It might be shocking to some to see male Latter-day Saint missionaries wearing a blue shirt or going tieless, but that is now permissible — in some areas and at some times.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Friday that these “exceptions” would be allowed, based on decisions by the global faith’s area authorities.
“Missionary attire has regularly adapted over time according to location, style and custom,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, said in the release. “These exceptions are a continuation of that process. In all our considerations, we keep top of mind the missionary’s calling to represent Jesus Christ, their health and safety, and the cultural sensitivities of the places where they serve.”
All “elders” (the term for male missionaries) will continue to wear a white shirt and tie and, in some areas, a suit coat, the release said, “when attending the temple, Sunday worship services, leadership and zone conferences, Missionary Training Centers, baptismal services and other church meetings.”
Missionaries will be notified by their mission president if these exceptions apply to their teaching areas.
In December 2018, the Utah-based faith loosened the dress code for “sister missionaries” (as the women are called), allowing them in all missions around the world to ditch their dresses and wear pants — at “their own discretion” — when they proselytize.
A year earlier, the church — which is likely Utah’s largest employer — eased its employee dress code to include dress pants for women, as well as traditional skirts and dresses.
The reason for the church’s emphasis on attire, Uchtdorf said, is for these evangelizers “to be dignified, respectful and approachable as missionaries fulfill their purpose of teaching people about the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
One item that will remain on all missionaries: nametags.
Some observers in the U.S. and Europe have said that the white shirt, dark tie uniform made missionaries look like FBI or CIA agents, or like the lead characters in “Men in Black.”
As a missionary in England 40 years ago, Jeff Schrade of Stafford, Va., wrote on Facebook, that “the only people who dressed in suits were detectives, morticians and the occasional banker.”
Schrade sees the change as “wonderful" and hopes “it helps with missionary work.”
Missionary dress codes have varied during the faith’s 190-year history.
In the late 19th century, historian Jonathan Stapley reports that mission leaders had directed elders to wear a “Prince Albert coat” and top hat.
The coat was long and double-breasted, Stapley wrote on bycommonconsent.com. By 1902, he said, the Middle States Mission had abandoned the Prince Albert suit.
Historian Ardis Parshall listed 1916 instructions on missionary clothing as being “a good black suit or blue suit, a good overcoat and Derby hat” and “white or light-colored shirts and black ties.”
Even then, though, the directions were flexible. “Varied climates in the different missions,” they said, “make it advisable to have clothing suited to the particular locality in which the elder labors.”