Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Slacks

This won't be a post about the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, although I did enjoy it. Over at Adventures in Mormonism, bfwebster posted about The Brotherhood of the Beard, talking about what it's like at church being a man with a beard. This got me thinking about what it's like at church being a woman in slacks.

I've never really cared for wearing skirts. I've always found them to be more trouble than they're worth, and they tend to get in the way. However, every Sunday I dutifully put on a skirt for church. I discovered dress slacks when I entered the workforce at age 18. I noticed that I was one of the only women wearing a skirt, and I decided that since everyone else was wearing pants, I could, too. I still dutifully put my skirt on for church, though.

Shortly after I discovered slacks, my stake had a women's conference on a Saturday afternoon. It was being held in the chapel, so I decided that jeans weren't proper. I threw on slacks and a sweater and off I went. There were a few hundred people there, and only about 10 of us were wearing pants. None of us were struck by lightning.

My mission (southern US) was a real eye-opener as to how much of a cultural rebel this makes me. In most of my areas, I was on bicycle. It's extremely difficult to ride a bike in a skirt. I mentioned to a few other people that it would be safer, more practical, and more modest if sisters on bikes could wear slacks. They all acted as if that suggestion was one step away from apostasy or something. There was a woman in my last area who regularly wore slacks to church. The RS president told me that she wanted to call her to a position in RS, but was hesitant because she thought that wearing slacks was setting a bad example. (Lest you think that this is merely a southern attitude, the RS pres in question had moved there recently from the SF Bay Area - my home.)

I have only gotten up the nerve to wear slacks to sacrament meeting once (while I was traveling), but I wear slacks to stake and general conference and to non-Sunday meetings more often than not. In my ward, there is one woman who wears slacks to church regularly, and there are several in the branch that shares the building with my ward. The woman in my ward is a bit defensive about it (she has some medical reason for it), which leads me to believe that she has experienced either overt or covert hassling for it.

The anti-slacks rhetoric has always confused me. A woman is much more dressed up in a smart pantsuit or slacks and sweater set than someone in a denim skirt with a babydoll tee. Yet the latter outfit is par for the course at church, especially among teenagers and young adults.

I live in a very culturally diverse area - there are people from all over the world here in Fremont. Someone was talking about pants at church, and her opinion was that the only time it was ok was for women from India to wear their pants/tunic outfit (the name escapes me at the moment) because it's dressy and part of their culture. I didn't say anything at the time because it was clear that this was a rant and not a discussion.

My culture (western US, CA specifically) also says it's dressy and appropriate for women to wear pants. Why can't that be respected?


Anonymous said...

The fact remains that although pantsuits are acceptable business attire for women in our culture, dresses are still considered the norm when women want to dress up.

But I do totally agree about denim and t-shirts. Ditto flip-flops. (Flip-flops are beachwear, not church-wear.) And you will notice the Brethren have starting mentioning this.

A friend of a friend works for one of the Senators on Capitol Hill. He remarked how often nowadays he's having to take interns aside and let them know their dress is inappropriate for work. They simply have no sense that what is appropriate for bar-hopping is not appropriate for the halls of Congress.

The reason I bring that up is because, either way, whether you're talking pants or flip-flops, some people (me, for one!) feel that our culture is becoming too informal, letting go of all rules of etiquette, and that we Mormons ought to maintain some of the rules of propriety the rest of the world doesn't seem to care about anymore.

nammeroo said...

I would think that a Relief Society President who hesitates to call someone to a position because of the clothes they wear to church is someone who is not listening to the Spirit.

If a woman is confident that her Sunday slacks outfit reflects a reverent and worshipful spirit towards our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, then it is perfectly appropriate. I recall a brother in a mostly rural ward I attended who wore pressed jeans to church each Sunday. He served in several quorum leadership callings, and we were better for it.

If someone's service is unwanted because of their dress, then the judgment is upon that leader - not the slacks-wearer!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I have the opposite problem, though. I'm most comfortable in a skirt or a dress, so I wear them a lot, not just to work or church, but when I'm running errands or we go out with friends. I'm constantly being asked, "Why are you all dressed up? Why so formal? What's with the dress?" It doesn't matter how casual an outfit it is, (t-shirt, denim skirt, and flat shoes) people are always harassing me about it. It's like there's no line between dressy-dress and casual-skirt. It's one or the other for most people. I even get weird looks for coming to Enrichment meetings in a skirt, even though I came straight from work.