©2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mormon women missionaries can now wear pants! But not to church.

©2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced yesterday that women missionaries can wear pants for most of their service. They can teach in pants, ride their bicycles in pants (thank you, Jesus), and proselyte on street corners in pants, reversing decades of Mormon tradition.

But they can’t attend church or the temple in pants.

This is interesting, and reflects a bifurcation I have observed in Mormon culture in the United States.

Mormons today have grown fairly comfortable with the idea of women working. It has been many years since working mothers were last denounced from the pulpit; statistically, a majority of Mormon women work outside the home, at least part-time; and in 2017, female employees of Church headquarters in Salt Lake City were granted permission to wear pants to work.

So on the one hand, there has been a slow and steady acceptance not only of the reality of professional women, but of the shifting cultural dress standards in professional life in America more generally.

On the other hand, “Sunday dress” – what Mormon women wear to church services -- has remained deeply traditional, and the updated missionary policy reflects that.

The Next Mormons (Oxford University Press, March 2019)

According to the Next Mormons Survey, four out of five Mormon women in America say they wear “formal” dress to church on Sundays, which the survey defined as “a dress or skirt.” (See here for more about the sample size and methodology of the Next Mormons Survey. You can download the wording of the survey here.)

An additional 17% say they wear slacks or nice pants to church, with just 3% reporting they dress casually, in jeans.

Generationally, younger Mormon women in the U.S. are a little more likely to say they regularly wear pants to church, but it’s still a minority. Three-quarters of Millennial Mormon women say they wear dresses or skirts to church.

The biggest factor was not actually age but geography: there appears to be a very strong cultural imperative in Utah for Mormon women not to wear pants to church.

93% of Utah Mormon women say they generally wear dresses or skirts to church, versus 72% in the rest of the United States. (Keep in mind that the margin of error is high when we subdivide the Mormon sample into just Utah women, but it is still interesting.)


Formal (“dress or skirt” Informal (“slacks or nice pants” Casual (“jeans”)
Utah 93% 5% 2%
Non-Utah 72% 24% 4%

Other differences were more minor, but in a nutshell, the women who were most likely to wear dresses or skirts to church were white, older, not college-educated, and living in Utah. Women who were younger, white, at least college-educated, and living outside of Utah were somewhat less likely to wear dresses or skirts, though they were still a minority.

The missionary dress policy fits right in, then, with where Mormon culture is in America at the moment. American Mormons are comfortable with the idea of professional women who adopt more casual dress standards while at work, but still uncomfortable with the notion of taking those less formal dress standards to the hallowed sanctuary of church.


  1. The dress requirements are analogous to the requirements for elders’ requirements on suits (in many areas of the world, anyway). Personally, I find value in the cultural encouragement to make certain occasions special by dressing in a special way for them. Sisters previously dressed pretty much exactly the same way for every occasion, while elders had to dress more formally for church and zone conferences.

    I think the culture to dress up for church is similarly valuable, though there should never be a rigid requirement or anything approaching a dress code for church.

  2. Another religious institution surging into the twentieth century.

  3. It sounds like Utah is only about 100 years behind modern society. Keep crawling Utah!

  4. I’m a Utah Mormon woman who sometimes wears pants to church, and yes, we’re a rare breed. The guys in my ward seem completely unfazed. Women, on the other hand, either go out of their way to compliment me or they give me that “look”. You know, the disapproving look that signifies that I’ve broken one of the rules that we’re all supposed to enforce on one another to keep each other in place. Well, the no pants rule has nothing to do with the Gospel of JC and is simply a cultural construct. I take great pleasure in occasionally reminding myself and others of that fact. We go to church to repent and worship our Savior, not to be seen or to judge and police others.

  5. Wow, ill-fitting pants seem to rule the day; just look at the last girl.

  6. Empowerment of women? What did you win? The powers that be double their workforce and you get the “privilege” of having a day job. It doesn’t bring extra wealth, and it is the children who pay the price. Now our schools are so terrible many children pick up a gun and attack it, and where are the parents? No one had time to address the issues. Busy with work.

  7. Oh good I can still enjoy the sight of hot legs on Sunday.

  8. Thank you for pointing out why we are living through a governmental nightmare. The women who spend most of their time trying to police other women on issues such as pants at church are the same dimwits who thought Donald Trump would be better for the USA than that—that—that—-AWFUL HILLARY!

  9. This author knows better than to make false statements, but I gather her MO is not to be supportive of the LDS Church. She says: “But they can’t attend church or the temple in pants.” Not so, and she knows it. While Sunday dress on is strongly encouraged to wear to church, and defined for the women as dresses or skirts, it is NOT a requirement. Period. Not a rule. It is also the same for the temple. Men have similar recommendations for Sunday dress at church and the temple, however, it is not required nor enforced. I have witnessed this in both locations, and even right here in Utah, where standards are quite conservative. Riess’s statement on a cultural imperative is more accurate. It’s too bad she felt her own imperative to mislead the readers with a false statement.

  10. To clarify what the author was saying, the word “they” in the sentence “But they can’t attend church or the temple in pants” is referring back to women missionaries described in the first paragraph. The sentence you disagree with was describing only sister missionaries, not all Latter-day Saint women. And the author’s statement is correct: the new instructions for sister missionaries tell them to wear dresses or skirts, not pants, to Sunday meetings and the temple.

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