I am so lost in the Isaiah chapters of Gospel Doctrine that I’m almost embarrassed, and so I sit in the back of the classroom, near a door, claiming “baby distraction,” or possible “baby emergency,” all the while not following the discussion in the least. Till a couple of weeks ago, when a woman raised her hand and said, “When I was little, we had to stay in our church clothes all day on Sunday. Mothers these days want their kids out of their Sunday clothes so that they stay clean. Then the kids put on play clothes and the mothers wonder why they misbehave.”


Is casual dress really that significant? Would my children really be little angels if I dressed them as such? Is it so basic as not letting them run around in their nightgowns and flannel bottoms all morning? Is that what’s causing such a ruckus at our house?

Elder Perry said, “Our dress and grooming send a message to others about who we are, and they also affect the way we act around others. I believe very casual dress is almost always followed by very casual manners.”


This is hard for me to stomach having grown up “in the mission field,” where a lot of times new converts (or old converts for that matter) wear jeans to meetings, no ties, flip flops. Or with a father, who since retiring has taken his weekend cargo shorts & t-shirts to a whole new level. I know these hearts—they’re lovely and loving. Can their dress really make them not so? I thought that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart?”

Still, I cringe when my daughter wants to leave the house in a pair of baggy cut off sweats & a thread bear tee scavenged from my pajama drawer. “Mom, she whines, “it’s just so comfortable!” She wanted to wear this exact outfit, the other day, to a primary program practice. I paused before I answered her, looking her in the eye, gauging my battle, but she interrupted me: “I forgot we’d be in the chapel. I probably should change.”

And maybe that’s it: the balance of it all—a time and place for everything, sweatpants included.

What do you think? What do you think about casual dress? The eventual hole in something? Do you ever dress down for meetings? Or do you always dress up?

(And if we’re going there, what’s your favorite dress up? Sorry. I couldn’t resisit.)

October 7, 2010


  1. Nate

    October 6, 2010

    “Your dress before, during, and AFTER church meetings should show respect for the Sabbath”
    -For the Strength of Youth

    I’m always surprised how many youth (AND adults) completely disregard this important counsel. If our attire after church didn’t matter and we could wear whatever we did on all the other days, why would this counsel be included?

  2. britt

    October 6, 2010

    I don’t have links to the studies, but there are studies on the way dress impacts actions. We reviewed lots of it when discussing uniforms at my high school (we didn’t wear them) If i have a moment I’ll look for some of them and let you know.
    Personally, I believe dress is a huge impact, but at the same time I purposefully change out of my dress to watch sunday football 🙂

  3. Ellen

    October 6, 2010

    I wore my pajamas to PEC one Sunday morning. Pajamas = what I slept in (jeans/sweatshirt). I had a late night airport run picking up a friend which turned into a very long trip (delayed flight and crazy snow storm) and I slept about 3 hours before my early morning meeting. But no one really noticed. And I did shower and dressed UP for church. 🙂

  4. FoxyJ

    October 6, 2010

    I feel like I can see both sides. I really do believe that we should show respect by dressing appropriately for church and similar situations by our dress. I teach as an adjunct and always make sure I’m up early enough to get dressed up in order to present myself well. I’m only about 10 years older than most of my students and so I know that the way I dress contributes to how I am treated by my students. And I’ve found that when I prepare myself through dress I am in my ‘teaching mode’ and behave accordingly.

    On the other hand, I feel like harking back to earlier discussion about judgement. We should not judge those who come to church dressed in less-than-standard dress. I think the ideal would be to find a loving way to help them get up to the standard of where they should be. To me, there is nothing wrong with having expectations of how we should dress at church. But that doesn’t mean any of us need to be the ‘dress code police’ or pass judgement on others. On my mission, I noticed that many new converts wanted to dress up and after a while of church attendance made an effort to find ‘Sunday clothes’ that fit into their cultural norms (i.e. I have seen people wearing lovely saris, lava-lavas, and dashikis to church). For me, the standard of church attire to should fit the spirit of the occasion–a Sabbath meeting where we give our best to God and show respect to Him.

  5. Jessie

    October 6, 2010

    While the kids are young, we definitely change clothes. There’s just no getting ketchup stains out of a cream linen dress. And they still take naps (at 5 and 3) on Sundays, so belts, ties, and dresses aren’t quite conducive to long Sabbath Afternoon naps.

    My parents always had us stay in our church clothes, and I think I’ll do the same with my kids when they get older. I usually stay in my church clothes when we get home, or change to a comfier skirt/shirt combo if I’m wearing something fancy.

    I do find that my mind, actions and demeanor stay in a holy place when I stay in a skirt.

    But maybe not the hosiery and heels.

  6. Ginger

    October 6, 2010

    I have a son who hates Sundays. He doesn’t enjoy church, and a big reason for that is that he has to dress up. He is only 9, and I only have him wear khakis and a polo, but he really hates having a collar. The polo shirt was our compromise because I originally had him wearing regular button down shirts. That said, he doesn’t complain (anymore) about having to wear the polo, but he would be very unhappy if he had to wear church clothes all day. He is the first one out of his church clothes when we get home, and trying to keep him in them is just not a battle I am willing to fight.
    We have certain things in our home that are appropriate Sunday activities, and certain things that aren’t, plus we play hymns and relaxing classical-type music, and I think those are the things that help our Sunday behavior.

  7. Strollerblader

    October 6, 2010

    I have always tried to help myself remember that it’s the Sabbath by wearing a dress or skirt all day, even though my family didn’t/doesn’t. If I need to, I will change out of a fancier dress into a more casual dress after church. I also have my kids wear Sunday clothes all day long (minus ties and tights, or changing into a “play dress” as needed). Their clothes are all washable. My husband changes the moment we get home. Even when I was a camp counselor on an island for a whole summer when I couldn’t go to church, I made sure that I wore my best cleanest camp shirt and a denim skirt. I also tried to do my hair that day. It really *does* help my mindset for me to set that day apart by dressing differently and *purposefully*. It is a physical reminder that also helps keep my activities in line with the Sabbath and keeping that day holy.

    I don’t have any favorite “dress up” outfits at the moment. I’m too fat for anything. I’ve got a cute dark brown swiss dot shirtdress in my closet that I’d love to wear again. I *do* love to wear my dark brown pointy-toed heels, though. They made me feel strong, sexy, and powerful.

  8. bth

    October 6, 2010

    Ginger, what is it about 9 year-old boys!?! Mine too! He doesn’t like church either. (His primary teachers are partly to blame–they looped with the class so he’s on the tail end of two years with people who don’t like him much.) My 9 year-old will wear what I ask him to wear but prefers aloha shirts (we’re from Hawaii.) I think polo shirts are fine, by the way.

    I don’t believe dress has a whole lot to do with behavior at our house. I helped my kids make a connection that keeps their Sunday behavior in check. I explained that the Sabbath day is a day to rest from your labors and pay your devotion to the Most High. My labor as a mother is to mediate fights and tell my children what to do, so when they fight or behave in a way that I can’t rest from my labor, they aren’t honoring the Sabbath day.

    I hadn’t read the quote in the first commentor about dressing appropriately before, during and after church. But I do remember being a teenager and trying after church to get rid of the “Church” feeling by changing clothes. It was kind of an important “aha” moment for me when I realized that the “Church” feeling I couldn’t get rid of by putting on shorts and a t-shirt and undoing my church hairdo was the Spirit of God. I wonder if I would have gained that bit of my testimony if I wasn’t allowed to change after church.

  9. Vanessa

    October 6, 2010

    With 3 kids under 5, I can’t imagine how much faster my clothes would run out if I didn’t change the moment I got home. I only have about three Sunday dresses. I would have to wash my dresses every week. Our dry cleaning bill would be through the roof for my husband’s suits. Maybe I will consider doing this when I am not a human napkin. By the way, that was not in the Strength of Youth pamphlet when I was growing up, and I am 27.

    I don’t mean to offend, but does it feel like in these modern times that we are becoming more like the Pharisees in the New Testament? It isn’t enough to keep the Sabbath Holy-we must now do everything to keep ourselves as far from the line as possible. The clothes you wear in the comfort of your home are an outward sign that I can’t imagine Heavenly Father cares that much about.

  10. jendoop

    October 6, 2010

    I’m in the stake YW presidency and someone pointed out that same FTSOY quote to me because I went to a Sunday mtg in jeans. (It was a mtg about camp, aren’t jeans appropriate?). They didn’t show it to me to shame me, but because I asked if I was way off base.

    So the next Sunday I wore a skirt all day and it did remind me that it was Sunday all day and made me more reluctant to watch TV or etc. (Things I don’t like to do on Sunday but they happen.)

    Funny thing is, I stopped by the bishop’s house to drop something off and his wife couldn’t believe I was still in a dress. She said I should relax and enjoy the day as she stood there in jeans and a t-shirt. I did not tell her about that quote. We can only be held accountable for what we know, right? Why ruin her casual Sunday with my new found knowledge? 😉

  11. traci

    October 6, 2010

    I think dress definately affects you and those you are with. But i also believe in some moderation. Like for newbies, sometimes you have to grow into it. The first time I went to a Relief Society event, a woman immediately told me that it would be very hard for me to be Mormon because of the way that i dressed.

    She said that Mormon women never wore anything but dresses and always looked like they were in church. Even when they gardened she emphasized. She said there were no jeans among the faithful or pants suits. And that if you went to their houses, they were as neat as the church and uncluttered and the woman answering the door would look like she was at church.

    Now, I knew many LDS at the time, so I knew this wasn’t necessarily true. Altho, i did have the terrible urge to say – Really?.

    I myself changed my attire drastically upon dating my now husband. He is an attorney and my cousin, secretary to the judge, came to my house and went thru all my clothes. She thru out literally 90%, saying that now people judge him by how i look. I still wear jeans, my tshirts were all thrown out except for gardening. I wear a lot of skirts and “old lady dresses. 😉

    Since I learned of Flylady.net from this forum I dress fully to shoes each day upon awakening, clothes that i could leave the house and be in public in (without disgracing the family with). 😉 It has really changed my days. And with a apron over it, i can do most anything safely. I have not gotten to the point were I can do all my chores in a skirt, or even want to, but….. we don’t know what the future holds.

    I do think that many people think LDS women only own denim jumpers and skirts. But, alas, no, that’s me, the Missouri Synod Lutheran woman. 😉

    Great Thoughtful Post

  12. Nancy R.

    October 6, 2010

    Nate – that is from an older version of For the Strength of Youth. A few years ago it was revised and a lot of the wording was changed or updated. Page 14 of the current edition states “Show respect for the Lord and for yourself by dressing appropriately for Church meetings and activities, whether on Sunday or during the week.”

  13. Angie f

    October 6, 2010

    I have very tactile-sensitive children. One of my sons is nearly out of his church clothes before we pull into the garage–that’s how bad he hates them. Stains and clothing destruction aside, I think that my boys are actually more disruptive when they have to stay in their Sunday clothes after church than if they can put on something soft and worn and comfortable that doesn’t bug them so much. I don’t believe that putting my children in clothing that will actually help calm them is disrespectful to the Sabbath. I don’t think that wearing clothing respectful to the Sabbath necessarily means wearing church clothes all day either, or it would have said so.

    I do think behavior is tied to our clothing. That’s one of the reasons I love our school’s uniforms. But I have seen the flip side of that too. On my mission (Brazil), fundamentalist Christians often dress very plainly and the women don’t cut their hair and wear only t-shirts and skirts. It is a very dour and self-righteous affect. In one of my areas, where the district RS seemed to have come from that environment, it became district policy that women were unworthy to pray or speak in church or go Visiting Teaching if they were not in a skirt. We had a whole huge problem re-teaching that worthiness was not in the skirt and one woman even decided to leave the church over it. To the best of my knowledge, the only place the Church Handbook of Instructions mentions clothing is that we should wear our Sunday best (including skirts for women) to the temple.

    We too had new converts who would wear their cleanest tidiest clothes to church until they could afford to buy a skirt or a tie. And that to me is appropriate and reverent. But we did have problems in the same area with a long term member who was young and cute and didn’t see why she shouldn’t wear her cutest best jeans to church because she felt she looked better in them than in her church dresses.

    Clothing can effect your attitude and your demeanor but I don’t think that saying everyone should wear Sunday clothes all day has ever been what our church leaders have prescribed. To me, respectful after church attire would be something comfortable which allows you to engage in Spirit seeking worshipful activities–whatever those clothes may be for you personally, so long as they are modest, clean and not designed for another irreverent activity (no “meditating” outside in your bikini).

  14. Angie f

    October 6, 2010

    Nancy R: I just checked FSOY on lds.org and Nate’s wording was right there. Did the church not update their site?

  15. Roberta

    October 6, 2010

    I’m one who changes immediately after church out of dress and heels into jeans and t-shirt. My kids, too. In our home, we, too, keep the Sabbath holy with our hearts, minds, and behaviors. But for me knowing my spirit, I would grow very irritable if I had to be *confined* in a dress all day, which would counter the point of having the Sabbath made for me in the first place. I believe this is why Joseph Smith added Article of Faith #11 to the mix. It’s beautiful to live in the most faithful way we can to our own best understanding, and allow others the same thing even when they do it differently.

  16. Carina

    October 6, 2010

    I, too, worry about descending into pharisee-like fits of cultural observation.

    I change out of my Sunday best when I come home. I may or may not put on a skirt, depends on what I feel like wearing. My kids are out of their clothes IMMEDIATELY. Washing and ironing their tiny shirts and suits every week is a waste of energy and resources.

    If the meeting is as a home, I go dressed as I am (which is usually nicely, I refuse to leave the house in yoga pants.) If a meeting is at church on Sunday, I will don my best.

    I fall to the side of overdressed in my daily life, so I rarely have “performance” issues based on what I’m wearing or not wearing.

  17. Nancy R.

    October 6, 2010

    Angie – we must be looking a different versions. I went to lds.org, then hovered over Serving in the Church and went to Young Women. In the left-hand column I clicked on Standards: For the Strength of Youth and then on Dress and Appearance. How did you get there? Perhaps there are multiple versions that haven’t all been updated?

  18. Angie f

    October 6, 2010

    Nancy R: I clicked on Sabbath Observance and the wording is exactly as Nate quoted it.

  19. Nancy R.

    October 6, 2010

    Angie f – oops, my mistake, somehow missed that. You’re right.

  20. Tay

    October 6, 2010

    My husband hates staying in his church clothes, whereas I love being in skirts (dresses… not so much). But what helps one person does not necessarily benefit another. My two-year old is going to act his age no matter his clothing, but he stays in his church clothes (sans belt) until we stop feeling too lazy to change him out of them. And then I usually make sure it’s collared wince he has no say in the matter. And I prefer my husband to wear a shirt with a collar on Sunday after church – he’s less likely to turn on football all afternoon (just one or two games, 🙂 if he remembers it’s not a regular day.

    I think that I feel like it’s necessary for my family to have a personal outer remembrance what day it is because of how I grew up. My siblings and parent who stayed dressed are still active, my sibling and parent who didn’t have not stayed active. Just my own psychological association and nothing I dare to impose on any other family, as it’s not their problem but my own.

    So far as dressing up goes, I’m getting my first dress-up dress since my wedding dress for my brother’s wedding. Hooray! I plan to buy some hot wedges for the occasion.

  21. mormonhermitmom

    October 6, 2010

    I get out of my Sunday clothes after church. My 13 year old stays in her dress but it doesn’t affect her behavior. She just hates having to change once she’s dressed.

    I think the attitude of the person is the most important consideration. If he/she is wearing his/her absolute best clothing to church with a reverent heart – it’s fine. If some people are wearing expensive suits/dresses but have a mocking/condescending/bored attitude at church, whatever psychological benefit of wearing the fine clothes goes out the window.

    For me, on Sunday it’s gotta be 1) clean, 2) modest, 3) in the best repair you are capable of.

  22. Sue

    October 6, 2010

    I change my clothes after church because I do not like wearing a dress. Wearing one does not make me more reverent, though it does make me more uncomfortable and slightly more cranky.

    I don’t believe that what I am wearing affects my spirituality in the least. To be honest, I’ve had some of my most reverent and spiritual experiences in pajamas (MOST of them, actually), during my morning prayer and scripture study. I do think wearing a dress shows a certain level of reverence that is specifically appropriate for church worship. But in my home, I honestly do not believe that the quote from the FSY pamphlet, “Your dress before, during, and AFTER church meetings should show respect for the Sabbath” means that I have to wear a dress all day. I think it means I should be modestly attired.

    To each his or her own, I say. Outside of what goes on in church itself, I subscribe to the idea of leaving Sunday worship up to each individual member and family. What I would not like is having someone try to impose his or her interpretation of what a “good Mormon” should wear on me or judge me for my personal choices.

    Only the Lord knows a person’s heart. And I don’t believe He is even casually invested in what that person is wearing on Sabbath evenings.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion. More than a few of my friends spend their entire day in a dress, and I absolutely respect their efforts and the intent to worship that motivates them.

  23. Paul

    October 6, 2010

    I think there’s a reason that FTSOY addresses Sunday dress and the Primary standards book doesn’t. My little boys (who are now older) would be happy to run around naked, and we were thrilled to have them in ANY clothes on Sunday or any day. 🙂

    I think we do the best we can.

    When I was bishop, I lived in a white shirt and tie at every function. My last bishop almost never wore a tie, except to the three hour block. And yet, he’s a pretty holy guy!

    In our home, we try to stay a little dressed up on Sunday these days, just as a reminder of the day. But your youngest is a 10 year old girl and she’d rather be in a dress than anything anyway. And our 14 year old son is one of those boys whose shirts just do not tuck in, period. Sigh.

    I agree with the comment that standards are there for us to judge ourselves, not others. Others we love for who they are, just as the Savior did.

  24. Naismith

    October 6, 2010

    When we lived in Brasil, most folks walked to church, some of them several miles. So a lot of folks wore gym shoes to church. When it got cold, the women would wear their best jeans and sweaters, because tailored jeans are their best clothes there.

    To the family with a minivan, these things at first glance may appear inappropriate.

    But try walking five miles to church in the cold, and it starts to make more sense.

    (Oh yeah, now someone is gonna write in that they could have brought appropriate clothes to change into….)

  25. Paradox

    October 6, 2010

    When I taught martial arts, I taught children 2-8 on a regular basis. When their uniforms came on, they knew it was time to be serious, and time to work. There was a change in their demeanor that was amazing to see.

    After years of training, I realized the transformation was complete when the mindset carried over into how I acted and felt even when I was wearing street clothes. Ultimately, the goal isn’t to find a balance between sloppiness and neatness. It’s to be even and steady, excellent in every moment. That’s what I love about the temple garments, even though I don’t have them yet. They aren’t like Sunday clothes. The idea is not to take them off.

    It’s the same thing with the graceful behavior of Saints. And the earlier a child begins, the easier they will find it to live up to that standard when the times comes.

  26. Melissa M.

    October 6, 2010

    Traci, I cringed and chuckled at the same time when I read what that RS sister said to you (no jeans among the faithful—really? And we garden in our dresses?). I have no idea how she got this idea–was she new to the Church herself?—but I’m sorry she misrepresented us. I own several pairs of jeans, and when I answer the door I usually don’t look like I’m going to church! I hope no one would feel that they couldn’t be LDS because they didn’t dress well enough—we certainly shouldn’t be giving others that impression, and I apologize for that misinformed sister.

    I agree with Sue—“I honestly do not believe that the quote from the FSY pamphlet, Your dress before, during, and AFTER church meetings should show respect for the Sabbath’ means that I have to wear a dress all day. I think it means I should be modestly attired.” In our house, we change into our comfy clothes after church—pjs or sweats—and that has come to mean a relaxed, happy, family day that we spend at home, with each other. It’s part of our Sabbath, and for us, it helps set the day apart from the rest of the week.

    I can’t imagine making small children wear their church clothes all day. It just doesn’t seem feasible.

  27. Paula

    October 7, 2010

    The reality is that you need to decide what you feel comfortable with doing and wearing on the Sabbath. I agree with the Pharasee idea. We have to watch ourselves. What we choose to do and wear on the Sabbath is between the individual and the Lord and no one else. Isn’t that why we have agency? In cases like this I see the vital importance of agency and how central it is to Heavenly Father’s plan.

  28. living in zion

    October 7, 2010

    I change out of my Sunday clothes into pajamas. My favorite Sundays are days I can sleep, read and visit with friends and family on the phone, internet and by writing letters.

    My worst Sundays are filled with meetings, with no down time at all.

    The Sabbath is my day of rest.

  29. bth

    October 7, 2010

    This is kind of related to the post and Paradox’s comment about martial arts attire. I have a friend who joined the church a few years ago. Since her kids (ages 12,8,6,6) were new to church attendance, when she first gave her kids church shoes she told them that these were REVERENT church shoes. She then explained proper behavior associated with being reverent. She expected reverence and got it–with a little help from REVERENT church shoes.

    Cool idea, right?

  30. Nate

    October 7, 2010

    Thanks, Angie for clarifying the source of the quote. It’s not in the Dress and Appearance section, but the Sabbath Day Observance section. Also, there an almost identical quote in the original For the Strength of Youth booklet (I still have mine from when I was a teen, and I’m 37), also in the Sabbath Day section.

    I’m definitely not an advocate of wearing church clothes all day on the Sabbath. (I certainly don’t!) All I’m saying is that I think it is important to try to dress nicer than everyday clothing, or at least nicer than Saturday work or ‘lazy’ clothes. The Sabbath is there partly to help us remember that it should be a day ‘set apart’ from the others. Something special. We try to do special things on the Sabbath, why shouldn’t our dress reflect that as well?

    I also agree with Paul who says that he thinks there is a reason why that statement is in the FTSOY booklet, because we expect a different, higher standard of behavior out of the youth (and adults) than we do from Primary-aged kids.

  31. Giggles

    October 10, 2010

    It’s not how others see me that I dress the way I do. It’s how I see me. If I’m dressed up for an occasion I treat the occasion differently. If I’m dressed in my Sunday clothes I act in a more Sunday manner. It’s a respect for the Sabbath. It’s a respect for the office of the bishop that I wear a skirt/dress whenever I meet with him. How we dress does affect how others see us, but it also affects how we see ourselves.

    Growing up we had our church Sunday clothes and we had after church dresses. But we were in a dress (or at least cool-ots (sp?) – it was the 80s) after church to help us maintain that day separate from the rest of the week. At the end of the day it should still feel like it’s been Sunday all day.

  32. KA

    October 10, 2010

    My husband wears flip flops to church. He’s slowly returning to being active after 6 years of hating the church. The fact that he is there is a blessing and a miracle in and of itself and I dare anyone to make him feel unwelcome because of his shoes.

  33. KA

    October 10, 2010

    Sorry, read more comments and realized the conversation wasn’t headed in that direction, but the point remains that everyone needs different things to become better and figuring out those needs are up to us and us alone.

    Jesus loves everyone equally. Even dads in cargo pants and boys that hate shoes.

  34. JM

    October 12, 2010

    I’m awfully late to this party, but I think how we dress is important. Equally important is not making judgements or criticizing the way other people dress to come to church. Picking at somebody for what they wear to church is obnoxious. If you’re a youth leader, you do have role a to play there, but only to offer suggestions, and in no way to make someone feel awkward, uncomfortable, or self-conscious. That isn’t what we go to church for.

    For me, it’s not really just about church. It’s what my kids wear to school, or going to a wedding and finding that nobody bothered to change out of their yard work clothes. I am just saddened by how casual we have all become toward everything, as a whole. It’s like we’ve all given up, as if there’s nothing left that’s really worth the bother of cleaning ourselves up for.

  35. Meloncholy

    October 14, 2010

    Well, I am with Vanessa. I only have 2 dresses and I am with Jendoop’s Bishops wife, relax and enjoy the day is my motto.
    Traci, I would have told that woman that we don’t live in the 1950’s and that she should check her pride at the door. That is really sad.
    I am so grateful that the Church has updated the FSOY. We are so blessed to have wonderful leaders that guided by the Spirit and want us all to be better people.
    Oh, and Living in Zion – Yay for P.J.’s. That may end of being my new philosophy, since I feel there are too many meetings.

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