Reclaiming my Dresses

I am a stubborn lady. I can’t be convinced to change my mind about something if I’ve already researched and made my decision. Salespeople often dislike me for this reason – I’m impossible to upsell. I have no interest in other people’s opinions about what I should study, TV shows I should watch, what language I should use, or what I should wear.

I love clothes, to be honest. I enjoy sleek slack and twirly skirts.I have a love-hate relationship with dresses. I love wearing dresses and skirts, but only where and when I want to.

Why no trousers?

I grew up with less choice about my apparel – each day I would be given a choice in what to wear, but that choice was Outfit A or Outfit B only, so my choice was often the least objectionable option. Some things (any tank top, even if it had very wide straps) were not allowed, and other things (such as the wearing of a dress or skirt to school at least once per week) were mandatory.

And of course, dresses were mandatory for church.

I don’t like mandatory things if I don’t see the point of them. It’s an odd quirk of my personality. I am a faithful rule follower – speed limits, due dates, etc. I believe wholeheartedly that rules and laws are for the good of the community. Well, most rules. I have no time or patience for rules I don’t understand the point of (such as grammar rules about not splitting infinitives [utterly absurd – there is no reason why a Germanic language like English should espouse Latinate grammar rules]).

So very rarely, very rarely, I reject a social norm.

One of these things, for me, was skirts and dresses. I went years without wearing either skirts or dresses. Because I didn’t want to. They didn’t make me feel comfortable or happy, and I found the rules governing my wearing of dresses to be arbitrary at best and illogical at worst.

I attended church in the Philadelphia area for a while and there, no one cared. I wore suits and dress slacks regularly and it wasn’t a big deal. It was just how I dressed. It was *my* Sunday best, and that was accepted.

Wearing trousers didn’t stop me from receiving my endowment or holding visible callings. My dress wasn’t even a point of discussion. Until I moved to Utah.

I had never spent time in Utah, so I didn’t realize that church and culture were so different there. Suddenly everyone around me, strangers, felt entitled and compelled to comment on my clothing. This, by the way, was many years before Pants Day was a thing. But now at church, my clothing was closely scrutinized. I was asked if I was an investigator, or had I just come from work?

No. I wore this on purpose because it’s cold and windy and I want cloth on my legs, and as much of it as possible. In nice weather, I started wearing dresses again. But when I did, that garnered even MORE attention. And I don’t like attention. I like to get dressed, go to church, and worship in peace. But if I showed up in a skirt, I was descended upon by (probably) well-meaning ladies all telling me how lovely I looked and asking why I don’t wear dresses more often.

Why is my clothing such a topic for discussion? It seemed that, no matter what I wore, I could not sit in peace, worship privately, and go home.

I’m not in Utah anymore; now I work in Washington DC. This is my first summer working in the district, and every day I am struck by the vast numbers of women in dresses. It’s surprising every day because in my mind, dresses have been something forced on me and something primarily associated with church, not with work. But here, at this time of year, it’s a perfectly logical choice – DC is basically swampland. It’s hot and oppressively humid and even walking a couple of blocks feels unbearable.

So I have finally begun wearing dresses again. Not because of a household rule. And not because of social pressures. But because I want to wear them. Because right now, they are comfortable. I may wear them to work or to church or out with friends. I may not. What matters is that it’s my choice.

I have a lot of dresses and skirts now, and I love them. On my terms.

Kalliope

Kalliope is the youngest of four sisters. She loves baking, travelling, coding, reading, and learning new languages.

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9 Responses

  1. Ellen says:

    Kalliope- I agree- why do people feel free to comment about other people’s clothing choices? And aren’t we just like the pharisees, focusing so much on outward appearance? I spent some time travelling this summer, and saw so many women wearing dresses that were comfortable, appropriate for the weather, and even cute! Pretty sure they chose them for those reasons, and I think i need to go shopping. 😉

  2. Aargh! This post brings up two of my least favorite things about church culture: 1. We police each other. 2. We care way too much about outward appearances.

    • Marianne says:

      Yes! Moving away from a Mormon-dense area lifted a feeling of constant surveillance. I think everyone is watching everyone else to see where to draw lines (to this side of Sister Jones, but THAT side of Brother Smith) instead of examining their principles and loving by those. I found it oppressive.

    • Andrew R. says:

      “1. We police each other.” whilst I am sure that there is an element of “policing” in some cases I think it is more than simply that.

      Sometimes it comes from a desire to appear holy one’s self – so pointing out the mote in the other’s eye detracts from the beam poking out of your own.

      Also simple, awful, judging. “So and so thinks they are so perfect, but did you see how short her sleeves were, I could see her garment.”

      I am personally not one that likes seeing shoulders. Although it could be an ingrained, LDS, dislike, I believe it is more about what I find attractive – and it isn’t shoulder. I don’t like strappy tops with bust hanging over them – it is simply not something I think looks good. I can’t speak to how comfortable it might be to wear since I don’t have breasts. I also don’t like seeing midriffs.

      As I said, I can’t say if I would feel the same without an LDS upbringing, but I can tell you that if I left the Church the same upbringing would probably not make me refrain from alcohol. But I would still expect my daughters living at home to conform to similar dress standards.

    • kalliope4exponent says:

      Exactly. I’ve lived both in Utah and far away from Utah – I have never felt as policed as I did in Utah. My church members were also my neighbors. The would comment on my work schedule, my grocery shopping, they would stop by without warning! And would comment on and assess my clothing. It felt like a near-constant invasion of privacy.

  3. Spunky says:

    Beautiful, Kalliope. I think the skirt/dress thing is less mandatory outside of the US. However your point is still valid. And I loathe the visiting presence of Utah fashion police.

    • kalliope4exponent says:

      Thank you, Spunky! I have also found that the dress/skirt thing isn’t an issue elsewhere, but it was a huge topic of discussion when I lived in Provo! I hadn’t considered it highly important until I moved there. :/

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