His Image in your Wardrobe

09 Aug

Hawkgrrrl over at Wheat & Tares gave us some of her insights into the expected LDS Church Sunday form of dress:

Have ye received his image in your wardrobe?

As the military understands very well, there is little to instill unity like a uniform.  The word uniform literally means “always the same,” “consistent,” or even “identical.”  Doctrine & Covenants 38: 27 says:  “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”

What is our church uniform?  It’s mostly an unwritten code to define “Sunday best.”  Here are some cultural do’s and don’t’s:


  • DO wear:  white shirt, tie, dark conservative suit.
  • DON’T wear:  long hair, visible tattoos, earrings, facial hair, colored shirt, wild tie, khaki pants, anything not conservative, jeans, shorts.


  • DO wear:  knee length or longer skirts, blouses, jackets, full garment coverage even if not endowed.  Some of the older church members (as well as the church office building) include pantyhose in this list.
  • DON’T wear:  flip flops, pants, anything that shows cleavage, anything above the knee or sleeveless, more than one earring per ear, visible tattoos, shorts, jeans.

Those who flaunt the unwritten Mormon dress code may be greeted with clucking tongues and wagging heads in some wards or a “meh” in others.  In any case, some people report feeling judged or even considered unworthy and rebellious for not dressing like everyone else.

I’ve talked a lot about the moral foundations in the last few posts.  To refresh your memory, Haidt’s 6 moral foundations are:

  • Care / Harm
  • Fairness / Cheating
  • Liberty / Oppression
  • Loyalty / Betrayal
  • Authority / Subversion
  • Sanctity / Degradation

Why do people feel so strongly about dress and appearance when “the Lord looketh on the heart”?  How does morality play into our unwritten dress code?  I’ll match up the common justifications for and against dress standards with the corresponding moral foundation and then it’s logical inverse.

Those who are “pro” the unwritten Mormon dress code often use arguments such as:

  • Women should be dressed modestly so that men are not distracted.  (Care / Harm).  Underlying argument:  Women who reveal their bodies at church are not being Christlike because they are (wily or unsuspecting) temptresses who harm men.
  • Teams wear the team uniform or they don’t get to play. It’s not that hard.  (Fairness /Cheating).  Underlying argument:  Rule breakers are trying to get away with something everyone has agreed to do.
  • Dressing alike creates unity.  It helps people feel a sense of belonging.  (Loyalty / Betrayal).  Underlying argument:  Asserting your individuality is rejecting the group.
  • We’ve been asked to dress this way by leaders and tradition.  (Authority / Subversion).  Underlying argument:  People who don’t dress this way are rebellious and proud.  They put their own views above that of church leaders.
  • The white shirt is a symbol of purity that enhances the sacrament experience.  (Sanctity / Degradation).  Underlying argument:  If a boy isn’t wearing a white shirt, the boy is not respecting the holiness of the sacrament rite.

Those who are against it often cite reasons such as:

  • It’s arbitrary, outdated and oppressive.  (Liberty / Oppression).  Underlying argument:  It tramples personal freedom.
  • It doesn’t value individual freedom of expression.  (Liberty / Oppression)  Underlying argument:  Personal freedom is more important than group cohesion.
  • Some people can’t afford these clothes.  (Care / Harm).  Underlying argument:  These rules disproportionately hurt the poor.
  • It creates outsiders when we should be welcoming new people and investigators.  (Care / Harm) Underlying argument:  We create an unwelcoming environment for newcomers.
  • It teaches people to judge others; it is Pharisaical. (Care / Harm)  Underlying argument:  People who focus on outward appearance are less spiritual; they harm themselves with this superficial focus.

Interestingly, these arguments fall directly in line with conservative and liberal morality.  In other words, if you are conservative politically, you are more likely to see value in our unwritten Mormon dress code.  If you are liberal politically, you are more like to see the problems with it.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


One response to “His Image in your Wardrobe

  1. Mit Ailbu

    January 23, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Aw, but what if you’re an anarchist?


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