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Wearing Pants to Church

I’ve been wearing pants to church since the first of the year. My pants are not jeans or khaki’s, they’re nice dress pants*. I wear a blouse or a sweater and jewelry to make sure I’m in my “Sunday Best.” The first Sunday I felt a little weird about it, since women traditionally wear skirts or dresses to LDS services, but ever since that first week it’s felt normal. Perhaps ward members who know I’m a feminist think I’m rebellious.  But I’m not, I assured my husband, making a political, social, or feminist statement (although I’m not afraid to make those). I’m simply being practical.

When I’m crawling around on the floor with the toddlers, jumping like a frog, or cleaning up play-dough, I don’t want to worry about keeping myself modest in a skirt.

Yes, I’m the nursery leader and I’m surprisingly happy about it. Although I have a two year-old in nursery with me, I’d much rather be singing and playing with him (and snacking) than sitting through Relief Society or Sunday School.  I’d also reached the end of my rope teaching the 14 year-old Sunday School class. My lessons were very conflicted, like I was trying to resolve my own cognitive dissonance in front of them every other week. It was intellectually exhausting.

Thankfully, the nursery lessons are just my speed.

Oddly enough, only one person in my ward has commented on my wearing pants (although hardly anyone sees me when I’m back in nursery). A fellow mother of a nursery-goer said, “You’re so smart to wear pants! I bet that makes things easier in nursery.”

Why yes, it does.

Do you wear pants to church?

Do you consider it rebellious or a big deal at all?

* Footnote:

Since I’ve been wearing pants for several months now, I’ve discovered that pants, like skirts, have their benefits and drawbacks.  Obviously, the benefits of pants are freedom to move, comfort, and modesty. The drawback is that my dress pants tend to be a higher quality than my skirts (more expensive to buy and clean) and must be worn with fancier tops to make them look suitable for church.  So, instead of a cotton knit skirt and a shirt with a necklace that might cost a total of $15 and be machine washable, I’m wearing my fancy dress pants with a fancy blouse.  This would be great if I weren’t getting smeared with fishy cracker goo, peanut butter, and unmentionable bodily fluids  so that I have to take my clothes to the dry cleaner weekly.

Do you think I can submit my dry cleaning bill for reimbursement by the Primary?  I’m starting to think that I haven’t really found the solution to the Nursery wardrobe question. Do you have one?


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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36 Responses

  1. Keri Brooks says:

    I wear pants to non-Sacrament meetings. This includes stake and general conference. Now that I think about it, I was wearing a pantsuit to stake conference yesterday. Nobody said anything about it, but I wonder if it subtly influenced how the question I asked the visiting general authority was answered.

    I’ve worn pants to Sacrament meeting when I travel, and I’ve never gotten any flack for it, even in conservative areas of Utah. I’ve never had the guts to do it in my home ward, but maybe I will some day. I wish the thought had occurred to me when I was the nursery leader. It would have been so much easier.

    As far as the dry cleaning goes, have you tried Dryel? You put the clothes in a cloth bag, drop a sheet in, and dry clean them in your dryer. I use it for my work clothes, and I love it!

  2. Joseph Smidt says:

    “Do you wear pants to church?”


    “Do you consider it rebellious or a big deal at all?”

    No, I don’t even notice. In fact, I bet those that do notice are in such a minority that if you are doing it to be rebellious you are wasting your time.

    Just wear what you think is your Sunday best and be happy with it.

  3. Chelsea says:

    I’m also a nursery leader, and I often wear pants. I get some weird looks from other women (mostly just ones who don’t know me) but it’s well worth it to be comfortable and modest. Especially since one of my assistants is a man. He’s never told me so, but I’m sure he appreciates me not flashing my garments at him every time I get up and down from the floor with a 2 year old on my hip.

  4. Chelsea says:

    Forgot to add that I have never seen another woman wearing pants to my ward. And I notice those sorts of things as for me, it is a feminist issue.

  5. CatherineWO says:

    I have never worn pants to church, but would love to, if only my husband weren’t such an old-fashioned prude about dress and grooming (he has redeeming qualities). It isn’t uncommon, however, here in Montana to see women in pants in the winter time. We were in Washington DC last month and attended the Capitol Hill Ward, where there were several women wearing pants (dress slacks).
    Because of my sensitivity to toxic chemicals, several years ago I got rid of all of my clothes that had to be drycleaned. I have found dress slacks and skirts in fabrics that can be washed and hung to dry, such as rayon, cotton blends and linen. Eddie Bauer, Lands End and LLBean all make knit pants that are also very dressy when worn with a rayon or linen blouse. I wash these fabrics in my front-load washer in cold water on low spin and then hang them to dry on a plastic tube hanger. Most clothing manufacturers will tell you officially that rayon and linen should be drycleaned, but it really isn’t necessary.

  6. Erin says:

    I have not yet worn pants to church, but after this past Indiana winter I plan on it for next winter. Expecting women to wear dresses or skirts in -30 degree weather is just ridiculous. When in nursery I seriously considered it several times, especially since we had 3 nursery classes that all had to rotate. That’s a lot of climbing over gates, which is rather awkward in a skirt.

  7. Caroline says:

    I have worn pants to church a handful of times. For me it’s both about the principle and the practical. The practical is that pants are warmer in the winter, and they are more modest when you’re bending over and picking up kids.

    The principle is that there’s absolutely nothing disrespectful about women wearing nice pants to church. Nothing. In fact, I think nice pants can look very professional – certainly far more professional than a jean skirt, t-shirt, and flip flops that I see so many women wear to church with no recrimination or odd looks.

    The idea that women should wear skirts or dresses to church is just pure ol’ Wasatch front Mormon culture, and I’m heartened to know there are women out there who are willing to go against this taboo.

  8. Corktree says:

    I would have no problem with pants, except that skirts flatter my shape better. But I agree with Catherine, I have had some very nice slacks in the past that I was able to wash on my own. Not sure what they were made of, but I thought they looked fine with my cotton blouses that are easily washed at home (although I’m not a big fan of ironing).

    On the issue in general, I’m just now remembering a young couple that has been coming to our ward off and on. She wears some odd style of “dress shorts” whenever I see her. I haven’t spoken to her, but I don’t get the impression that they are investigators. It makes me wonder why she is doing it. Could she be a feminist in hiding? Hmm….

  9. Sterling Fluharty says:

    I thought skirts and dresses at church were a way to keep Mormon women looking feminine. I assumed most Mormon men preferred this attire because it accentuates women’s shapes and curves. And it seems to me that Mormon men are no exception when it comes to finding women’s legs attractive. I figure the wearing of pants at church by women is a good way to push back against those masculine obsessions. I also agree they are quite comfortable at church. 😉

  10. Carol says:

    When we attend a Church meeting, our purpose is to worship our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ. Our clothing should show our reverence for Them. – Robert D. Hales, “Modesty,” Ensign, Aug. 2008

    I think we all need to look at how we dress and see if it is enhancing our personal worship. What do we want out of our experience at church?

    I have served in nursery at least eight times in my adult life and will probably be called several more times before I am too old to lift a toddler. I have never had a problem finding modest dresses to wear to church/nursery. I have also worn a long skirt with long-johns underneath on cold days

    To borrow from the 11th Article of Faith I claim the privilege of dressing according to the dictates of my own conscience, and allow all women the same privilege, let them wear what they may.

  11. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I will have to look into machine washable dress pants or using Dryell in my own washer and dryer.

    As for it being about emphasizing women’s femininity, I think I can see that perspective. But as far as showing off legs, I’m not sure that’s true, as skirts were the dress code long before the hemline moved above the ankle.

    Of course you’re free to wear what you wish to church, as am I.
    I wonder why you wear skirts? Do you have a testimony of them? Do you feel more worshipful or righteous in a skirt? Is it possible that a woman could feel more worshipful or righteous in dress pants? I’m noticed your quote mentions our clothing showing reverence for God. What does that mean to you? It’s mystifying to me. Aside from a t-shirt that shouts obscenities, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t really care about what I wear as long as I am pure in heart. If I recall, that’s one of the messages of the New Testament.

    I understand the cultural argument, that’s what we’ve always done, but I don’t understand any doctrinal argument. I’m interested to hear one.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  12. mb says:

    In modern culture our everyday work attire and grooming is determined by a combination of practicality, dress code, fashion and self expression. The ratio of those four elements may differ depending on the kind of work we do.

    For some venues, the element of expression of respect is included. (For example, when I was a child, my mother expected us to dress nicely when we went to visit my great aunt.)

    For worship venues, the element of expression of worship is also included in choice of attire.

    There is no one right way to express respect and worship in dress. Different women in different cultures (including different generational and regional cultures) will express it differently.

    If I wear a particular pair of pants to church because they best reflect my respect and worship and enhance my ability to serve while I am there, then that’s fine. If I wear a particular pair of pants simply to make a personal statement or to follow a fashion, then I may be missing another way of expressing to God my devotion.

    If I wear a particular type of skirt to church because that’s how I express my respect and worship and it works with my ability to serve while I am there. then that’s fine. If I wear a particular skirt to church simply because I think I look great in it or because that’s what everyone else is wearing, then, again, I may be missing another way of expressing to God my devotion.

    For my grandmother, her way of expressing devotion was to include a hat and a pair of gloves. Going to the trouble of including those was one of her ways of showing great respect, which I respect.

    The question isn’t whether or not it’s okay for you to wear pants. The question is, where is your heart? Ideally, that Sabbath morning decision about what to wear is a further opportunity to, with consideration, reflect the worship you are also planning on expressing in action and word that day.

    That said, that question about your heart and your attire is one to ask yourself about you and to teach to your children. We have no call to ask that question about the sister sitting next to us in church. Instead, it is our duty to assume that she is already doing that, whether or not the result she comes up with is the same sort of one we might have.

    At different times in my life, I’ve worn different things. I currently express my respect, worship and willingness to serve with a nice, clean skirt and blouse and sturdy walking shoes. If a sister expresses hers with some other form of attire, that’s her business; certainly not mine.

  13. mb says:

    “I’m noticed your quote mentions our clothing showing reverence for God. What does that mean to you? It’s mystifying to me. ”

    I checked out the article Carol referenced. In it Robert Hales writes about our hearts respecting and loving God and our brothers and sisters and the helpful nature of using our outward appearance as a further way (besides our words, action and attitudes) to express that reverence and love for all of them.

    He certainly doesn’t discuss pants vs. skirts. He avoids discussing specific attire.

    His essay is far from perfect, but if you can overlook the imperfections and just pay attention to the principles he discusses it may give you an insight into how that notion of dress as an expression of reverence might be applicable to a person considering further ways to express, enhance and enable further respect and love for fellow men and God.

  14. JM says:

    The only thing I’ve ever seen mentioned about women wearig pants to church was in the November 1978 Ensign in the Report of the Seminar for Regional Representatives. All it states is that wives of church leaders should wear dresses, not pantsuits, while accompanying their husbands on official church business.

    I can’t find anything else mentioned about it.

  15. Emily U says:

    I should be wearing pants to church because 1) I am also the Nursery leader 2) I play the organ, and it’s impossible to see my feet wearing a skirt unless I hike it up to immodest heights (which I do, and hope the bishopric doesn’t turn around) and 3) I am pregnant, so I feel like I should get a free pass to wear whatever is comfortable.

    But, I don’t wear pants, because I can’t really afford to invest in maternity pants/blouse outfits that I feel are nice enough for church. So I’m wearing my $30 knit maternity dresses a lot (including to work).

    I think it’s great you’re wearing pants, I find nothing at all wrong with it.

  16. ESO says:

    I have known women to change into pants or put on some legging kind of things under their dress for nursery work. I think it is entirely practical. Although when I worked in nursery, I wore skirts–I did not and do not tend to wear skirts of a length that become immodest when seated on the floor–I am too grateful to anyone willing to serve happily in nursery to get too concerned about what they wear.

    The reason I wear skirts and dresses to Church (and I actually DO look askance at people wearing denim skirts–my mama brainwashed me into that) is that it is different than what I wear the rest of the week. I like Sunday to be a day apart as much as possible, so I abstain from some everyday activities and wear a different set of clothes. It helps me remember to act differently and meditate more on the Sabbath.

    An imperfect comparison, to be sure, but in my years as a missionary and later as a teacher at the MTC, I saw how much dress affected actions and even thoughts. Without exception that I know of (although such a exception probably exists) missionaries who did stupid things (ranging from stupid to disobedient to excommunicateable) did so in their P-day clothes, not their missionary dress. For me, dressing differently (and skirts/dresses are strictly Sabbath for me) helps me keep that Sabbath state of mind.

  17. nat kelly says:

    I think that pants as a symbol is highly dependent on context.

    I started wearing them first when I was in a city ward in Philly. I biked to church, in the winter, and there was no way in hell that was happening in a dress. But the ward was mostly non-Wasatch front converts, so there were tons of women who probably didn’t even own a dress, people in African robes, boys serving the sacrament with bandanas, YW president with earrings, etc. Little old me in pants didn’t matter one tiny bit. There, it was purely for convenience sake. If I wanted to wear a dress, I did. If I wanted to wear pants, I did. No social ruckus necessary.

    But now I live in a much more Utah-feeling ward, and I’m often one of the only women in pants. I’ve gotten a few glances because of it. And because of that, it has become a symbol for me. Now I am inclined to wear pants as a statement, because I am trying to go against the undertones of conformity that I feel here more than I did in Philly.

  18. nat kelly says:

    Make that YM Pres with earrings… a little more scandalous than a YW Pres having them (though I was the YW Pres in pants….. the horror!)

  19. Two of Three says:

    My kids love to “out” me. Occasionally, I wear pants to church and my kids will tease the bishop “Look! Mom is wearing pants!” The bishop, who is a friend of mine, always says “Your mom could wear pajamas for all I care. I’m glad she is here!”

    As long as we are respectful (nix the pjs), I don’t think the Lord cares what we wear. He is the only one I have to please.

  20. Jessawhy says:

    Again, great comments.

    As an Arizona resident, I wear skirts several times a week, as they are cooler than pants or even some shorts.

    Dress pants are about as far from my regular apparel as I could get. I actually hadn’t thought about that, but I think that it’s probably true, I’ve worn the skirt and blouse to the park or grocery store, but I only wear my dress pants for church, a funeral or a wedding (and any business events I may be invited to). So, for me, they really are the more respectful option. Thanks for helping me think of it in that light.

    The fact that pants are less feminine than skirts really hasn’t been discussed much (aside from one comment). I’m interested that people don’t seem to think that it’s a relevant part of the discussion?

  21. Amy says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, but my first thought was, I have a great full, long denim skirt that would match with a lot of shirts/blouses and it gives me plenty of modesty as well as freedom to move. Just a thought!! I enjoy nursery too!

  22. Marie says:

    I think it can be a sign of feminist rebellion, but it most certainly doesn’t have to be. The woman who taught the RS lesson on Adam and Eve and used the lesson as an opportunity to tell us why feminism is so horrible and men are the “head honchos” (she really said this!) wore pants to church a few weeks later.

  23. Chelsea says:

    I think Sterling hit the nail on the head – the tradition of women wearing skirts to church is all about femininity. It’s a way of emphasizing our differences. We’re not supposed to look professional at church – we’re supposed to look submissive and sweet.

  24. Molly says:

    I recall in the early ’90s when a letter was read from the pulpit declaring trousers on women to be Verboten. I agree with the above comments that dresses are assigned to women as a gendered uniform. Suit and tie = masculine and authoritative. Dress = feminine and submissive.

    For my own part, I find it unfair that women are expected to wear skirts, simply because most chapels are kept at the temperature of a meat locker. Funny how cold the aircon gets when a fat man in a wool suit gets to set the temperature.

  25. CatherineWO says:

    I think that women wearing only dresses is clearly a demarcation of rigid gender roles, but then that’s the elephant in the room (or chapel), isn’t it?

  26. Paula says:

    There’s a woman in my ward who regularly wears dress pants to church. I think I probably didn’t even notice it for awhile because I just don’t particularly care what others are wearing. My guess is that no one in our fairly laid back beach town ward would even comment about the pants.

    My friend who’s in nursery takes a pair of jeans and a shirt to change into after Sacrament Meeting so that she can get down on the floor and play. She’s in her mid-60’s, and I just think it’s great that she is still willing to get down on the floor and play with other people’s children.

  27. EM says:

    I don’t get the feminist/pant issue. Why is wearing pants to church considered being a feminist or being rebellious? I think it’s a great idea, and way comfortable. I think it could and should become the norm, but the problem is too many women I think would wear pants that are either too tight, too baggy, or too worn, thus spoiling it for everyone. After being in the work force for 20 plus year, and wearing pants for that long, it was always difficult for me to wear a dress or skirt on Sunday. I hate wearing pantyhose, so wearing pants would alleviate that problem. Speaking of pantyhose – a Stake President that I had, told the women in a stake conference that they were to always wear pantyhose to church. Needless to say there were many that openly “rebelled”. Can you imagine your SP telling you that? Wearing dresses/skirts is considered part of the
    “vain traditions of our forefathers”, and should be done away with. I wonder what the Brethren would say to that.

  28. Kelly Ann says:

    I wear pants to church on occasion. I wear them mostly when I bike but also when I might be going somewhere afterwards where a skirt wouldn’t be appropriate (like if I drop by the lab). At first, I felt a little self-conscious, but in my ward, it is not really a big deal. Wearing them didn’t stop the Bishop from sustaining me as Relief Society Secretary last month. Granted I am not the only woman in my ward who wears pants. In fact, I have gotten a few compliments on one particular pant suit (that fits me really well). I think most people are just glad to see me in church. I will admit though that beyond the practicality, I do realize wearing them goes against the norm, which I hope I’m influencing the betterment of.

    I remember the first time I wore pants to church. I was on a business trip and unexpectedly had a break long enough to slip to church in my pant suit. I am embarrassed to say how self conscious I felt at the time when I should have just been grateful to make it to church.

  29. Clean Cut says:

    I need an equivalent of a “lava lava” or some other nice outfit where I don’t have to wear pants or socks. I get way too hot, especially summers in San Antonio. I’m kind of jealous of my wife who gets to show some leg and thereby remain cool. Of course that brings up another dilemma. It’s usually the women who complain of being cold. Perhaps it should be the men who dress in skirts; women could use the pants.

  30. Suzette says:

    YES, I wear pants to church and have for years. Sometimes I even wear pants to the temple.

    I also wear skirts to church.

    When I go to my office each morning, I sometimes where pants and sometimes wear skirts.

    Each morning (Sundays included), I look in my closet and assess my mood. Whatever is clean and seems right for the day and the mood – I wear. That means, sometimes I wear pants to church. I conduct RS in pants, I give talks in pants, and I teach lessons in pants.

    Because I’ve done it for so long, I don’t even notice it. It’s my Sunday best and I feel comfortable.

    I do get lots of comments. Most of them are “I love you for wearing pants.” “I wish I had the courage to wear pants.” – and on rare occasion, “Did you know that The Brethern have asked women to wear dresses and skirts to church?”

    Most people think I’m BOLD to wear pants, but I honestly don’t know why more women don’t. That is a question I’d like to ask women: why DON’T you wear pants to church.

    I think it’s nice of members dress well for church, but honestly, I’d rather have them AT church than not there for wardrobe reasons. I think the church culture should say, “Just Come! In whatever you have. We want you here. Just Come.”

    I’m not trying to make a statement with pants; but I do want to push the boundaries. I want people to think a little differently and expand their minds to what is acceptable – or even “right”.


  31. Carol says:

    Jessawhy, In answer to your question of why I wear skirts, this is a personal choice that sets the day apart for me and reminds me to think about God. I actually wear a dress or skirt all day on Sundays. For me personally this isn’t a doctrine issue it is a reminder that the Sabbath is important and differs from the rest of the week. There are many ways to remind ourselves of the importance of our relationship with God and this is just one small thing that reminds me. I am sure you have things that help you grow closer to God I wish you joy in your journey!

  32. Dayna says:

    I am a nursery leader, and I think I will start wearing pants. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before. But I’m totally going to start. Thanks for the idea!

  33. palmetto says:

    i wear pants to any meeting i attend, sacrament, relief society whatever. i get a dirty looks from some of the older ladies. one recently offered me some of her old skirts that didn’t fit her anymore.(i am sure she meant well).
    i feel like as long as they are “modest” and my sunday best, they can stuff their old lady dirty looks.

  34. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comment. I have surprisingly not gotten any strange looks, but partly that’s because I’m in the nursery. 🙂

  35. Michael says:

    Hello I’M a male age 42 from Macomb, MI. wear pants. I wear sheer Knee Hi’s in tan or Black with all my dress pants/jeans as i think they make you look dressed up more I even wear ear rings to each there own. just look Good for God

  36. Sarah says:

    I don’t care if this is 2 year old post. I just want to say that I have been thinking about this for some time, and finally decided to look into nice pants to wear to church under long tunic tops. Some days I just don’t want to wear a skirt or a dress. Especially in the nice cold winter. I at first was scared of doing it, but finally decided just today actually that I would try it. No looks, it helps i think that I’m in a young married ward.

    I just think the phrase is “Don’t judge”, people can wear whatever they feel is best for church.

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