Wearing Pants To Church On Sunday

mormons pants on sunday

I’m a Mormon.

Did you know that? Although I’ve been a member of the Church for my entire life, many people have said that this surprises them. While  I dress modestly, avoid coffee and alcohol, go to church almost every Sunday, live in Utah, and refrain from swearing (usually), I’m used to getting a startled look from my acquaintances who have assumed that I’m not Mormon.

My sense of humor has an edge of crassness that I can’t deny. I have opinions, and as a blogger have found a good platform for speaking my mind. “Slightly inappropriate” is part of my blog’s tagline. I have a progressive view on many topics.

So, why don’t people think I’m a Mormon? Maybe it’s because I didn’t do a profile for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign.  Maybe it’s because I have friends of various ethnicities, sexual preferences, and walks of life. More than anything, I think it’s because I adhere to LDS Church doctrine, but I’m not a strict adherent to every facet and social norm of Mormon culture. Especially Utah Mormon culture. I’ve lived in six different states around the US, attending church outside of Utah for most of my life.
So. Let’s get to the topic.

Wear Pants to Church Day.

If you aren’t familiar with the hullabaloo about Wear Pants to Church Day event , read up here. Or here. Or here. Or here.

The Wear Pants to Church day is not challenging a rule, but it is against the Mormon social norm. Nothing in Mormon doctrine nor official church policy says that wearing pants to church is wrong or breaking a rule. But it’s the cultural expectation in the Mormon church, especially in Utah, that women must wear dresses and skirts to church.

I will admit. I lean toward the feminist side. Not necessarily because I think that all women have been disenfranchised, but because I embrace the divinity of womanhood. I am proud to be female, and I am glad that there are things about me that make me different from a man. That being said, I am not a raging “Femi-Nazi”, or even an outed Mormon feminist. I am not wearing pants because I want a change to official Church policy, but I am wearing pants because I’m concerned about the harsh ways people are treated when they don’t fit the social norm at church.

From Feminist Mormon Housewives:

“What makes social norms so powerful is that they often are not enforced by the hierarchy or someone in formal position, but rather we all enforce them on each other.  We do this by treating people who break the social norm as deviant.  This can be as clear as screaming hate speech at them or telling them how wrong/awful they are, but it can also be as subtle as the sideway glance, the fake smile or the cold shoulder.  Alternatively, those who follow the norm can receive more acceptance, quicker dinner invitations, more visible callings, faster friendships.   Often social norms don’t operate as clear bright lines, but often in matters of increment and degrees.”

mormon modesty short dressThe topic of modesty has been an oft discussed topic in the LDS bloggosphere (AKA the Bloggernacle). It is a cardinal sin in Mormon culture to be deemed immodest, but there are so many opinions on what is modest and appropriate attire for Mormon women (and token Mormon men, too). There is too much shaming in the church over modesty. And while modesty isn’t the topic of this post, it’s definitely related – It’s likely that you’ll be shamed or judged if you wear the wrong thing. Especially if you’re wearing the wrong thing to church.

For this reason, there is a proliferation of modest boutiques in Utah, which specialize in clothing items that cover up the parts of your body (like your shoulders) so that temple garments are covered. Although there is some cute stuff on their website, it cracks me up that a store called Sexy Modest even exists. I like to wear clothes that fit my body well, and sometimes trousers and a blouse look dressier than a dress.

My friend Sue gave a wonderful summation of her thoughts on the Pants to Church issue on Facebook yesterday. It’s lengthy, but worth reading:

I plan to wear pants on Sunday, if I go at all.

Here’s what I don’t understand about the furor over the event. It wasn’t a protest. The church, as lately as last Tuesday, has already said that pants are fine at church. So there is no rebellion in it. It was a simple, quiet way to show solidarity and support with those who might not be totally orthodox. A way to perhaps quietly identify other women who struggle with the same concerns about what it means to be a woman in the LDS church. There is nothing attention seeking in showing up at church in a pair of pants. There is nothing disruptive about it. It was just a nice, harmless thing. A way to say, you know what, feminist lady who often feels alone and disenfranchised at church – we support you. We’re quietly here and around you. We recognize that not all women share these concerns. Some women feel valued and loved and respected in the church. Nobody denies that. But there are some women who do NOT feel that way. This was, as Courtney said, about outreach.

But people went absolutely bat-crap crazy about it. Some of the responses from conservative members were hateful and cruel and vicious. My friend Stephanie Lauritzen received death threats. DEATH THREATS for encouraging women to wear pants – SOMETHING THAT IS TOTALLY ALLOWED. And then it did become about standing up for something.

One thing that makes me sad about this are the many, many comments inviting people to leave the church if they don’t like it. TO LEAVE. Let me ask my true believing friends and family this question, because I really don’t understand it. If you believe you have the one true path to God, how can you justify inviting someone to step off that path? If you believe that the church saves people, and brings us back to Heavenly Father, how can you justify encouraging people to leave the church? Aren’t you then working directly for the adversary, trying to lead people away from his church? Please explain that line of thinking to me. You are uncomfortable with how someone else thinks/feels/believes/works through their Mormonism, and so, instead of embracing the fact that we are all in different places in our faith journey, you INVITE THEM TO LEAVE. I don’t understand this.

I’ve also heard a lot of complaining about disenfranchised/inactive/former Mormons being involved in this. When you leave the church, why can’t you just leave it alone, they ask. Here are my thoughts. It is really hard to “just leave” the church. There are a lot of good reasons for staying and trying to make it work for you. Maybe you are married to a member. Maybe your kids are Mormon. Maybe you are afraid to lose your friends. Maybe your entire social structure is built around Mormonism and you don’t want your kids to be ostracized. Maybe you love a lot of the religion and see good in it and want to make it work, but have a lot of concerns that you are trying to work through. Maybe you are intellectually connected to Mormonism. Maybe you are angry because you feel lied to. Maybe you love the people. Maybe you HAVE left, but you have parents, family members and friends who still judge you for it, admonish you for it, mourn over your inactivity. Maybe you have parents who remind you every week that they are putting your name on the temple rolls and are praying for you to return, making you feel like crap. Maybe you are tired of being judged for your beliefs. Maybe you love green jello and roadshows. Maybe it is your spiritual and cultural home and you are trying very very very hard to make it work, because it is a big part of who you are, and at the same time, knowing that the church DOES change and evolve, you are hoping to see it change and evolve in this regard as well. Maybe. Maybe a little of all of those things. It is really hard to just leave and leave it all behind. That doesn’t make people angry and possessed by Satan, that makes them human.

One thing this pants event has taught me is that you just can’t disentangle the culture from the religion. I have had so many well meaning true believing friends respond to some of my objections by saying “that’s cultural, not doctrinal”. Well now we know what happens when you push back against the culture, even in a totally harmless way. It seems like the culture is just as much the religion as the doctrine. It makes me really sad, and it makes me feel a whole lot less welcome and able to continue attending. But I won’t be pushed out until I am ready to leave and convinced that it won’t harm my family to do so. So l will quietly sit behind the piano again this week, fulfilling my primary pianist calling. I will be there in body if not entirely in spirit, and I will continue to allow my patient, understanding bishop to have hope that he will eventually win me back over to the right side mentally, however futile that hope might be.

And I will be wearing pants.

Can you see why wearing pants isn’t a bad thing?

For the record:

  • I am not in direct rebellion with church doctrine.
  • I am not trying to be a dissenter.
  • I am not possessed by Satan.
  • I am not breaking the rules.
  • I am not rallying for women to be given the Priesthood
  • I am not begging for absolute equality of the genders within the Church
  • I am not asking for a change to official Church policy
  • I have no problem with wearing a dress or skirt
  • I am not asking for others to wear a skirt, but to understand why I won’t be wearing one tomorrow

I am silently showing support for my sisters who feel like they don’t fit in at church. It is a show of respect, not disrespect.

My faith has waxed and waned over the years. I’ve had a difficult time moving from ward to ward, and always being immediately called into Primary (8 or my last 9 callings have been primary teacher or nursery leader). I feel a little out of touch with the workings of the Relief Society (despite doing my visiting teaching, attending mid-week activities, reading the lesson manuals, etc). And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

However – I am currently feeling the most faithful I have in years. I am excited about the progress the church is making worldwide. I pray. I am temple-worthy. I’m feeling less jaded with Mormonism than I was, say, a year ago. I’ve had recent and magnificent promptings of the Spirit. I feel more faith in mankind. And despite the horrible tragedies that happen in the world, like the shootings in Connecticut yesterday, I think there is so much good in the world.

I don’t think anything bad will come of me wearing pants tomorrow, but I expect it cause some confusion and questions. I hope it will generate some conversation about acceptance, and why social norms and culture of the church are not doctrine. And especially, why we should not shame others or ask them to leave the church over trivial matters.

As the 11th Article of Faith says,

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege; let them worship how, where, or what they may.

If we allow others to worship how they see fit, it shouldn’t matter if they are wearing trousers.

So readers, tell me. Will you be wearing pants to church tomorrow?

  • If it’s really just about pushing the social norm, wear pants a different day and leave the politics out. 

  • cuteculturechick

    What do you find political about it?

    I have worn pants to church, and have been treated harshly for it. It’s usually when I travel, and I originally didn’t plan on attending church, but ended up having time to go. I don’t always pack a dress with me. Being treated strangely for wearing pants has deterred me from attending when I didn’t have a “more suitable” clothing option. I suppose I could break the Sabbath to buy a skirt.

    I also have worn pants when working in nursery. It’s tough to be down on the floor with the kids and not “give a show.”

  • Kelie

    I wore pants to church all the time when I was an active member. Mostly because I was a convert living outside of Utah where the culture is most definitely more relaxed and didn’t know I wasn’t “allowed” to for a long time, until someone told me how horrible of a person I was for doing it when I moved to Utah. Same thing happened with tank tops.

    I am all about showing respect to The Lord by dressing nicely as all that, but I grew up in a very evangelical “come as you are” congregation and felt the spirit more strongly there than I ever did during my stint as a Mormon. I just don’t think God cares all that much what you wear.

  • cuteculturechick

    Honestly, I think God focuses on the intents of our hearts than on what we choose to wear on Sunday. I know people who say “I hate dressing up, so I just don’t go to church.” If it was a friendlier and more accepting environment at church overall, more people would come. 

    The “modesty” issue is out of control in Utah. It’s another reason why people stop coming to church. I’d rather a girl come to church in a tank top and jeans with an open heart, than a completely “appropriate” outfit on someone who shames and judges the “immodest” one.

  • Heck I would have no problem with my wife wearing pants. We work in nursery and it would make sense. This is a Utah mormon thing. It will have no effect on my ward in Florida. We do have issues with some of the Utah Mormons that move in but that doesn’t last. They confuse doctrine with their own strange ideas.

  • It breaks my heart about how many people are so rude and closed-minded about this subject. I think a lot more people would come to church if they weren’t worried about how their attire would be judged.

  • Mary P

    I really appreciate this post and respect your decision Nicole. For me personally, I have concerns about this movement. I feel that most women involved are truly interested in cultural change, but from what little I’ve read of the founders of this event, it seems their hopes are for doctrinal changes as well (though I’ve seen no info on their specific concerns). I feel that I shouldn’t support them fully unless I agree one hundred percent. Perhaps I am wrong. I also have difficulty drawing attention to myself in this kind of way, but that is more about my own social anxieties. Still, I want to show compassion for my sisters, and I DO consider myself a feminist. So while I will not be wearing pants on Sunday, I will most likely be wearing purple, the color of the suffragettes, and the color that has been suggested on the Wear Pants FB page.

  • Melissa @ Bless This Mess

    I will definitely not be wearing pants to my small southern Utah ward… I love my dresses/skirts. LOL. I wear them all day long on Sunday because they are so comfy and I feel cute. It’s the one day of the week I put on make-up and look like a woman, not a woman who is also a mom/remodeler/gardener/baker/chicken keeper, just a pretty woman who gets to look the part. I don’t clean out the chicken pen, play in the yard with the babies, or paint our remodel on Sunday and my clothes reflect that. I enjoy my day of rest and the change of pace.

    No one would say anything if I did, because I wouldn’t be the only woman there with pants on. I think people clump “Utah” and “Utah Mormons” into too big of a group. I think the mass of humanity from Bountiful to Springville make up that general “Utah Mormon” population, but down here in the sticks there are completely different “Utah Mormon” standards fo’sho! We are a poorer community with big hearts. Pants are normal because its what people have… there’s no shame in wearing pants to church here as long as you are wearing your “Sunday best”. Lots of people are investigating, coming back, or there with friends and family too. People are never expected to buy a new outfit just to enjoy church with friends and family. Pants are just pants down here… we are just glad you made it to church.

  • Mktxsis

    I don’t have a single problem with the idea of wearing pants to church. But to make it an event about “gender equality” implies a dissenting opinion exists. First defining what is meant by the Statement Event being held is in order; second choosing a useful forum for discussing such dissent should be reconsidered. Silent dissent by waving a “banner” against an unspoken dress code does not get the message across and becomes misleading.

    In other words, if you are wearing pants on said day for reasons other than the Event is FOR, then you need to start on a different day or it will be assumed you are wearing pants because you support that agenda, and media-reported as such. “Look at how many women feel as we do about gender equality! They protested with us by wearing pants on such-and-such a day!” If that is not why you’re wearing pants, good luck getting the world to believe you. Or start your own event on a different day. Just my two cents (plus change).

  • Velda

    I’ll be blogging about this this afternoon too.  I’m proud to be a feminist. I have no problem with pants at church, and in fact I wish my little girl would wear hear slacks.  I’ll blog about that.

    I do have a problem with this:

    “We threw out ideas of demonstrations we could perform until we decided on starting it all off with “Wear Pants to Church Day.” We thought it’d be good to start small, and that it’d be sure to get some attention.
    Some in the group had contact with media personnel. I wrote a press release that we then sent to various media agencies. We made the event, and I helped to post it in as many Mormon groups as I could.” from http://youngmormonfeminists.org/2012/12/13/pantsgate-2012/ (you linked the picture from this site.)We can’t say “This isn’t a publicity stunt.” or “This isn’t a demonstration” when it is.  We can’t get all passive-aggressive and act like this was just a simple, innocous show of support when the group “we are all enlisted” (til the conflict is over…) calls itself “activists”Why not just wear pants to church without making a huge deal out if it?

  • Well you know I am not religious and do not attend church BUT if I were and if I did you could bet I would be wearing pants tomorrow!  Excellent post (and yes, I do read topics like this even though I’m not religious).

  • cuteculturechick

    Thanks for your comment. I think it’s more of a cultural than religious issue, but it’s difficult to separate church from culture, especially in the Mormon faith. I lean towards feminism in some aspects, and similar cultural issues in other religions fascinate me.

  • cuteculturechick

    As it’s been said before, the word of God is perfect, but the people aren’t. Living and attending church in 6 states has given me a broader view about the LDS cultural norms, and it’s a little more skewed in Utah. I wholeheartedly believe we should wear our best and show our respect at church, but it’s not our place to judge others who do things differently.

  • cuteculturechick

    You are absolutely correct. The term “Utah Mormon” is too broad. I’ve never lived any place in Utah other than the Wasatch Front, so I don’t have first-hand experience with church culture outside of Utah and Salt Lake County. I think every region has it’s quirks, and that’s part of the reason we’re called a peculiar people.

    I don’t have a problem with skirts and dresses, and I too love to look fancy and feminine for church. I don’t plan to wear trousers to church as a rule, but I am going to do so tomorrow.

  • Agree, they mix together very much. That is why I get frustrated that they want to not talk about religion in public schools actually. I mean I don’t think they should teach a specific religion, but I think there is nothing wrong with learning about how religion and churches have played a HUGE part in all of history – the good and the bad.

    Subject: [cuteculturechick] Re: Wearing Pants To Church On Sunday

  • Les

    Sunday is different than any other day. I wear a dress/skirt because it helps put me in the right frame of mind. That is just me though. It is not uncommon to see women wearing pants at church, so to me this issue is moot. Also, I don’t think people should go to church to make a point on issues, but rather to be edified and show our love. Pants, skirt, tank…whatever, what matters is WHY you are there. For those who have ever been judged or shunned, rise above it and take ownership. Easier said than done, but I have a lot of experience with being judged — I chose to be stronger as a result.

  • cuteculturechick

    I’m not sure if you caught the nuances of my post, but I wasn’t asking people to wear pants. It wasn’t a call to action. I have no problem with wearing a skirt, but I also think that a person can be just as dressy and appropriate for church in trousers. I think dressy slacks is far more appropriate than the short skirts with leggings and flip flops that I often see in the chapel.

    Part of the reason I wrote this post is because I have a more moderate view of the event. I am showing my support for those who have had their feelings hurt at church as a result of what they have worn. I am not in the feminist camp that is doing this with the intent of a change in church doctrine…especially because it’s not necessary. It’s already okay to wear pants.

  • rwelsh%seo.com

    Wow wow wow. Keep strong Nicole and thank you for the window to your world.

  • Thank you, Nicole, for sharing this side of you with people like me who are still getting to know you, even though I think we know one another a lot already – from such small moments come much more learning. You know we are of different backgrounds, but this is interesting as it’s how I feel about temple. Women don’t wear pants to temple services, especially not on the high holy-days. Now, I don’t go to weekly services, but if I did I agree, I’d feel as though I should wear a skirt. It’s an interesting topic. I’d be curious to see what some more religious Jewish women felt about my comparison (maybe I’ll share your post in my Jewish women bloggers group on FB and see what they say!). Usually in a temple there is a tight-knit community, and newcomers don’t just pop in for services, so if you walked in and were new and wore something *off*, well, I believe it’d be observed more easily. I think I’m losing track and really what I want to say is good for you. For doing something you’re comfortable doing to support others who might be shunned for doing it. You look beautiful, I saw your pic and think you’re absolutely appropriately attired! 😉

  • I do not wear pants to church because: that is where I go to worship God.
    He is “The Most High” and dressing in my best dress is giving my
    Respect. I could care less what people wear. But I do care what I
    Wear . I will not back down on this. Case closed

  • I”m not LDS but I live in Utah and I’m really religious. I wear pants to church most weeks it’s no big deal. I had no idea that this was a thing. I mean I knew about the skirts thing but that there was to be a wear pants day. I’ve found it all really very interesting as I know quite a bit about mormon doctrine (I did a lot of interfaith stuff in college and met with various lds scholars and and apostles) but being an outsider the culture stuff is so fascinating. I’ve often felt bad for my Mormon friends particularly the gals who move to UT, it is so true that Utah Mormonism is a whole thing of it’s own culturally speaking. My only exposure to this issue is this post but I think it’s always encouraging when people take a look at what their doctrine says vs. what the social norms are.

  • I wish more people could differentiate Utah LDS cultural traditions from actual doctrine and church policy..

  • Grant

    I don’t see a coherent objective at all here. If you want to help a sister who feels ostracized or out of place, just be her friend. I see no way that wearing pants is going to help her or you in any way. People who are upset with you feel that way because they assume you actually have a feminist ax to grind. No one, man or woman, wants anyone in the church to feel sad or unaccepted. That’s by no means a feminist position.

    No one will stop you from wearing pants to church (as tons of women do) because it simply isn’t a form of protest, nor does it push forward any cause or help anyone. I guess I don’t see the point.

  • cuteculturechick

    I don’t know if I can verbalize my reasons coherently. I just know that it’s something I prayed about, and received an answer to be involved…even though my reasons were slightly different than the mainstream movement. I felt that I was quite moderate in the whole event, trying to show my support for the people who were standing up for something that they believe in, even if it’s not my personal stance.

    I usually AM the person to be the friend to the friendless, and sit by the person who is alone. It was a personal cultural experiment, and I was pleased to see that I wasn’t treated differently while wearing pants.

  • anonymous

    One of the group admins seems kinda sketchy to me. Curtis Penfold himself said in another blog:
    “Apparently some of the male worshipers of Kali dress like women to connect with the Dark Mother.

    I didn’t really understand this until I started dedicating myself to what I call my Heavenly Mother (I’m Mormon and Joseph Smith once taught that Heavenly Father had a wife, equal in glory and power and love).

    As I’ve worshiped Her, I’ve felt this desire to cross-dress. I feel there’s a part of the Mother in me. I haven’t done so since I am almost never alone, but as I imagine doing so I feel that Divine Feminine inside of me. And afterwards, I love my masculinity even more. My scruff, my penis, my desire to hang loose with the guys–I just love that even more after imagining myself as a woman.”


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