“Who establishes Church dress standards?” New Era, Apr. 1972, 10–11
Answer/Carol H. Cannon
Because of their desire to be in step with current styles and at the same time conform to and be in harmony with what is expected of them as members of the Church, youth everywhere are concerned about dress standards. And so the question frequently arises, Who is it that determines what Church standards of dress shall be? Is it a Church auxiliary? a committee? a school faculty? The answer is that it is none of these. It is true that an organization may set up certain standards or restrictions for those who participate in its programs or activities, and the trustees of Church schools establish rules and standards for those who enroll in those schools. Such standards and regulations are determined by the leaders of the specific group and in terms of what they think is best for the majority of those concerned, but these regulations would not necessarily apply to members of the Church in other areas and under other conditions. Hence they would not be Church-wide regulations or standards.
Might we then assume that it is the President of the Church or some or all of the General Authorities who establish Church-wide standards?
From the beginning of the Church, members have been counseled by the prophets and leaders to avoid that which is immodest and not in good taste and to be “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12.) As early as 1869 Brigham Young called his family together and organized them into a society for “the promotion of habits of order, thrift, industry and charity; and above all to retrench from extravagance in dress, in eating and even in speech.” (History of the YWMIA, p. 1.)
Our present-day leaders are anxiously engaged in teaching us correct standards of dress and conduct, with emphasis on the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
Even if it were the desire of our leaders to dictate specific dress standards for Church members everywhere, it would be difficult, if not impossible, because of the worldwide scope of the Church and the fact that modes of dress vary among different cultures and from generation to generation. And so, rather than do this, they consistently and forcefully point out and set before us the standards and principles that the Lord established as guidelines for entrance into his kingdom.
Foremost among these principles are those that pertain to purity of thought and action. Since modesty is an essential element of purity, and, in the matter of dress, is interpreted to mean clothing the body adequately and in good taste, dress standards become a matter of concern to youth, to parents, and to our Church leaders.
In this matter of modesty, as in other concepts, the Lord tries to teach us by giving us principles rather than by listing exact specifics that would tend to take from us our free agency. To help us understand and interpret these principles and make the right choice is a primary role of our Church leaders.
In his book Youth and the Church, President Harold B. Lee has this to say:
“So it is with many situations with which you are confronted. The decision as to whether or not a thing is right or wrong must be left to the judgment of your conscience, plus an understanding that comes with learning and experience. At best in all such matters the Church can teach you correct principles and you must learn to govern yourselves.” (Youth and the Church, Deseret Book Co., 1955, p. 155.)
And so the question: Who establishes Church standards of dress?
The answer: The Lord gives us the principles and the guidelines. Our Church leaders try to help us understand and abide by these principles. With our God-given free agency, we make a choice based on our faith and understanding, and we establish our own personal standards as members of his Church, recognizing that we are accountable to him and to others whom we influence.