“When and where is it acceptable for young women to wear pants when involved in Church-related activities?” New Era, Dec. 1974, 12–13
Answer/Sister Hortense H. Child
In many countries the choice of how women dress is made for them. For instance, as you leave the airplane in the tiny East African country of Malawi, you immediately see a sign that reads in part:
“In Malawi it is traditional for women not to appear in public in dresses that expose any part of the leg above the knee … also restrictions for women are shorts and trousers worn in public.
“Thoughtful and courteous visitors will respect our local customs and avoid any possibility of embarrassment by conforming with our conventions on female attire.”
In most parts of the world, however, women wear pants, shorts, miniskirts, or short and long dresses as they choose. And because of the great variety of choice, decisions of what to wear must be made. Latter-day Saint girls have to make such decisions in the face of fads and styles and many varied activities. Customs of the country you live in, the friends you have, the family you belong to, and the day in which you live all influence what is acceptable in dress for women.
I suppose two of the most frequently asked questions that I receive in my contacts with girls and adult leaders throughout the Church are: “When and where can girls wear pants?” “Do they have to change into dresses for certain activities?”
Very frequently we find adult leaders and youth in disagreement about the appropriateness and acceptability of dress. It is easy to forget that what is acceptable for one may not be for another.
Often there is a difference between what is acceptable in the world and what is appropriate for Latter-day Saint women to wear. To be acceptable, something is satisfactory or agreeable. To be appropriate means that which is proper and suitable. Often what is acceptable is not appropriate, but generally what is appropriate will be acceptable. How, then, can you be helped to know what is appropriate for you to wear as you engage in Church-related or other activities?
Following is the statement of the First Presidency of the Church made in June 1971 regarding women’s dress:
“The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing. We have always counseled our members to be modest in their dress, maintaining such standards in connection therewith as would not be embarrassing to themselves and to their relatives, friends, and associates.
“We have advised our people that when going to the temple they should not wear slacks or miniskirts, or otherwise dress immodestly. We have not, however, felt it wise or necessary to give instructions on this subject relative to attendance at our Church meetings, although we do feel that on such occasions they should have in mind that they are in the house of the Lord and should conduct themselves accordingly.” (Priesthood Bulletin, June 1971.)
The Brethren who published this statement are prophets of God who are motivated by their knowledge of God, his purpose and plan of life, and a deep desire to assist us all to live happily and righteously. They have advised and given counsel. They have not instructed in detail as to what is acceptable except to say that we are advised not to wear slacks or miniskirts when attending the temple. Their counsel is to be modest and avoid embarrassment to ourselves, our families, and our friends.
When and where you young women wear pants, except in those cases that are defined by those having authority to do so, is a decision that you yourselves must make in consultation with your parents and leaders.
There are some basic correct principles you should be aware of before making the decision as to whether or not pants should be worn:
1. You should know that as a Latter-day Saint girl you have a special calling as a woman, distinct and different from men, and thus are responsible for making a womanly contribution to life and the Lord’s plan.
2. The Lord intended that men and women be different and fulfill specific roles. When a young woman dresses femininely, she helps to keep those roles clarified and defined.
3. Stake and district presidents, bishops, and branch presidents are called to be spiritual leaders in their stakes, districts, wards, and branches and have a responsibility to set guidelines for dress that will aid in the spiritual development of those members under their jurisdiction.
4. When and where young women wear pants may be determined by those who are involved in planning the event to be held. Recently a committee of youth leaders discussed at great length whether or not young women should wear pants to a dance at a youth conference. After counseling together, the young people decided that dressy pants for both young men and young women were appropriate, but not “grubbies” or denims.
5. The nature of the event to be held will have a great bearing on whether or not pants are to be worn. For today’s active, energetic young women who participate in sports and other vigorous activities, wearing pants is both acceptable and appropriate for those occasions. In response to my question about when he thought it was appropriate for young women to wear pants, a young priest recently said to me, “When a girl wants to be at her very best and look her prettiest and be really dressed up, she will wear a dress.” There are many occasions in Church-related activities when a girl wants and needs to be her prettiest and be “really dressed up.” One of these, of course, is at sacrament meeting where we come to worship our Father in heaven. For other meetings of a sacred nature or special cultural events, a dress will be most appropriate.
In making your decisions as to when pants are appropriate for a Church-related activity, you might ask yourself the following:
Has there been a general definition of dress standards issued by the local priesthood authorities? If so, to dress contrary to that definition would be inappropriate.
Has the type of dress to be worn been defined by those who are responsible for the event?
Would I, my family, or my friends be embarrassed by my wearing pants to this occasion?
Will my attire permit me to participate fully in the activity?
Will my attire contribute positively to the atmosphere and tone of the occasion?
Have I added a feminine influence to the occasion?
Will my Heavenly Father be pleased with me?
Will I be pleased with myself?
Further wise counsel has been given by the General Authorities:
“… Guided by the Holy Spirit, let parents, teachers, and youth consider the particulars of dress, grooming, and personal appearance, and with free agency accept responsibility and choose the right.” (Priesthood Bulletin, Sept. 1970.)
Therefore, young women, you and your parents must evaluate and decide when you will wear pants. You have the ability with the help of your Heavenly Father to decide for yourself what is appropriate and acceptable to wear based on correct principles and understanding. When you do this, the world can be more beautiful because of you.