Like the clean-shaven face, the white shirt has come to symbolize the oppressive nature of the LDS Church to some members and, in many cases, former members. In particular, some women claim to be stifled by the strong patriarchal structure of the Church. In fact, because of their own dispositions, probably are. I would venture a guess that most active church members do not feel this way.
Firstly, the white dress shirt for men is as much a convenience as anything. When wearing a suit or jacket, the white shirt goes with anything, almost any tie and reduces the need for color matching. Men, in general are more inclined this way. Most would rather not be bothered worrying about whether a certain tie goes with a certain shirt. For women, this may be a different story. I know for me, I have to ask my wife if a certain shirt and tie combination look OK, when I wear a colored dress shirt. Unless, of course, it was already decided in advance. 🙂
But, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I have come to see the white dress shirt at Church as an important symbol that can be incorporated into my Sunday worship. Elder Russell M. Nelson gave what was for me, the most reasonable explanation for the wearing of the white dress shirt I have heard.
In the 2003 Worldwide Leadership Training, he said this while speaking of the Aaronic Priesthood administration of the Sacrament:
“White shirts not only look nice, but they are a gentle reminder of other sacred rites such as Baptismal and Temple Ordnances at which white clothing is also worn.”
I like this idea. In fact, it was a wonderful revelation to me on how simple things can be connected together to form a chain connecting us to the Savior. Sure, it is a same subtle thing, but, it was a reasonable explanation for the rationale of the white shirt. Not required, per se, but a “gentle reminder.” And, I don’t always wear a white shirt on Sundays, but most of the time I do, for this reason.
Early in my church career, so to speak, I was Deacon’s Quorum Advisor. I saw how the colored shirt could also be seen as a subtle sign of rebellion. When a Deacon didn’t want to pass the sacrament on Sunday, he would usually do one of two things. Either arrive to the chapel late after the meeting started (whether his family was there or not), or wear a colored dress shirt. I have seen the other members of the Aaronic Priesthood pull this trick as well. Perhaps it was the only clean shirt he had? After a while, you see a pattern. I also see this was some older brethren as well who tend to be “reluctant servants….”
One of my friends, who almost always wears colored shirts on Sundays recently started wearing white shirts as his son is now serving a mission. When I asked him why he did that, he just said, “It seemed appropriate to me while he is out in the mission field.” I thought that was a nice gesture honoring his son’s service to the Lord.