Wearing Pastel Pantsuits

Bored in Vernalchurch, Culture, Discrimination, diversity 37 Comments

It was back in the 1980’s, and she wore a pastel pantsuit to Church.  It wasn’t just any pastel pantsuit, either.  This was a sophisticated lady; older, silver-haired, moneyed; and what she wore was pure class.  She put all of us with our floral skirts or Mormon tent-dresses to shame.  Because I was her visiting teacher, I knew why she wore a pantsuit to Church.  She had severe eczema on her legs.  They were raw and red and often bore open sores.  Pantyhose were a nightmare for her, and she couldn’t bear to bare those legs.  So she wore her beautiful pantsuits, but she always felt a sense of shame.  She would pull and tug on the fabric.  She would enter the chapel surreptitiously, after the opening hymn had started, and she would sit in the seat in the very corner, next to the door.  She’d cross her ankles and tuck her legs waaaay under the pew.

When you walked into Church last Sunday, were you wearing your pastel pantsuit?  Did you feel just a bit different than everyone else in their white shirt and tie?  Are you, perhaps, an Obama supporter, or do you have a tattoo from your days in the army?  Maybe you don’t look any different, but you’re always crossing your figurative ankles, hiding under the pew your conviction that women should hold the priesthood!

We are all diverse, some more obviously than others.  Many of us have felt the pain of being different.  But today I’d like to focus our thoughts outside ourselves.  Today I would like to ask you: Who is wearing the purple pantsuit in your ward?  Who is the one who is just a little bit different?  Do you know their story?  What have you done to welcome them to the table?

Please share.

Comments 37

  1. Why in the world would the woman in your story feel shame and why did she put those of you to shame simply because you wore traditional clothing worn by LDS women. The only people that should feel ashamed are the people that judged her for wearing a pant suit and perhaps those who felt ashamed for focusing on something so superficial as what kind of a dress someone was wearing. If the sister you described in the pant suit was trying to make a statement it would be one thing but there was a legitimate reason. By the way, did she tell you she was ashamed?

    If there are Obama supporters in the church I doubt they would appreciate having their support compared to a chronic skin condition.

  2. James, some people in our wards are different because they are making a statement and some are different for a “legitimate reason.” It appears to me that your challenge might be accepting those who are making a statement. Do you know anyone like this in your ward, and what have you done to make them feel a part of the body of Christ?

    I am hoping that sharing these experiences might aid in introspection and also give the rest of us ideas on how to reach out to others we perceive as different.

  3. I remember a guy in Radford, VA – where I served as a missionary – he said that he couldn’t come to church because people could smell his sins (as he patted the cigarette pack in his shirt pocket).

    Ever since then I wondered what would happen if sins came with particular odours and how that could change the church for the better. By the time of my mission I had already been counseled by a member of local church leadership to seriously consider my political affiliation before signing my recommend, but I didn’t take it too seriously then. I figured I wasn’t on the left, I was just where the righteous should be (the self confidence of youth, I suppose). The Liberal Party of Canada was my pant suit I suppose.

  4. Bored In Vernal,

    Welcome to Mormon Matters from a sometimes scruffy-faced, bolo-wearing Obamaniac who goes to church most Sundays!

    I can’t agree more with your sentiments here. I have faced down my own distaste for the occasional “weirdo” in church enough to realize that may be exactly what church is about–helping us love everybody, especially those we would otherwise never choose to associate with.

  5. I thought this was thoughtful and beautifully written. I can’t tell you how many sisters I met as a RS president who wouldn’t come to church because they “didn’t fit in” for one reason or the other. Including me.

  6. Re #2

    Is Utah really the leanest state? I remember sitting and holding my seat for hours at the Hill Cumorah pageant for hours and observing those around me over that time. Granted they were not all from Utah, but overweight people with garments hanging out below their knee shorts was a recurring theme.

  7. I live in a rather big city with a little ward. We ALL have a story, I guess this is why we never had someone feeling he/she did not fit in.
    Let me see….the bishop is close to being the most traditionnal mormon you can expect in the church but his son (who was our bishop previously) is going through a really rough time and maybe working his way back from having a divorce. I am praying that he and his wife will keep on working on their marriage.
    There is “D” that everybody loves and who embodies all by herself what RS is about. She never had her children baptized in the church, there is a long and sad stroy behind it. And she never went to the temple either although she has been a member for like 50 years now. “A” is strugling to bring her children to church because she is the only one making this effort in her couple. Her husband got into trouble and when we don’t see him at church we can fear that he is either sleeping or getting into the trouble he went to jail for. “C” had to forgive her husband. “O” is hopping that her family will join the church and it goes this way for absolutely everyone in the ward.
    I guess this is why they never droped me ;o) I guess I just fit in! LOL

    I may move someday but I really don’t feel like hiding what makes me different from the traditional mormon pattern. I amproud/grateful for it and if some don’t feel comfortable with me because of it there is nothing much I can do for them.

  8. “If you read the story, you will see that we are ALL fat. Colorado (and Utah) are just less fat than the others!”

    Cool; that means I fit in! We have a woman who attends our ward (or the other ward that meets in our building, depending on whatever that day) who is . . . full-figured and wears blouses that are a step above tank tops. She’s a sweet lady who has struggled with a lot of things, and the important thing is that she comes to church.

    Great post; Elder Wirthlin’s talk last conference session is one of my all-time favorites.

  9. I do find it interesting that we have had not one example of how to reach out to those who might not fit into the Mormon mold. We may recognize the right of the one whose sins we can smell to be there–but perhaps we are falling down on figuring out how to make him/her a part of the family.

  10. Perhaps a good way to “reach out” is to treat the pant-suit-person the same way you treat everybody else. Be nice. Say hello. Chat. Don’t make him/her a project. Sometimes we work so hard at reaching out, we make people feel more out of place.

  11. In our ward we have …
    • The recent convert who is addicted to pain pills
    • My friend who is bipolar and tried to kill herself
    • A family with an autistic child who started going to another ward for awhile because they didn’t like the way their son’s autism was handled in primary
    • A few divorced and single sisters
    • A woman whose husband and daughter both came out of the closet and it is too painful for her to come to church

    And many others who are misfits for one reason or another.

    What do I do for them?

    Babysit and clean houses, run errands, search them out to sit by in meetings, drop of cookies and cards, take them out to lunch and let them know that I love them no matter what.

  12. I wonder if the single biggest thing anyone could do is to focus on what they’re working on in their own lives and appreciate that that was enough to keep them occupied. If we all used our energies to be the best we can be, it’s possible we wouldn’t be providing the undercurrent that Sister Pantsuit curls her legs under the pew to avoid.

    There’s providing service — and I’m all for it! Try to do as much as I can because it never fails to provide more benefits to me than I can ever give to someone else. But then there’s also operating in simple tolerance and understanding that the external is never the important or truest thing about anyone. Just the easiest to masquerade as saintly. So not worth anyone’s getting all worked up about. …said the Obama-, female priesthood and gay marriage-supporting lady in the Mormon tent dress.

    Lovely to see you here, BIV!

  13. #3 Bored in Vernal

    The chapel on Sunday is the wrong place to make a statement and anyone who uses it as a forum for making a statements should be immediately asked to leave. It diminishes us all to be subjected to such cynical ploy and I think anyone attempting such an act would do lose more support simply by behaving so poorly. I go to church to worship God, not to hear some other person’s view on anything that hasn’t been called to teach. Say for example that I felt that women should be given the priesthood. I doubt anyone would view it as appropriate for me to wear a sign that says “Give women the priesthood.” It is not the message that is at issue it is the location in which activism is taking place.

  14. The people that I know work hard to welcome people into the church and help them feel welcome. From my perspective the cultural conversion was dramatically more difficult than the spiritual conversion. When I felt like I didn’t belong in the church it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. People constantly reach out but more often than not people who do not live in accordance with the teachings of the church will project their own rejection onto other members. It is much easier than simply saying I don’t belong with those people because of my own behavior. From my personal experience the members of the church never changed toward me – I changed and gained acceptance. The members were always supportive but it was my responsibility to accept their support and behave, dress and act like someone who has adopted the lifestyle that I wanted for myself.

    There are other reasons that some people do not get the warm embraces that members are counseled to offer. Outward symbols of inward commitments are important in the church and for good reason. We are counseled to follow the example of the first presidency and general authorities in behavior, grooming and attire. It is of little wonder to me that when people refuse to comply with even the simplest of grooming standards that they will find themselves on the receiving end of raised eyebrows. People who refuse to comply with the simple cultural mores of the church will find less acceptance – that is true for all cultures. Refusing to accept this obvious fact is to hold members to a higher standard than the person who feels rejected holds himself to. This is a two way ward hallway if you please. Dressing and acting like a Mormon is the first step. Give members a break if they don’t leap to embrace long haired, tattoo wearing, Obama supporting, abortion promoting, nose piercing, wicca practicing, smoking anti-establishment types. Be yourself and don’t try to conform. Just don’t be surprised if you get treated like you want to be treated.

  15. I didn’t address “how to reach out” for one very simple reason:

    I don’t reach out to anyone any differently than I reach out to everyone – unless I feel impressed to do so on an individual level. I smile at everyone; I talk with everyone; I hug or shake hands with everyone; I flirt with all of the older widows (and many of the older non-widows, whose husbands love it); I play with all the kids; etc.

    I am bothered more than I can express whenever I hear someone talking about someone else as a “project” – as the focus of something that has to be done. I believe the best help I can give anyone is to get to know them and sincerely befriend them. That’s when I can usually get the best inspiration about how I can help them.

  16. We have to stop giving a crap what people think of us (I’m paraphrasing ETB’s pride talk here). But, the key to helping others feel comfortable with who they are is being our genuine selves and accepting others as they are. To accept them, we have to see them for who they are, and to do that, we have to talk to them and spend time with them, but also be our authentic selves as we do it. If nobody cared what anyone thought about them at church (or elsewhere), the missionary efforts would be unstoppable.

  17. James- Are you sure someone who sincerely comes to different conclusions when they consult the same scriptures and open themselves to the same Holy Spirit you do is making a cynical ploy to be who they uniquely are?

    You may feel that people who are Obama supporters would resent being compared to a chronic skin condition but the fact is, that many people who express any kind of different perspective are regarded just that way all the time. So universally, I would propose, that a great many who fit the mold comfortably aren’t even aware of the suspicion and censure they exude.

  18. There are sometimes when you are speaking mostly to yourself, and I guess this post is one of those times. I am heartened to hear that several of you shake hands (etc!) with all of your ward members. That is a very good thing. For me it has always been easier to socialize with the group that is more similar. I tend to ignore that person who seems a little different or harder to get to know. I find it easy to judge those who have different views.

    For example, James B, your views are very different than mine. When I hear your ideas I have an immediate knee-jerk reaction to want to pierce my nose. My way of handling this if you were in my ward would probably be just to steer very clear and try not to attend any classes you were teaching. But as I checked out your link I realized there is much more to your story than is immediately obvious. My challenge is to try to get to know the members of the ward on a more personal level, so that I can have a better connection and develop bonds of love.

    I’m still not sure how to put this so it doesn’t appear that I am trying to encourage making a “project” out of Sister Pantsuit. But all I know is that there are so many people in our wards who are still lonely.

  19. #22 – BiV, just to be very clear, I did not mean my “project” comment to be about this post or the woman you mentioned. Not at all. I truly do think this is a masterful post.

  20. I used to tell my children we are more comfortable with people like ourselves and that’s fine. But we learn more and grown more from people who are different. We should feel blessed by both.

  21. #17 “The chapel on Sunday is the wrong place to make a statement and anyone who uses it as a forum for making a statements should be immediately asked to leave.”

    Hopefully people in California lived up to your standards and asked their Bishop or Stake President to leave after they made a statement about supporting an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. Or maybe you meant it’s just not a place to make an _unapproved_ statement…?

    Wearing a suit and tie and white shirt makes a statement, as does wearing a dress (tent or not) — an _approved_ statement. Doing otherwise is seen as a counter-statement even when it’s totally orthogonal. This is why there’s so little room in the inn for people whose statements (regardless of whether they’re intentional or communicating anything meaningful) are not _approved_.

    I frequently wore trousers to church, especially when it was cold outside. I don’t recall any explicit chastising for it, or even too many sideways glares. Then again, I wouldn’t have noticed and I wouldn’t have gotten much bent out of shape if someone had said something. I wasn’t making a _statement_…approved or otherwise. I was dressing comfortably and practically and like I would for any other semi-formal occasion.

  22. Slightly off the original topic but picking up on a tangential issue, the most recent Field poll on CA Prop 8 indicates that the lack of support for the discriminatory amendment crosses all age categories. Interestingly, the spread is widest in the 50-64yo group who oppose the measure by a 19 point differential. Significantly, this is probably the demographically largest voting group. But even the 65 & older group who would most predictably support it are presently less disposed to. http://field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/Rls2278.pdf

    Another highly accurate predictor of trends, Intrade, places the odds on Prop 8 passing at 31%.

  23. To clarify I would ask anyone who is using the chapel to make an unapproved statement or protest should be asked to leave. It simply is not the place to behave in such a way and using it to promote any ideas that are outside of established doctrine or church policy do not belong. I’m not saying I even disagree with the statements but come on? The chapel? Have we demeaned our own positions and cheapened them so dramatically as to abuse the privilege of the sacramant meeting to advance our own causes? We are better than that.

  24. James, you are the only person on this thread even talking about making political or other statements through inappropriate dress. That certainly wasn’t the point of the thread. Who exactly are you arguing with on this thread? Who is saying it’s OK to make those kinds of statements in the chapel?

  25. whilst I accept that there are cultural norms to mormonism,and that compliance with them is courteous and normative,i do not accept them as doctrine.When my daughter visits she probably makes a point of not bringing a skirt,and doesn’t wear the skirts I provide.Her point is to rile me into giving her a reason not to come to church,to stereotype me into a characature of mormonism.Many of our young people,and many adults ,go through this stage.’Just how much will you tolerate,how much do you really love me?’Enough to cope with your jeans’ is the answer.A small embarassment,and well worth the cost.Does it really matter?Not enough to keep my daughter from church is,I hope,the answer.Even though she knows better.give people a reason to stay,not to go.She and others, may be ‘projecting her rejection’,but I can choose not to accept that projection.

  26. #29 – Very, very, very well said, wayfarer.

    I’d rather have people rebelling through their clothing choices in church than not rebelling with their clothing choices outside of church. I also wish I could smell more smoke and alcohol in our chapels, since that would mean more of us were there. I can (and do) disapprove of people’s choices all the time, but I’d rather have their butts sitting in a pew next to me than at home – or somewhere else.

  27. alice darling I love kisses from other women,and the praise of women and men like yourself and Ray gives me a tribe.Hopefully our family will be one eventually.

  28. I learned at an early age that the Church really does support diversity and tolerance on many levels, depending on where you are. I grew up in a small branch in Western Kentucky, and small branches like that can’t really afford to make people feel uncomfortable due to fashion or statements. We were running with a skeleton crew, and many of the leadership in the branch shared my last name. We needed everyone we can get! It wasn’t until I tried living out West that I really saw this Pantsuit Phenomenon in action. I suddenly became the heavy metal hippie kid… the longhair who kicked against “tradition,” though I maintained what I thought to be a dogmatic loyalty to the Church. I didn’t grow up “rebellious,” I was just being myself. I wonder if it’s possible to preserve that small-branch, we-need-every-single-soul mentality (without the family feuds of course) when and where the Church is in the majority.

  29. Arthur – I really agree with this. The issue I see is that when there are too many like-minded individuals together, the tyranny of the majority takes over and stamps out diversity. The need to label “the other” isn’t so strong when most everyone is an “other.” Growing up in PA, my church friends were from all economic and social backgrounds, and we attended six different high schools. If we had attended the same high school with a large population of Mormons, we probably would not have been friends because aside from the church, we didn’t readily have many things in common. The scarcity of LDS kids made us look past the superficial differences and see our deeper commonalities. More importantly, we developed more in common than we would have otherwise, which opened our minds.

  30. On my mission a couple were baptised (a very rare event) and hadn’t realized that with all the various activities at church that Sunday they’d be there pretty much all day, so they went down the street to a convenience store and out of vending machines bought some lunch for their small daughter. One of the long time members saw them returning to the church, took them aside and gave them holy hell for betraying their covenants. Despite others intervening and rallying around them immediately, the damage was done and I didn’t see them again.

    A sister in my ward now frequently wears pants. Not especially attractive or flattering pants, but they’re fine. I have to say that the first time I saw her in pants my first reaction was “She should know better! Hasn’t anyone told her?” and then a little voice said I was a complete fool–what would you say? “Jesus doesn’t like pants in the chapel?” I’m pretty sure that Jesus is happy when I even make it in the chapel, and dressing neat and tidy in whatever covers all the important bits is fine. I’ve been a primary teacher for a long time and there are many Sundays that the lesson would really work better if I wore pants, but I can’t bring myself to break a 38-year habit. I think that if I forgot to pack a skirt I’d probably even skip church rather than wear pants. And I’m pretty sure that’s pretty lame to the Lord.

    Another sister recently used a 4-letter s-word at Enrichment meeting (and who hasn’t been provoked to the point of profanity at an Enrichment meeting?). I don’t think I’ve dropped any banned vocab at church lately, but it was worth watching those other sisters’ eyes get big and their mouths take a little prissy twist. And then one said “Oh, you’re just so cute!” (A variation on the Southern “well bless your heart . . .”, this sister uses “cute” so often to describe people on the fringe I’ve wondered if I showed up wearing a puppyskin coat if she’d say that I was “so cute!”)

  31. Does anyone here actually go to Church for the sole purpose of worshipping the Lord or do they just go so they will have enough to gossip about for the upcoming week? Pant suits, divorce, coming out, politics,overweight….blah, blah, blah.

    How can you make them feel more welcome? Try going to Church to worship your Lord first. maybe you’ll learn to see the real “them” instead.

  32. They simply would not believe that massive amounts of rioting, killing, and burning tearing through the urban centres of the Netherlands would not be able to force the Dutch to back down and revert to their earlier path to dhimmitude. ,

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