and grooming.  I have an irritating story about that, and I might tell it, someday.  (It didn’t involve me.)  But here are a couple of slightly amusing ones:  He came to our ward conference, and informed us that President Kimball had received a revelation indicating that white shirts were the uniform of the priesthood in the latter days.  (I immediately wondered where I could read the text of this revelation, or even anything about it.)  “But,” he said, “some of you are impoverished graduate students, and you don’t have the money to go out and buy white shirts.”  At this point, I expected him to go on to say “So don’t worry.  It’s not essential.  When you have some money for it, buy a white shirt.  But, in the meantime, serve, and keep the commandments.  Specific clothing is of secondary importance at most.”  But no.  He advised us all to borrow the money if we needed to, so that we could come to church dressed in the Lord’s uniform.  I remember regretting that I was already wearing a colored shirt, because I would have liked to go home and put one on.  Then he spoke in Relief Society, and advised the sisters to wear dresses when going visiting teaching and, even, if possible, when on welfare cannery assignments.  There were lots of graduate students in our ward, and a sister who had just returned from an extended residence in East Asia commented that many Asian Relief Society sisters wear rather elegant pants suits to formal functions, including church.  “Well,” he responded, “they’re new in the Church, and they’re still gaining the spirit of the Gospel.”  When I heard that, I confess that the thought crossed my mind that the spirit of the Gospel surely involved more important things than wearing a skirt to church.  Finally, at the stake conference that was held the very week we moved out, the president again explained that white shirts and clean shaven faces were the uniform of the priesthood.  And, afterwards, I noticed that every single volunteer helping to take down the chairs was wearing a beard and a colored shirt.  The properly clothed and groomed Elect, by contrast, were chatting in the foyer and outside on the walkways.


Oh well.  So much for the weightier matters of the law.


Posted from rebel headquarters deep in Orlando, Florida.



  • Trevor Antley

    My Facebook has been lambasted for about two days now for my voicing similar opinions to yours here. I obviously do not care whether a woman wants to wear pants to Church. I believe that our expected standards of dress are a cultural thing, and hence they are not uniform around the world, even in the Church. I have no problem with facial hair although I try reasonably to remain clean-shaven while at BYU (especially after Dr. Gee chastised me for coming to class without having shaved–that must have been two years ago now). I almost always wear a traditional white shirt, tie, and slacks to church, except very occasionally when I have no ironed white shirt and I wear a colored one. Recently in priesthood we were “encouraged” by our bishopric to wear only white shirts and not to wear colored pants or extremely skinny ties. I’m not a big fan of that, but it’s certainly not such a pain or inconvenience to the degree that I would disobey that bishop’s counsel.

    That said, regarding the larger issues that the women wearing “pants” want it to represent, I’m very sympathetic, especially to issues that are cultural. Relief Society presidents should be addressed as “President,” and not “Sister,” when appropriate, just as an Elder’s Quorum president is. The Relief Society is a divinely-inspired and divinely-led organization. We should refer to its leader with the respect they deserve.

    Other cultural issues people raise–such as an alleged unwritten policy that women cannot be the final speaker after a man in a Sacrament meeting (which I was unaware of until this week)–should perhaps also be spoken more about. If these are not written policies, they should not be treated as if they are.

    There are probably other examples of cultural issues where women are not treated with the proper respect they deserve and that our prophets counsel us as priesthood holders to give them. I am sure I am guilty of many without realizing it.

    But that said, this issue unfortunately brings out of the woodworks the many liberal or cultural Mormons who leach onto anything that remotely seems like a criticism of the Church, and now accuse Mormonism and its patriarchal organization of being oppressive to women or of regarding women as inferior.

    Although women are not given the same status in the Church’s leadership (as in, women cannot hold a leadership position over a man and cannot hold priesthood keys), I very much reject the idea that that practice means that Mormonism, Mormon leaders, or Mormon men in general view women as inferior creatures or somehow less capable. That has not been my experience in Mormonism. Growing up in a small branch with about 7 active men and 25 active women, the Mormon environment of my youth obviously did not hold women in anything but the highest regard.

    But for opinions like that I have been essentially assaulted online, although interestingly entirely from men, most of whom are either non-believers or non-members. I have yet to have a Mormon woman criticize me for being outspoken about this.

    • danpeterson

      You’re doing just fine on these things, in my opinion.

    • Alece

      Women can hold a leadership position over a man. I was the Primary President recently over a Primary in which about half of the Primary teachers were men!

      • danpeterson

        Good point.

    • Alece

      Women can hold a leadership position over a man. I was the Primary President recently over a Primary in which about half of the Primary teachers were men! Also, as a current Relief Society President, I really would rather be addressed as “Sister” than as “President”.

      • Michele

        I whole heartedly agree! But there are those in my ward that were taught to respect the position and have a hard time addressing me any other way.
        I will answer to just about anything..;)

  • Dale Jeffery

    THANK YOU, Dr. Peterson. This is excellent, and we are pleased to acknowledge you as Leader of the Rebellion.

  • Eric Larson

    I have also boldly worn a pinstriped shirt under my conservative gray suit to Sunday meetin’s. Just to mix things up a bit. Working in SLC, each day, I go past the Great and Spacious Building of North Temple on my way to work, and look mournfully at the entrants in their “Secret Service” garb. I’m just glad it’s not me.

    • danpeterson

      Another secret scofflaw!

  • Amy Richards

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I am more a spirit of the law person myself. I appreciate people with a sense of humor about the imperfections of the Church, who give others who might leave the Church because of these imperfections, a perspective and strength to keep going. Thanks again!

    • danpeterson

      Thank YOU!

      I do think that over-rigidity drives people away. And there’s no need for that. None at all.

  • h_nu

    Yes, but what kind of people does it drive away.

    • JB

      It drives the kind of people away who do not have the “Stepford Wives” mentality.

      • danpeterson

        So, in your view, all of those who aren’t driven away have the “Stepford Wives” mentality.

        I take it that you hate women. And, very likely, most people generally.

        • JB

          I am no authority but it does make me question why those in the church, whom I have observed, do seem to be willing to obey such extremely rigid requirements. When I witness the extreme conformity that exist in the church it always brings to mind the “Stepford Wives”. I apply that without gender regard. I don’t hate women. I find it easier to be a woman outside of the church. I’m in the energy business and I deal most of the time with men and have no problem. It might be more accurate to say I don’t like men in the church in general but there are quite a few exceptions. Much of the “debate” in the church is very petty and almost silly in some cases. That’s my opinion…I wish it wasn’t.

          • danpeterson

            I simply don’t see the Stepford-like conformity in the Church that you say you do. I have lots and lots of Mormon friends, and they represent a broad range of backgrounds and personality types. For that matter, I myself had an original thought once. I think it was back in 1996, or maybe 1997.

  • Bonita

    Why, exactly, would an “explicate revelation” be required to allow a woman to wear pants at church? What year was it that men were required to wear white shirts as a “uniform”? And, if not in sacrament meeting, how would the church, or anyone else for that matter, know that this policy is bothersome, even sexist, if there wasn’t some form of visual demonstration at church? The real issue isn’t about pants specifically anyway. It’s about control and determining one’s level of obedience. One way to ascertain this information is to require some outwardly, visual sign. It’s also an identifying mark of gender roles. Christ doesn’t care what you wear to church. Having said that, I do think one should show respect by wearing nice attire, but not relegate the type of apparel based on someone’s gender. And what’s up with the necessity for a “uniform” to be worn at church. Oh, I see…”uniform”…”uniformity”…”conformity”…”control”. And around and around we go…until someone somewhere decides to to bring the issue to the forefront through a visually, civilized, nonthreatening, demonstration. If I were an active member and not going to see the Nutcracker at the same time as my sacrament meeting, I would go in pants to show solidarity. You go sisters!

    • danpeterson

      Bonita: “Why, exactly, would an ‘explicate revelation’ be required to allow a woman to wear pants at church?”

      I haven’t the foggiest idea. Did somebody out there claim that an explicit revelation would be required in order to allow women to wear pants at church? If so, that person should step forward and explain why. Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Me

    It drives away the ‘one’. If we are to be followers of the Savior, the lost sheep should be as important to us as it was to him. We 99 shouldn’t be actively pushing the ‘one’ away.

    • danpeterson

      Quite true. On the other hand, there will always be people driven away by something or other. If the Church tried to please everybody, it would destroy itself. There’s a fine line to be walked here. I just don’t happen to think that the line runs through pants or beards.

  • Louis Midgley

    I have just consulted some photographs to see if Dan was in the proper uniform when he first visited New Zealand and Australia. I was simply stunned to discover that Dan was in actually in full rebellion. But no one seemed to notice this.

    Now, of course, while serving missions in New Zealand, I was always in proper uniform. Though my description of what this was, I am confident, would not please some folks.

  • Fenevad

    Found this linked by a relative and thought I perhaps ought to comment on one negative aspect of what I consider the fetishization of certain standards of dress.

    First, my brother lived in a ward with a bishop who insisted that the young men wear *suits* to pass the sacrament. Slacks and a white shirt were insufficient, even if dressed up with a sport coat. I do not doubt that he meant well, but the result was that a significant portion of the young men in the ward were effectively barred from participating in the their priesthood duties. There were young men who could not afford suits (and as far as I know there was no offer of fast offering money to assist them)—not surprising since an adolescent could easily outgrow a suit in three months—and others who were struggling to be active in the Church with no real family support whose parents were not going to buy them suits for something they did not care about. This same bishop also refused to let any young man pass the sacrament whose hair came below the top of the collar. Again, some of the young men struggling with activity were barred from service because they had somewhat longer hair.

    The net result of this strict emphasis on dress and grooming was that the boys were taught that the Lord looketh on the outside, not on the heart. Some of the boys who did pass the sacrament in full regimental style probably ought not to have been passing, while others, through no fault of their own, were excluded and made to feel second class.

    It is one thing to expect and encourage respect in dress and attire, and another to elevate it to the point where it is seen as a sign of righteousness in and of itself. The moment that the clothing becomes more important than the man, we have fetishized and idolized the appearance. I do not have a problem with a Bishop requiring his young men to meet certain standards as long as they have a way to meet the standards and those standards do not get in the way of their personal and spiritual development. I would rather have a young man in bib overalls covered in mud give me the sacrament if it means he has a meaningful experience with serving the Lord than I would have a young man in suit and tie administer it if he does it thoughtlessly and without care.

    My second point is more personal. When I was at BYU in the 1990s I had a real problem with shaving because one are of my neck constantly got ingrown hairs. It was one area only, but shaving left it constantly inflamed and irritated. Finally I had enough and went into the BYU health center to see if I could get an exemption. The receptionist, trying to be helpful, told me that she knew that my complaint about my neck would insufficient to get the waiver and that I would have to demonstrate severe problems over all my face. She advised me to make an appointment and then do whatever would most exacerbate the problem in order to get the waiver.

    I do not blame her for her advice. She was stuck in an environment much like something dreamed of by Joseph Heller. In order the uphold the Honor Code’s dress and grooming standards, which are supposedly there for the benefit and protection of the students, and get the beard card I would have had to actively violate the principle it is supposed to teach: I would have had to harm my body, rather than respect it; I would have to deceive the college docs by making the problem worse than it was in order to get permission to do what was best for my body. If we believe that the body is a temple, we should not fetishize one aspect of appearance to the extent that it weighs over the whole. This deception was a compromise of moral principle I would not make, so I went about the rest of my time at BYU with my neck irritated and red. Once again a principle (if a hold-over from anti-hippy sentiments in Ernest Wilkinson’s day can be thought of as such) of dress and grooming was elevated over the people it was to serve.

    And as a final note, it also taught me that the honor code did not involve real honor. I was told that I was expected to be honest, but if the University really expected me to be honest, should not my word alone have been sufficient to justify the beard card? The honor code could be conceived of as a covenant, but instead it was treated as a means of control with the active assumption that the student body lacked honor and could not be trusted. So even if it was dressed in high language, I felt that the evident distrust from the administration served to engender the very behavior they wanted to prevent. (I write this knowing full well that many, many students would, in fact, violate the ideal by making excuses for what they want to do, but if there is no expectation of actual honor, what incentive is there to actually exhibit it?)

    Sorry for the long response, but the issues raised here have long bothered me since I think they lead us to real idolatry: we elevate the things of this world—white shirts, ties, suits, clean faces, etc.—over the things of real importance. When properly situated and considered with nuance and care, matters of dress and grooming are important, but we must remember they are not the end in themselves.

    • danpeterson

      I have a story in my extended family that’s similar to the one you describe early in your comment.

      The young man involved might have gone inactive anyway, but he’s certainly inactive now. He scarcely remembers that he’s a member of the Church, and his children aren’t.

    • JB

      The stories that you have shared are the exact reason I just can’t wrap my brain or heart around the church. I have witnessed too much ridiculousness and I’m not good at telling myself that something is ok when it really isn’t. It is a painful conflict.

      • danpeterson

        The stories that I’ve shared represent only a tiny, tiny portion of the my decades of experience in the Church, far outweighed by experiences of love and caring and shared sorrow and by my conviction of the truth of the Gospel and the Restoration, and I find them very easy to chalk up to the fact that my fellow Church members are, as I am, human.

  • Cephalian

    Thanks Dan, great article! Some folks need to get out more. I have attended wards where men wore skirts – including a member of the Bishopric ( I love those Samoans!). In one ward, I thought I had died and entered the Celestial kingdom when a black youth wearing a brown shirt delivered the sacrament. I have seen a High Councilman speak in sacrament meeting wearing an old hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. I have attended many meetings wearing jeans and a sweatshirt (with hair to my shoulders and a Porter Rockwell beard). One one occasion, after being at sea for five months, I walked 5 miles to visit an Alaskan branch. Soon after I left the boat, it started raining. By the time I got to church, my soaking wet old cloths, and my long hair and beard made me quite the site. Few people spoke to me, but they let me stay. After church, a member of the Seventy on vacation in Alaska offered to give me a blessing (which I accepted – why not?). What I really could have used was a ride back to the boat, but I don’t blame them – I probably would not have let somebody like me get in my car either.

    • danpeterson

      Thanks. I love your story.

  • Ms. Jack

    This is a very fair and even-handed take on the matter, Dan. I’m glad to hear that you’re so easy-going on dress and grooming standards in church. My husband almost always wears colored shirts to church, and most of the time he resists wearing ties. Lately he’s been wearing jeans to church a lot, and I keep teasing him that if he really wants to wear jeans to church all the time, I know a church where he can do that every Sunday and no one will bat an eye… ;)

    The bishopric did do a little mild chiding of his taste in dress as of late when they visited our home a few weeks ago. They also discouraged him from wearing his earring to church. For my own part, I have worn pants, skirts above the knee, and all manner of sleeveless tops to his wards over the years, and no one has ever said a word to me. My experience has been that Mormons are pretty good at not being judgmental in this area.

    Regarding the larger matter of what the protest is supposed to symbolize and whether or not church on Sunday is a good venue for this: my only question is, what would be a good venue to raise awareness of this issue? As a Protestant I don’t have great sympathy for the complaint, and have had to remind quite a few Mormons on Facebook of their movement’s debt to the Protestant Reformation, that they might not be around had Martin Luther behaved according to their version of “appropriate.” However, I am always interested in constructive suggestions on how feminists could do things better.

    • danpeterson

      I keep pointing out that I’m not the monster some want to see in me, but a small group have plainly had a hard time internalizing that idea. (Some obviously don’t want to.)

      As for an appropriate venue, I’ll have to reflect on that. It seems to me that there are plenty. Letters to the Brethren, public comments, blogs, etc., just for starters.

      I just really have a problem with using the chapel or the temple as a vehicle for any kind of political or ideological statement. I also wouldn’t approve of slapping a political bumper sticker on the high altar of a cathedral.

      • Ms. Jack

        I appreciate your honest thoughts on the matter, Dan.

        I feel like I read somewhere on the Bloggernacle, some number of years ago, that the Brethren have directed the general membership not to write to them about their concerns, but instead to bring them up with the appropriate local leaders and ask them to pass them on up. I could be remembering wrong though.

        What I like about the fact that the organizers have chosen the venue that they did is that it has brought in all sorts of folks who would never click onto a Mormon feminist blog or anything of the sort. While that has meant an attendant horror show of bad arguments against their cause along with those unfortunate threats of violence that got the event page shut down on Facebook, I’m guessing it has caused people to begin thinking about this issue who otherwise never would have given it serious consideration. If so, I think that is a good thing.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I recall seeing photos of Tongan elder missionaries wearing a traditional skirt with their white shirts and neckties.

    The standard of dress for missionaries and church leaders as I have most often heard it articulated is to look like a respectable businessperson in the community, so there would not be a reason for someone you are approaching to decline to meet with or speak to you. We however eschew the clothing associated with what we consider false priesthoods, such as clerical collars, not to mention ostentatious robes worn by officiators of certain Catholic and Protestant faiths on special occasions like performing marriages. I once heard that some LDS congregations who had been isolated during World War II had improperly adopted uniforms for the priests and deacons administering the Sacrament.

    Many of the women lawyers I work with wear suits with pants in court and to meet clients. Heck, Secretarty of state Hillary Cliinton wears pant suits in all sorts of prestigious venues, including of course the White House. I am pretty sure if she was visiting a temple open house or an LDS ward house, no one would take her aside and tell her to go home and get a skirt. If knee length skirts, which would have been scandalous a century ago, be OK in church but a modest to the ankles pantsuit be immodest or irreverent? Denim jumpers are so ubiquitous in some younger wards’ Relief Societies that I have read that one convert thought they were required. If I wore my Wranglers to Sacrament Meeting, it would probably upset someone.

    If clothing is good enough to wear when meeting the President or appearing in the Supreme Court or speaking to the UN General Assembly, it ought to be respectable enough to be aceptable in a Mormon ward, where the scriptures teach us we should NOT be obsessed about our clothing, which “has no life”, versus the actual persons of our neighbors.

    Since a polyester coverall was once considered acceptable for the temple, we should be circumspect in turning cultural customs about clothing and what it means, into a standard that we are telling people that God cares about, even though the Son never wore slacks or a necktie in his entire mortal life.

    • Eric Larson

      Polyester coverall. Nice one!

  • LBRussell

    I’m so turned off by the group action “political statement” aspect of this that I confess it’s difficult for me to judge objectively. That, and the whole solidarity with “gender equality” bit with its implication that having some sort of vaguely understood dress code is apparently meant to champion gender inequality and must be challenged! It’s needlessly confrontational and presumptuous as to other people’s motives. I always thought of dresses as the more “dressy” and formal attire for women and best suitable for church. I guess it’s the traditional feminine style that’s not to be countenanced. You can’t be considered equal in a skirt; you’ve got to dress at all times in something similar to a man. Even if it’s in maroon.
    I guess this sort of thing is just so far under my radar ’cause clothes really aren’t my thing. Gee whiz, I always thought it was helpful. I don’t want to have to think if my pantsuit is formal enough especially when about all I own is maybe one good pair of casual pants, jeans and sweat pants. Just a plain ol’ dress or skirt and mission accomplished. Plus I figure the white shirts and ties, dresses etc were to keep us off the slippery slope where the next thing you know it’s “How dare you judge me” for schlepping in to sacrament in shorts and yoga pants and and sweatshirts with “These are my church clothes” printed on the front.

    • danpeterson

      Good points. I don’t disagree.

  • Nathan Whilk

    Really? No women or whiskerless youth helped put the chairs away? What a weird stake!

    • danpeterson

      There were lots of bearded guys. It was, as I say, an area chock full of grad students.

  • JamisonLeaberry

    “And, afterwards, I noticed that every single volunteer helping to take down the chairs was wearing a beard and a colored shirt. The properly clothed and groomed Elect, by contrast, were chatting in the foyer and outside on the walkways.”

    With a comment like that, Dr. Peterson, you’ve proven yourself worthy to join the legion forces of my underground apostate group. Welcome aboard!

  • Trevor Luke

    I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  • Robbie C

    Three thoughts as I read:

    1. Was it David O. McKay’s lengthy tenure that solidified the present appearance expectations? He was the first clean-shaven president since Joseph Smith. The 50s seem to be the quintessential time of the dark suit. Ernest L. Wilkinson’s tenure at BYU spanned almost exactly the same time, during which the student body quintupled, and the Honor Code introduced dress and grooming standards, perhaps as a result of liberal cultures of the time.

    2. As much as I disliked shaving while attending BYU, the staunch grooming standard was better than the alternative I saw at UVSC. Boys attempting to grow whatever prepubescent facial hair possible, with the result of a disheveled male student body. Girls’ tank tops and short shorts weren’t off-putting because of their immodesty, but because of their casualty, as with boys’ appearance. What I like about the dress and grooming standards at BYU is exactly what Peterson was talking about: the psychological effects of appearance. But it probably is about time to allow groomed beards, and maybe ban pajama pants? Or are the young adults mature enough to be trusted with a dress and grooming code that simply says, “Students will present themselves in a fashion suitable for the occasion.”

    3. I suppose the pants-in-church isn’t about the pants, but the larger issue of gender inequality, but I have to ask: are pants better? As a missionary, the sisters would tease me and other elders for having to wear pants in the summer, while they could wear the far more comfortable skirts. Additionally, women have far more options for church-appropriate garb than men. But they can wear pants. They have my permission.

  • Eric Stoddard.

    Wow this reminds me of my old BYU days! These “pants” ladies are nutso. Looking for something to do. So wear a nice pants suit and get on with your day. Wear colored shirts, if they don’t like it and release you, so what. Oy! If an audience develops for it then then style has changed. Key element though is “Sunday Best.” Everybody knows what it is and I find it irritating in this era of real issues that someone felt a need to manufacture a publicity stunt for Sacrament Meeting; it’s more appropriate for a road show. Key thing is that theatrics, histrionics, political statements, social statements, repentance statements of any kind are not why we have Sacrament Meeting. I don’t want to think about you then, I want to think about Him and me and my family. Cheers!

  • Howard C

    As a Church employee I often visit Church Headquarters in SLC. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a particular fan of ties or suits. But I wear both when visiting there and for that matter at most other locations where I work. If that’s the expected standard, so be it. I’m much more concerned as to whether I’m reaching out to my neighbor in Christ-like love instead of worrying about ties or white shirts or pants on women. And as far as the priesthood is concerned, it seems to me that my number one priesthood calling is to serve and honor my wife. After all, I can’t partake of “all that the Father hath” without her. As I strive to fulfill this responsibility, perhaps my wife won’t worry about being oppressed.

    • danpeterson

      Solid points.

  • Michele

    There has not been one mention of this issue in our stake. Not one!
    …and frankly, I am grateful.
    We dress according to our desire to worship.
    Most men and women dress up to go to weddings, business interviews, the Temple and various other “special occasions”.
    Why? To set that occasion apart from the every other, mundane daily task.
    To me, Sunday is a day of worship and respect. I show that by wearing a clean, modest dress. If someone is limited to slacks, so be it!
    But I would hope that we would never use that as an excuse to make a statement.
    That just doesn’t sit right.

    • danpeterson


  • Believe All Things

    Many “agitators” are seemingly unaware that they are in fact agitators.

  • Nathan

    I like your thoughts, Dan. Following a tangent in the comments:

    I wonder if one reason BYU hasn’t allowed well-groomed beards is that it would lead to a huge headache of having to define “well-groomed.”

    I think some standards are chosen simply because they are easy to articulate clearly, with minimal ambiguity. For example, I think some women’s sleeveless shirts and dresses look very classy and are not sexualizing at all. But I can understand why, when writing a dress code, you would draw the line at “covers the shoulders”—because if you don’t, then the sleeveless dress becomes a dress with straps, which then get ever thinner and thinner, etc. It’s far easier to draw the line at the easily articulable, (relatively) objective “covers the shoulder.”

    Same goes for “reaches the knee.” That’s easier to articulate and gauge than “reaches 2/3 of the way to the knee,” or “reaches a hand’s breadth above the knee.” I don’t think there’s anything magical about the skin 1 inch above the knee that makes it more sexual than the skin 1 inch below the knee. But when you’re setting a group standard, the line has to be drawn in a place that is readily understood and not overly prone to multiple interpretations.

    Hence sideburns that don’t go below the ear, and mustache’s that don’t go below the corner of the mouth. I wonder if BYU were to allow “well-groomed” beards, any attempt to define that would involved so many explanations that it would just be silly and impractical. And if they didn’t define it, people would start justifying their facial hair experiments by using old photos of Orson Pratt. And so, just to keep things simple, they choose lines that can be easily drawn.

    • JohnH

      ““reaches the knee.”

      Two words: Temple Garment.

      • Nathan

        I’m not sure what you’re saying, but I’m guessing I agree with you.

  • Renee

    I would have remained blissfully unaware of this whole “wear pants to protest thang” if I had not seen a story about it on the local news. It seems silly and shallow to me. It brings to mind something that happened to me several years ago. My son married a girl from a former communist eastern european country. I guess he hoped that she would convert. It did not happen and they are now divorced. One Sunday she agreed to attend church with my husband and I. She dressed in a pantsuit. I told her that she might want to change into a dress, which she did. My only concern was that she might feel uncomforatble being the only female in pants. I was NOT concerned about what others might think or say as I knew that everyone in our ward would greet her and just be happy that she came.

    Methinks that the protest organizer either has too much free time on her hands, or an agenda. In any case, Sacrament meeting is a wildly inappropriate venue for such things.

    • danpeterson

      I couldn’t agree more.

      Probably everybody has had the experience of showing up to an event underdressed — e.g., for a man, as the only guy at a gathering who isn’t wearing a tie, or the only one not in a suit.

      It’s awkward. For a normal person, anyway.

      Is it merely cultural? Yes, of course. But that doesn’t make it less real.

      You were right to advise her to wear a dress. And yet, curiously, you don’t seem to be a part of the male power structure. (Ah, but some will say that women are often the chief dupes and enforcers of the patriarchy.)

  • Kim Walker

    1.Puritans escape English tyranny & social hostility by fleeing to new land (free to wear freedom pants) 2.Colonists fight British oppression and taxation resulting in revolutionary war- birth of a free nation (free to wear non taxed American pants) 3.Civil War results in freedom for all to wear pants being held up by a string- regardless of race 4. Women receive right to vote- in pants if desired 5.America frees oppressed nations in two world wars- frees pants lovers on global scale 6. Civil rights movement ends segregation in schools-freedom for all boys to attend school in pants. 7. Late 60′s early 70′s-schools finally allow all girls to wear pants, 8. “All Enlist” Wear Pants To Church Movement- deals another blow for equality when one or two courageous women show up in pants and a male counterpart sports a purple tie, presumably tied with the knot heard around the world. In an age when no one cares that a woman wears pants to church and most women wear dresses out of respect, a movement arises that champions social justice, breaks pants ceiling, and obliterates egregious fashion slavery. They espouse the right to make a big deal out of nothing for the sake of feeling relevant. In spite of real world troubles and misery, “All Enlist’ has managed to elevate something out of nothing. Bravo. Keep charging those windmills.

    • danpeterson


      • Kim Walker

        I assume you realize my comments lampoon the “All Enlist” movement.

  • Teyanna

    Agreed! Love your story Dan, and many of the comments. True story: my grandmother grew up in Pacheco Mexico, a small mormon colony. Many people, including young men could not afford shoes. My great-grandfather was not rich but could afford shoes for his sons. However he did not allow them to wear shoes to church because he didn’t want to make the other poorer members feel bad. This is being a Christian. It is better to “be one” as a congregation and not be in perfect uniform than be in perfect uniform with hurt feelings, judgement, and inequality.

    • danpeterson

      Great illustration, wonderful story.


      And, by the way, Hello!

  • TomW

    What I find interesting is that the women pushing for the pants-wearing protest selected possibly the most benign, void-of-controversy aspect of their agitation to draw attention to their cause. Very few people in the LDS world care all that much about whether a woman shows up to church wearing a nice pants suit. Now maybe it’s because I’m a guy and not overly fashion conscious, but not only had it never occurred to me to pay attention to women’s clothing choices on Sundays prior to last week (if a person is dressed conservatively it doesn’t shock the eye one way or another whereas immodest clothing at church can be a disturbing distraction), but I must confess that I came home from church last Sunday having completely failed to take notice yet again despite the fact that I KNEW that this was supposed to be happening.

    Ultimately, however, this much-ado-about-nothing discussion of pants is, at its core, an outward manifestation of something more troubling brewing below the surface.

    From the many articles, blog posts, and reader comments I have read, the narrative is that these women see themselves as devoted, faithful Latter-day Saints, whose objectives are completely compatible with the gospel if not for the man-made and cultural stumbling blocks they are called to speak out against. And if their agitation were strictly about pants, I could certainly empathize with their desire for change.

    But the truth is far from such minor trivialities.

    A Mormon Feminist website called has put together a list of “I feel unequal when” statements wherein they describe all the perceived injustices in the church which they want to see corrected (see:, and as one explores them individually it is apparent that most of their issues are based either in ignorance about church administration or an epic failure to grasp fundamental gospel teachings and revelation, and in the process they sow the seeds of apostasy for themselves and others all-the-while claiming personal fealty to the church they claim to love.

    The list of “I feel unequal when” statements, if truly felt in the heart(s) of a woman, would make it pretty darned difficult to respond honestly in a temple recommend interview and emerge with the desired signed paper, as it would be difficult to affirm one’s belief in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the inspired exercise of priesthood keys by the living prophet and continue to maintain such impassioned objection to the way the Kingdom is being administered.

    Pants are a non-issue. The heart is a bigger one.

    • danpeterson

      A very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. Thanks.