Female Grooming Mandates That Aren’t That Hard


It’s a strange kind of clothing that is completely see-through, offers no protection whatsoever from the elements, and breaks when you wear it. Pantyhose break when washed, too, if you throw them in the washing machine with the rest of the laundry. The few pairs I own that haven’t fallen apart yet are often unavailable to me because I don’t have time for hand washing. Wearing hose in cold weather is useless; in hot weather, they get sticky and cause infection.


Skirts ride up when I carry a toddler on my hip, and aforementioned toddler likes to yank on the skirt or run under it. Skirt-wearing complicates all sorts of otherwise simple human motions: bending over, running, 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 immodest.


Almost every lipstick I buy, regardless of the color it claims to be, eventually morphs into a garish shade of fuchsia on my lips. I’ve researched this and it has something to do with my body chemistry. It doesn’t happen right when I put it on, so I can’t tell if a lipstick will work for me simply by trying it on at the make-up counter. It often takes several purchases before I find one that works. Even for women who are blessed with less fuchsia lips than mine, lipstick can be expensive. And it has to be reapplied after eating, drinking, kissing, perspiring or just breathing too much.

High Heels

I can’t think of any downside to walking—or better yet, running to catch a bus in the rain on a cobblestone sidewalk—while wearing little stilts on my feet, so I’ll stop here.

Wear a little lipstick, we’ve been told. It’s not that hard.  I wonder how the man who said that knew; had he tried wearing lipstick?

I have, and I can bear testimony that wearing lipstick is not that hard. Neither is wearing pantyhose, skirts, or heels. At least, not in comparison to climbing Mount Everest or curing cancer. In spite of the drawbacks, I often do wear such things.

But it’s not as easy as a man who has never worn any of these things might assume.

I have certainly never worn a skirt for bike-riding since my mission. I marvel that the LDS missionary program, which seems so obsessed with safety in most matters, still requires most women to wear skirts even while biking, in spite of the hazards of biking in a skirt.  Recently, the church relaxed its dress code to allow sister missionaries to (usually) comply with health officials’ recommendations to wear pants during mosquito-borne illness outbreaks but still requires them to risk it in a skirt at least once a week. Maybe it’s not that hard, but it’s not that safe, either.

Welcome changes have come to the church’s dress codes for paid female employees, removing the pantyhose mandate in 2011 and as of a few weeks ago,  allowing women to wear pants to work.  Female worshippers could  enter Mormon temples wearing pants beginning in 2010.  In response to Wear Pants To Church Day in 2013, a church spokesperson stated, “Generally Church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.”  However, some local bishops continue to chastise women who attend church wearing pants.

Sexist dress codes have never been unique to Mormons. For example, workplaces that require women to wear high heels have been in the news of late in the United Kingdom. When announcing the new LDS church employee dress code, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both men and women.” *

I hope that going forward, we will be. Regardless of how hard female-specific grooming mandates are or aren’t, let’s not create an extra burden on women—and only on women—through sexist dress codes or by preaching prettiness standards over the pulpit.



* In contrast to many of his predecessors,  Elder Cook’s  General Conference talks indicate that he is concerned about making workplaces woman-friendly and making the church less judgemental toward working women.  Establishing a  more equitable dress code, even if it is too late to be at the forefront, demonstrates his sincerity.  Moreover, the most recent dress code change was accompanied by an announcement that the church would begin offering paid parental leave, which is progressive in the United States, where the LDS church is headquartered.  Only 12% of American employees have access to paid parental leave.



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 aprilyoungb.com.

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16 Responses

  1. Thanks for this great post April! I did not even realize it was now ok to wear pants although during the winter months I did break down a few times and wear my black velvet pants but sat in the back of the chapel. I am in a branch that has a number of people on fixed incomes, myself being one of them, and pants are what I find most often at the local thrift store. It is also a large Catholic area and I found myself envying my Catholic friends who routinely wear pants to Mass. My personal opinion is that Jesus loves everyone equally no matter how they are dressed, it’s what is in your heart that matters to him.

  2. chiaroscuro says:

    i don’t wear heels, lipstick, or pantyhose (too hard!). but skirts, not that hard. big amen to not preaching about how women should appear

  3. Naismith says:

    “Mandates”? That just comes across as a slap to those of us who don’t realize we are supposed to follow those “rules.” Do you think we are too stupid to have gotten the unwritten messages, or what?

    I’m also a bike commuter, so I wear culottes to the church, temple, whatever. It is not a big deal and very practical for the reasons that you mention. I am not interested in wearing pants on a bike, because of the risk of getting grease on them.

    Just do whatever you feel is best for you. I honestly don’t think people are sitting out there just waiting to judge other sisters.

    • Naismith, the mandates I described were not unwritten rules. They were well-documented written policies (I linked to references) affecting certain groups of people (which I listed) such as sister missionaries and female LDS church employees. If you do not belong to one of these groups, I am not surprised that these rules do not apply to you.

      • Naismith says:

        Then perhaps putting that first would have been more clear that the mandates only apply to a tiny proportion of LDS women? By starting with the complaints and mentioning the impact of toddlers on skirts, which is not a consideration for employees during their workday or most missionaries, it seemed to imply that these clothing standards are commonly expected among LDS women in general.

      • Ziff says:

        I think the mandates directed at narrow groups of women (missionaries, employees) come from the same place as clear cultural expectations that women in general in the Church dress a particular way. It’s great, Naismith, that you’re able to ignore cultural expectations, but most people don’t work that way. Most of us feel pressure to conform to norms of others in our group.

  4. Left Field says:

    Perhaps I’ve been misinformed, but I was under the impression that pantyhose provide a surprising degree of insulation for their weight. Someone who referees football games once told me that in cold weather, refs often wear pantyhose under their uniform, since they are less bulky than long johns and more suitable for the required activity of running back and forth across a gridiron. I didn’t get the impression he was pulling my leg, but I’ve never had occasion to test it myself. Did I buy a load of baloney?

    • No idea about that, but as a woman who has worn pantyhose in December and January, I certainly didn’t feel insulated.

    • Sophia says:

      I live in Sweden and like to wear pantyhose under my jeans in winter. Pantyhose on their own do nothing in cold weather, but as insulation, they do create a little extra layer of air that traps warmth. Not a lot, but some.

  5. Angela C says:

    Pantyhose can also create issues with female health problems like yeast infections. Although they were on the pack list for women serving in 1989 when I served, nobody wore them in my mission. They weren’t worn locally at all and would have been inappropriate for the climate. Garments can contribute to these types of health issues as well. Hopefully, some of the rumored design changes will address that. Health and safety are theoretically important, but the fact that men don’t wear these things and don’t have female bodies do create a serious blind spot, and it seems to be a byproduct of male church leaders’ ages and cultural norms. I haven’t found as many younger men in the church to be stuck on these things.

    • Right. In the MTC I was told that it was required for all sister missionaries to wear pantyhose, and when I arrived at my tropical mission, I was told that they had arranged an exception to the rule for that particular mission and we were not to wear them in that country because of the risk of infection.

      I didn’t get into garments with this post, because it goes beyond the scope of this post. But garments are a perfect illustration of the problems with male mandates on female clothing. I have written some posts about garments issues previously here http://www.the-exponent.com/the-mormon-underwear-monopoly/ and here http://www.the-exponent.com/maternity-garment-wishes/

    • Marguerite says:

      Angela thank you for bringing up the garment issue! When I converted in 1981 and then attended the Temple for the first time I felt very blessed to have my garments but over the years and many hot summers I became a little less enamored of them. First I have Tinea Versicolor and ANY heat and humidity causes it to flare up and get very irritating and I have been in weather hot enough that just my legs rubbing together as I walked caused an almost blister like irritation on the inside of my thighs. Consequently there are days when I have to mow or do yard work that I just don’t wear them and then I feel guilty. I think women have enough in their lives to feel guilty or shamed about without the church dress code getting in the mix. Maybe someday soon some of these issues will be addressed!

  6. Patricia I Johnson says:

    One of the few times I wore lipstick, to a back-to-school night (I was a teacher), a student said, Oh, Ms. Johnson, you have such tiny lips. I was so,so done after that. Never again!

  7. Ziff says:

    Excellent post, April. Lots of things are “not that hard” to those of us who don’t have to comply with them. It would be great if women could be just left alone and trusted to make clothing decisions on their own.

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