By Heather O.
There was a period in my life in the early to late nineties when my mother bought me pants suits. Some of them were a little matronly for a 20 year old, but some of them were very, very nice. I had one that was made out of blue wool, with a blue suede jacket that matched. It was classy, and very expensive. I had another one that was sort of a houndstooth color, and was made out of silk. Yet another one was slate colored, with a matching blazer and a matching blue silk blouse. I still have the blouse–it is a classic cut, and the material is such high quality that even though it is almost 15 years old, it still is absolutely lovely and in great shape.
I’ve worn two of these pants suits to church. The first time I did, I wore the wool pants one, mostly because it was winter in Boston, I had to take the subway to church, and I was looking for something warm. I didn’t think about a statement, I didn’t think about how it would appear to other people, I didn’t think about anything, really, other than this was one of the dressiest things I owned with the added bonus of being the warmest. Nobody said a word to me until the end of the 3 hour block, when a male friend congratulated me on “standing up!” for my feminist ideals by wearing pants. I thought, I’m standing up for my ideals? Who knew? (Actually, what I really thought was, Do I even *have* feminist ideals?)
When I spent a semester in Germany, I wore the houndstooth suit. Again, it was easily the most expensive thing I owned, and I liked how I looked in it. To me, it was just another way of getting dressed up, and keeping with the idea of wearing our best to church, I wore it.
People practically fainted.
I caused a huge ruckus, so much so that one of the few members who spoke English was asked to speak to me about it. He was scolding me, genuinely SCOLDING me, for besmirching the Lord in such a way, and that maybe in the US we did things like this, but under no circumstances was such action acceptable in his country.
I was shocked, and started to apologize, but then thought better of it. I said to him, “The Lord asks us to wear our best, doesn’t He?” My friend emphatically agreed, nodding vigorously as if I had proved his point. I then invited him to feel my sleeve, to see the quality of the material, the cut of the suit. I told him, “This is the most expensive thing I own in my closet. It is my best. The Lord knows that.” My friend huffed, and the conversation ended. At the end of the meetings, he came up to me and begrudgingly apologized, saying that indeed, I did look very nice, very polished and proper and beautiful, and that is really what the Lord wants in the end. I accepted his apology, and made a mental note never, ever to wear pants again. It just wasn’t worth it.
People are talking a LOT about pants this week, and wearing pants to church on Sunday, and every time I try to forget about the whole thing, somebody else puts something else on facebook and I have to hear (see?) the debate all over again. So here is the gospel of pants, according to me.
Over the years, we’ve served in several types of wards with several types of people. I knew a woman who wore sweats to church because those were the only clothes she owned until a friend found her some dresses at Goodwill. I know another woman who regularly wears jeans to church, because she too is in a financial bind, the cost of doing laundry at the laundromat is sometimes prohibitive, and sometimes this is the best she can do.
Sometimes, women wear pants to church.
When I worked at the temple regularly, we were instructed very specifically to not say one word about how a person was dressed coming to the temple. If they were at the temple, they were at the right place, and that was the end of it. There was a patron who came once a month who I am pretty sure was homeless. Her hair was always matted and dirty, she wore T-shirts and jeans, and my goodness but she stank. And not just regular temple smell (y’all know what I’m talking about), but the smell of somebody who has gone a long, long, long time without properly bathing.
She was universally greeted with warm welcomes and smiles. Because she was our sister, and we loved her.
I recently went to the D.C. temple with a friend who was visiting from out of town. We decided on a whim to go, and had no proper clothing. We were dressed casually in jeans. My friend wondered if we would be accepted at the temple in such inappropriate clothing. I assured her that we would be. And indeed we were. Why wouldn’t we be? We were there to do God’s work. What did jeans have to do with it?
I won’t be wearing pants to church this Sunday. It’s partly because I don’t have a pants suit nice enough anymore (I, um, “outgrew” that beautiful houndstooth suit, and gave away the wool one when I moved to the south), and partly because I’m not really convinced that wearing pants to church matters very much. Like I said, we have a few women who do it, mostly recent converts, and they fit right in, no fainting, no scolding, no reprimands. We are a far cry from the days, 15 years ago, when wearing pants got me a proper finger wagging. And fashion choices like this send messages to other women, not to men. Indeed, I wonder how many men would notice at all. I know my bishopric wouldn’t. And the only fashion statement my husband would notice is if women showed up naked.
I am also uncomfortable calling attention to myself for attention’s sake. When I chose those pants suits to wear before, I wasn’t trying to be noticed, I was just trying to look nice. If I wore a pants suit this Sunday, it would just be for the attention (if there was any, which like I said, is only a slim possibility), which for me would detract from the reasons I go to church.
So I have, admittedly, dismissed this as I do most protests. (Living in DC will do that to you. Seriously, try having to pay attention to daily protests by different groups. They all blend together into one invisible blur after a while. For anybody who has marched on the Mall, that may be tough to hear, but it’s true.)
But, but, but…. then I hear people on FB saying that this kind of thing is “DESPICABLE!” “RIDICULOUS!” “BLASPHEMOUS!” And that kinda hurts, because I know a lot of the women behind this movement. I don’t agree with them always, we don’t see eye to eye on everything, and I don’t always understand their pain. But I understand that there IS pain, and that dismissing pain isn’t very Christ-like or charitable. And they are not despicable, ridiculous, blasphemous people. And I think, If somebody wants to wear pants to make her feel more comfortable, who cares? It’s a fashion choice, not heresy.
And at the end of the day, you want to know what I think? (whispering) I don’t think God cares all that much what we wear to church as long as we are going about His business.
I am, however, pretty sure that there is something in our doctrine about how we treat our fellow saints. A few commandments, or something like that.
But that’s just me.
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