Biking in a Skirt

missionary biking in a skirt

Missionary Biking Attire


For about a year and a half, I regularly went mountain biking while wearing a skirt.  Why would I wear such an inappropriate costume for biking?  I was a Mormon missionary.

Modesty was a problem for me during my missionary days. Skirts flap around Marilyn Monroe-style on a bike.

Skirt damage was another issue. I shopped for skirts carefully: not so straight that I couldn’t pedal, but not so wide that the fabric would get caught in the gears—at least, not usually. Eventually, there would come the day when I would hit a pothole and my skirt would fly into the gears anyway, which would shred it to pieces or hopelessly stain it with oil.

To avoid exposing myself or destroying my clothes, sometimes I applied the adult diaper method to my skirts, wrapping them around my legs and pinning them. I’ll bet that was the dignified look Church Headquarters was going for when they set up the dress code. Anyhow, it wasn’t a full-proof solution.

I never wanted to give up my missionary bike. Bikes are good for missionary work; they get you from place to place faster than walking but keep you outdoors where you can meet people. As a bonus, biking creates a refreshing breeze that feels so good when the weather is hot.

However, bikes and skirts are clearly a bad combination, so what is a woman to do? Fortunately, just recently (in the late 1800’s), our foremothers discovered a brilliant new technology to address this problem: ladies’ pants.

Hurray! With pants, a woman can look modest, professional and even conservative, yet she can ride her bike with ease. We should get some of these wonder garments for our beloved sister missionaries.

As an added bonus, dressing sister missionaries in pants would help clear up the common misconception that Mormonism is a repressive fundamentalist sect that requires women to wear dresses all the time. We Mormons have plenty of real female repression issues; we don’t need to advertize others that don’t exist.

But isn’t there some sort of commandment about how missionaries must wear dresses? Wouldn’t it require a revelation from God to change the missionary dress code?

In Doctrine and Covenants 42:6 we read: “And ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, whilst wearing pretty skirts.”

Just kidding. There actually isn’t any doctrinal mandate that requires missionaries to wear skirts. (I bet you elders are relieved. Most of you wouldn’t look good in skirts.)

It appears that God decided to let us use some agency on this one…or common sense.

What would it take for common sense to prevail over the missionary dress code?  Perhaps Church Headquarters just needs an opportunity to walk a mile in a sister missionary’s shoes, or rather, bike a mile in a sister missionary’s skirt.  There are some beautiful biking trails in the foothills surrounding Church Headquarters.  I would invite everyone there, especially the brethren, to put on a skirt and go for a bike ride.

When you get back, let’s chat about the missionary dress code.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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52 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    The whole women-no-pants-thing makes me just crazy. I’ve run out of articulate things to say about it and have moved on to inarticulate/rant mode.

  2. Lynn Anderson says:

    This certainly brings back memories. About half-way through my mission, however, reason (and my mission president’s wife) prevailed, and we sisters could wear culottes… so long as they were sufficiently “skirt-like.”
    I was working at BYU when the dress code changed to allow women to wear slacks… but only during the cold-weather months. I have no idea what the policy is now, but I was irked enough to write a letter to the editor of the BYU Daily Universe to complain about having to ride my bike to work in a skirt.

  3. Lynn Anderson says:

    PS: And of course, the most ardent defender of the ludicrous BYU skirt policy (in response to my LTE) was a woman. (One who doubtless drove to work.)

  4. amelia says:

    I just love that the church has a detailed guide to dress and grooming for sister missionaries without comparable guide for elders:

    The reality is that this is one way to keep women in their place. Women’s clothing and accessories, what is deemed “beautiful” or “respectable” enough, has always been a mechanism for exercising some amount of control over women’s bodies. It’s why so many efforts to gain more freedoms for women have, in some way, included flagrant rejection of such guidelines. Unfortunately, I don’t think these kinds of changes will happen anytime soon. Which is just depressing, seeing how practical and common sensical it would be to make them and what small changes they really are in the grand scheme of things.

    • April says:

      Here’s an article about the current sister missionary dress code and its accompanying fashion website: I was particularly interested in the quote about how female investigators have expressed concerns that they would be required to dress like sister missionaries if they were baptized. The people interviewed seem to think that new guidelines allowing sisters to wear prettier, more fashionable dresses would resolve that problem. When I was on my mission, investigators frequently expressed concerns that they would have to wear dresses all the time if they were baptized, like the sister missionaries. I wouldn’t want to join a religion that forced women to wear dresses all the time, no matter how pretty the dresses were.

    • Maggie says:

      Wait a second. The dress code for Elders is much more constrictive than that for Sisters. The reason there is a lengthy and detailed guide for Sisters is because they are given a lot of flexibility in what they wear.

      • hahnsmith says:

        You are right. At least they don’t have to wear a suit and tie all the time. I suspect that it is a good idea to wear a dress as a sister because they are inviting people to attend church and are a good example of how to dress when they do so. Also, it is how God likes to see them and are skirts really so restrictive? I have never found them so. My daughter is leaving for her mission in 2 weeks. Skirts don’t bother her.

      • Leslee says:

        How about easing up the dress code for both genders? I think it could only help the image of the church if our representatives look like normal people…modest, respectful, polite, trustworthy and NORMAL people. I for one, have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the dark suit and tie, clean shaven, short-haired look. My first thought is ‘politician?’ ‘hedge fund manager?’ ‘litigator?’. And of course there are plenty of nice folks who do those jobs, but ‘trustworthy’ isn’t always the best descriptor for that look.
        In my mission there were two young sisters from Pakistan who were among the very first generation of missionaries from that country. They both brought with them their best and most respectful clothing: gorgeously colored and embroidered balloon pants, tunics and shawls. They were beautiful and showed that the gospel can truly fit into any culture or tradition. But as soon as they arrived in Hong Kong they were told that their clothes were inappropriate. They were sent to a thrift store to find whatever dresses and skirts they could. They both ended up with drab, ill-fitting, unflattering clothes–the kind of clothes they had never worn before and that made them feel alien and unattractive. Where’s the sense in that?

    • Could it just be that there are a lot more possibilities for what is acceptable to wear for the sisters than the elders? Elders get a choice of business shoes, slacks, white shirt, tie, suit jacket, short hair. How much of a comperable guide to dress and grooming for elders could there be? Sisters have a vast array of dress and grooming choices from makeup to shoes and everything in between. I’d imagine that most of the guidelines have come about because questions were asked, not just because someone got bored or wanted to think of a new way to subjugate women.

      Anyway, for the post. I didn’t know before that sisters rode bikes. Does this happen in a lot of missions? Not having worn a skirt before (I’ve not yet found the heritage to allow it, not for lack of trying), I do know the perils of having pant legs caught in gears while biking in a suit – are there not some sort of clips that sisters can use to allow fuller skirts?

      I think it will help the cause of allowing slacks if there are more complaints raised by the sister missionaries themselves.

      • hahnsmith says:

        My daughter has to get a bike. We have been told that everyone in Nevada, Las Vegas mission rides a bike. The clip idea sounds good. I am going to try that.

  5. Keri Brooks says:

    Amen! I find it ironic that the most immodest I’ve ever been in my life (skirt flapping in the breeze and flying up at the most inopportune moments) was when I was a missionary. I probably flashed half the state of North Carolina while riding a bike. It would be so much safer, more practical, and more modest for sisters riding bikes to wear slacks.

    When I brought this up on my mission, I was looked at like I had grown a second head. My companion even told me that there was no way that sisters would ever be allowed to wear pants. (She didn’t articulate why she thought that, though.) People acted like I was some sort of threat to social order by raising this issue.

    • April says:

      Most of my companions agreed with me that biking in skirts was pretty ridiculous. It is hard for me to imagine how someone who had tried biking in a skirt could possibly approve of this dress code. But your experience shows that maybe my Church Headquarters Skirt bike-athon idea wouldn’t be enough to make this policy change happen.

    • alex w. says:

      Pants are the gateway to all sorts of disorder. One day you sister missionaries will be asking for pants, the next, you’ll want to turn in your bikes for motorcycles! 😉

  6. Janell says:

    I’m all for Sabbath-best including a skirt. When I’m not in a chapel or a temple? Pants all the way. Particularly slacks for occasions that need a certain level of respect or professionalism.

    • Diane says:

      I know some women, myself included who look better and more presentable in a pair of slacks than a dress. not trying to be argumentative, but, just curious as to why you delineate between chapel dress appropriate, vrs. temple

  7. Diane says:

    ust kidding. There actually isn’t any doctrinal mandate that requires missionaries to wear skirts. (I bet you elders are relieved. Most of you wouldn’t look good in skirts.)

    There’s nothing anywhere that I have read that women must wear dresses. This is a relic leftover from the prairie days

    • John Pack Lambert says:

      The current guidelines specifically speak about various things that can be worn under the skirt for modesty. Specifically it says “If riding a bicycle you may wear spandex shorts for modesty”.

      Mission presidents also have the right to set guidelines that apply to their own missions.

  8. Naismith says:

    I commute by bicycle and don’t like pants for that. Too easy to get caught in the gears or smeared with grease. I have a dozen culottes, that I have worn to church, temple, job interviews, etc. It’s a non-issue. Nobody has ever said a word.

    • Margaret says:

      Could you share where you buy these culottes? I’d love to get some but I’ve never seen them in a dept store except for in athletic wear.

      • Naismith says:

        Sorry, I’ve been sewing my own for 20 years,

        but they do come into style every few years and are purchasable–last time was about three years ago, during which I bought a pair of petit pants (a slip that works well under them).

        You might look for “split skirt” or “gauchos” rather than the culotte terminology.

        Just today I just saw a woman wearing a nice pair of black knit knee-length culottes, but I could not run up and ask her where she got them because I was on the phone with a colleague:(

  9. Miri says:

    I love this post! I think what’s most amazing to me about the no-pants thing is that it never even occurred to me to wonder why we had to wear skirts to be church appropriate; it was that engrained into my head that that’s just how things are, until literally about a month ago. I’ve always disliked wearing skirts for three hours of sitting uncomfortably in a freezer–but somehow, no questioning. (Yes, I’m new to the feminist blogs, how could you tell?)

    Isn’t it even more ironic when you consider that you can wear a denim skirt and flip flops to church and be deemed more appropriately dressed than a woman in nice slacks? Sure, there are people who would chastise you for the flip flops, and some for the denim as well, but you’d still be better off than the heathen in the pantsuit.

    I wish there was some kind of church-wide message board where this could be posted for all to read (male leadership included).

  10. Miri says:

    Naismith–I can’t help but wonder if maybe people just couldn’t tell that you weren’t wearing a skirt, or weren’t sure and didn’t want to say anything? I could be completely wrong, but if so, I’m impressed that you’ve never encountered people as uptight as I have. My Young Women leaders–and several bishops I’ve had as an adult–would have shut that down immediately.

    • Naismith says:

      Shut that down? How so?

      Nobody gets to tell anyone else how to dress at church.

      • Val says:

        Nobody gets to tell anyone else how to dress at church? !?! What church do you go to!! I don’t think I can count the number of talks and lessons about white shirts for men (because color is apparently evil) . This is a church that lectures on the proper use of “thee” and “thou” in prayer language. Of course they tell people how to dress at church!

  11. marie says:

    Love it!

    In similar news, my daughter made my year when she came home from the library with “You Forgot Your Skirt Amelia Bloomer.” Anyone else read it?

  12. Maggie says:

    I wore pants under my skirts as a Sister missionary. But only when it was 20 degrees below zero.

  13. spunky says:

    Love this post! I think that the “more choice for women” (noted by Frank Pellet) is more telling of the attention on women’s clothing and the church’s attitude towards modesty; I think it has nothing to do with the lack of choice and attention on Elder’s clothing, rather it is a continuation of primary and young women modesty classes which seek to define how the ideal Mormon should dress. This is ironic, of course, because biking in a skirt can be very immodest.

    I am also of the opinion that the ideology behind the skirt policy is an antiquated attempt at “traditional” feminine dress, which would also reflect an endrosement of traditional female roles.

    I had 2 lovely, female Jehovah’s witnesses stop by yesterday. They were also in skirts, full make up, perfume and jewelry, but had a car. I thought that they were overdressed for door-knocking, which made me feel uncomfortable about my disheveled appearance (I was in work out gear and had a full sweat). The appearance of women on bikes make me just as uncomfortable, if only because I fear being flashed…. which reminds me of a bus tour that my non-LDS in-laws took through the American Canyonlands. The bus driver kept making jokes about Mormon women’s underwear, but said that Mormon men wore “normal” underwear, leading my FIL to ask me about my underwear (delightful!) Maybe this sister missionary bike thing is the root of some of the more bizarre LDS misconceptions …

  14. kelly ann says:

    I also wore pants underneath my skirts on my mission for the cold. I am glad I never had to bike. But I walked a lot. I had a nice pair of plain hiking shoes too. And never a complaint from the mission president ;-).

  15. Andrea says:

    April, I just can’t stop laughing. I love the humorous approach to highlight our imbecilic customs. I also wore a skirt while biking on my mission in England. I felt like a freak.

    Although I’m laughing, I’m also struck by the seemingly impossible task of getting the brethren to consider changing the most teensy weensy little practice, if coming from female request, no matter how much sense it made.
    They have absolutely NO way to hear any of our concerns or suggestions. That depresses me.

    My daughter wears pants to church every week, even though her YW leaders hate it. I love everything it stands for: confidence, independence, female comfort, practicality, “not giving a crap about what they think” (Madison’s quote), etc. Good for her!

    • Erin E says:

      Yay Madison! You Go Girl! This made me laugh, then want to cry, then go on a rant, and now I feel better! I am doing my part in educating my husband and my 2 sons on the stupidity of certain unquestioned fashion standards that are placed on women. BTW, My son was proud of his cousin for wearing pants to church and he thought she looked nice. He didn’t see anything wrong with women in nice pants.

  16. Lala says:

    Last Sunday, I wore to church for the first time in my 23 years of life. It felt awesome. Maybe if pants become more common on Sunday, they will pass in the mission field as well.

  17. Deborah says:

    I like you, April.

  18. ESO says:

    It is for this reason that my split slip was far and away the most valuable, indispensible even, piece of my missionary wardrobe.

    In the winter, I also wore tights, leggings, and pants, depending on the weather. During the rain, I tucked my dress/skirt into rain pants. It was very liberating.

    I must confess, though, that I had other concerns about the biking. I just hated arriving at appointments breathless and sweaty. It really takes away from the professional aura the skirt provides!

    PS–do male investigators ever ask if they have to wear a suit all the time, like the elders? I just don’t recall this being an issue. Especially if you include members in your appointments early on, it is easy to see that non-missionaries dress like normal people and missionaries lead totally unreal lives.

    • April says:

      Yes, I also had investigators ask me why mormon men were required to wear black and white all the time, and if they would be required to throw out their colored clothes if they got baptized. And yes, it is easy to clear up these misconceptions. Although with the skirt thing, while it was easy for me to reassure women that they would not have to wear skirts always if they were baptized, it was hard for me to answer their follow-up questions about why missionaries had to wear them all the time. I had trouble thinking of a rational explanation for that.

      I think layering is a good coping strategy for this silly dress code, but unless you tuck in the skirt like you did in the rain, it only helps with modesty, not skirt damage. Also, layering works best in cooler climates. I served near the equator. We were instructed not to wear leggings or even nylons under our skirts because tight clothing in the crotch area could cause medical issues in that climate.

      • Mike H. says:

        How do I say this nicely? A number of Elders & likely Sisters in my mission (Atlanta Georgia region) had such issues. My sister served in the Tallahassee Florida Mission, and the same humidity caused “issues” went on there, as well. I was lucky that way not to have any big problem, but some Elders did get the “jungle rot”, bad.

  19. ESO says:

    Yeah, I’ve lived on the equater too. While my mission area was not equatorial, the summers were hotter and muggier than where I lived in Africa. We had to wear nylons always, which was at the discretion of the MP. Unfortunate, but not much more than that.

    There are plenty of good reasons for sister missioanaries to wear skirts and dresses, although you may not agree with them, it doesn’t seem that hard to see that some people might find it a valuable practice. It’s a uniform, and there are many jobs that have a uniform, sometimes for safety, but often for other purposes like maintaining a professional atmosphere, and even for advertising. Also, there are many people in this world, some old, but not all, who feel that it is “appropriate” for women to wear skirts and dresses, and “inappropriate” for them to wear pants or shorts. They would likely not engage with improperly dressed women about how to live a better life. Again, you may not agree with that, you may even say, “we don’t want those kind of people in the Church anyway,” but that is the culture of some.

    There are many aspects of serving a mission as a sister I would address before I would get bent out of shape about the dress.

    • galdralag says:

      ESO – I’ll bite. What are the aspects of serving a mission as a sister that you would address? Not challenging you, just curious.

  20. kelly ann says:

    You know what strikes me now seeing the picture with the post (that I didn’t see before) is that we weren’t allowed to wear backpacks. We had to use the awful strap bags that caused no end of shoulder discomfort.

    • April says:

      I have some friends whose missions presidents forbade backpacks, one because her mission pres thought they caused back pain, and the other because his mission pres thought backpacks looked too childish. In his mission, missionaries carried brief cases.

      • anon says:

        On my mission there was a brief period where they switched from backpacks to cross-body messenger bags for Elders and Sisters. It was an effort to look more professional, and, to be fair, it did look really sharp, but the unequal distribution of weight started causing back injuries (cuz let’s face it, most business professionals carrying cross-body messenger bags aren’t loading them to the brim with books and carrying them twelve hours a day). After the mission president noticed a sharp rise in visits to the doctor, and consulted several back specialists, they returned to backpacks as the more health-and-safety conscious choice.

  21. Mike H. says:

    In my time in Georgia(US), they put one set of sisters on bikes, but one of those sisters whined so much to the Mission President, like calling him constantly, that he got them a car. The result was that they were only a week on bikes.

    • Diane says:

      So, if the situation were reversed and they were male missionaries, who complained, would your word choice still be whined? because we know that men don’t do this to get what they want right

  22. Rachel says:

    This is a great post. I particularly liked your description of the thought that went into skirt buying, because it would be quite necessary. My mission didn’t permit sisters to ride bikes, but I have been biking to church nearly every Sunday (and everywhere I go during the week) for the last 16 months. Twice I have accidentally found myself wearing a pencil skirt while biking. And, as you seem to know quite well, pencil skirts are particularly terrible to bike in. Each time I have gone for the very immodest, hike up the skirt all of the way so I can move my legs route. It does just fine, but: not too Mormon-modest appropriate. My other route on Sundays is to wear short dresses (think a few inches above my knees) and tights. It works quite well, but would not be permitted on a mission either, nor would everyone smile upon it. But: I do. And it gets me there, which is the more important part.

    On a few occasions I have even worn normal clothes and changed into dress clothes once I get to church. For whatever reason, it had never once crossed my mind that I should just wear dress pants to begin and end with, but I might consider it in colder times/places.

  23. lsl says:

    I know I’m weird, but I actually prefer skirts to pants. In summer, legs are shaded from the Sun, like with long pants or capris, but you get the breeze, like with shorts. In winter, I can pull a pair of sweats on under my skirt without the uncomfortable bulkiness of wearing multiple layers of pants. And for biking, I’ve found that a very narrow A-line skirt made of stretchy material that ends just an inch or two above the gears when your foot is down works the best for both function & modesty. Narrow, so it doesn’t get caught in the brakes, stretchy, so you can still comfortably get your knees up without flashing everybody.

  1. December 13, 2012

    […] pants to church on Sunday, although there is absolutely no policy against doing so. (There is a policy against sister missionaries wearing pants, and I have expressed my opinion about that policy …. There used to be a policy against women’s pants in the temple, but it was eliminated in the […]

  2. February 15, 2016

    […] Biking In A Skirt […]

  3. May 20, 2016

    […] is great news!  Here’s what Biking in a Skirt was like for me when I was a sister […]

  4. July 20, 2017

    […] sitting cross-legged. Wearing a skirt precludes commuting by bike; biking in a skirt is possible—I did it as a missionary—but it is dangerous, messy and […]

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