I Don’t Wear White Dress Shirts

whiteshirt… that often. They just don’t appeal to or look good on me. How far back this aesthetic concern goes in my life I am not sure. Perhaps its only as recently in my life timeline as returning from my mission. Every day from dusk until dawn a missionary wears white shirts and ties, if not suits, as a servant of the Lord. Like any uniform, after the official reason for its use ends it feels good to change into something else. No reason to wear a drab color when there are so many other choices. The reason I don’t like to wear white shirts might sound shallow, and there is truth to that consideration, but tastes are not always complicated.

Part of my personality is less than white shirt and tie compatible. From an early age I have been an artistic minded person. My most distinct youthful memories include drawing or coloring on whatever piece of paper crossed my path. As an example, on Saturdays after cartoons there was a classic monster show that came on one of the channels. Giant monsters were my favorite. One of those was a giant tarantula that terrorized the American foothills of some unnamed geography. Having at the time fallen in love with the show the first viewing, I put that fandom down in art. Not just any old picture would do for my enthusiasm. No, I drew and colored (for a black and white film) the basic storyboard of the movie’s events. In the mind of that young boy sitting half the Saturday doing his creation, he was writer and director of a remake. White means fill the space up with shapes and colors.

My favorite colors are red and blue, but have nothing to do with the flag of the United States because white is missing from that lineup. No nation that I know uses those color combinations for a flag without having some tinge of white. I often in my everyday attire use black as opposed to white as my neutral color. Never would I choose to wear a black shirt to church even if a black tie is personally acceptable. I want to look good, not make a statement. The majority of dress shirts I own are shades of blue, followed ironically by white that seldom get used and then an assortment of others.

Wondering if my preference for wearing other than white made me stand out, for a couple Sundays I looked around my ward. Needless to say almost all the men had a white shirt and tie. A lesser number wore, including all leadership, a suite. Without making any kind of judgement, a heavy set person was more likely to wear a colored shirt of some kind. Those very few who were not physically larger and didn’t have white on had a known independent streak. For the record, I am far from large and only tangentially related in temperament to the others. I have always been more strange than independant minded.

Of course, my dislike of white shirts doesn’t translate into absolute. A religious person of the Western tradition cannot get away from the formal requirements of wearing them. Even more so a Mormon where white represents purity in particular observances. My preference will not get in the way of faithfulness, worship, and obedience. When a white shirt, and for that matter all white clothes, matters then personal proclivities go to the wayside. Temple attendance is too easy a target of this disregard. More to the point, I would never pass the sacred sacrament without wearing a white shirt and tie. I think what Elder Holland said in the October 1995 General Conference for Aaronic Priesthood holders goes for the Melchizedek Priesthood holders equally:

May I suggest that wherever possible a white shirt be worn by the deacons, teachers, and priests who handle the sacrament. For sacred ordinances in the Church we often use ceremonial clothing, and a white shirt could be seen as a gentle reminder of the white clothing you wore in the baptismal font and an anticipation of the white shirt you will soon wear into the temple and onto your missions.

That simple suggestion is not intended to be pharisaic or formalistic. We do not want deacons or priests in uniforms or unduly concerned about anything but the purity of their lives. But how our young people dress can teach a holy principle to us all, and it certainly can convey sanctity. As President David O. McKay taught, a white shirt contributes to the sacredness of the holy sacrament (see Conference Report, Oct. 1956, p. 89).

That same goes for leadership or representative callings. Missionaries go out into the world and preach. They are a symbol of the Church and the Lord’s gospel, and therefore what they wear is itself a symbol of them as messengers. Likewise, a position in the Bishopric or Stake Presidency carries a sacred responsibility. Mormonism doesn’t have any official vestments for both practical and theological reasons, but business attire comes closest to a gesture of the calling’s importance. There is cultural reasoning for sure, but that is not entirely the case.

Until and unless there are religious reasons that present themselves, I will continue to not wear white other than once every two months or more. That doesn’t make me or anyone else who does the same a bad person. Another orthodox member of my ward is also not a white shirt kind of guy. It just makes me an individual. But, when it matters I put down my style of dress and put on white without protestation. It is the simple sacrifice I pay on occasion for my faith and beliefs.

18 thoughts on “I Don’t Wear White Dress Shirts

  1. Do people give you a hard time about not wearing a white shirt? I hope not. In the end it really doesn’t matter. When I was a missionary most of the priesthood brothers didn’t even own white shirts or ties. Our mission president’s wife, would ask the Elders to donate some or all of their shirts at the end of their missions for the members to use. She’d clean them up and give them out to anyone that wanted them.

    My dad doesn’t wear ties to church. He gets ribbed about it, but he doesn’t care. No one seems to care if he’s wearing a tie when their son is in desperate need to pass off their eagle scout project.

  2. “Do people give you a hard time about not wearing a white shirt? ”

    My wife does. Other than that, I have never heard any say or even give me a side glance. Have I missed out on leadership opportunities because of it? I have no idea, but then for me that is a plus and not a negative. Leadership and all the time and energy that would mean just doesn’t appeal to me. If you haven’t noticed, the point of this post goes way beyond the wearing (or not) of white shirts. We don’t need to flaunt our righteousness or our rebellion. They are both signs of dangerous pride.

  3. I don’t remember owning a white shirt until I was getting ready to go on my mission. Wearing colored shirts was common among the Aaronic Priesthood in my ward.
    I look good in the right white shirt so I wear one when I can find one I like, but I have often worn colored shirt with no blow-back of any kind.

    This is what Handbook 2 says about white shirts and ties and the sacrament:

    …Ties and white shirts are recommended because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. However, they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate….

  4. One morning at the temple a young man in a beard and long hair passed my post on his way to a session. Another worker standing next to me whispered, “How would you like to see that every morning?”
    “I do. That’s my son who lives with me.”
    But he always wears white shirts to church ; )
    Another son shaves his head each morning. Both are ‘card carrying Mormon s’.

  5. I think “watchers for the self-righteous” exaggerate how much members really care about the differences of others. My own experience indicates that those who say negative gossip about others would be that way in or outside of church settings. Also, those that complain about how they are treated seem to love their sense of victimhood somewhat like a badge of honor. For a common example, I don’t think they understand that a lot of orthodox conservative members cringe when politics are brought into religious lessons or talks; no matter if they are in agreement.

  6. Good point. Even during those times when I haven’t been a leader I still where white out of habit. I love bright colors so I get my fix during the other days of the week. You’re right about mixing politics and religion. Outside of church I’ll express an opinion all day long but once I walk in the chapel doors I want to focus on worship and fellowship.

  7. It is certainly not exclusive to members of the Church. If anything they tend to be more careful. For example, a month or so ago a young woman came to church for the first time wearing a long, strapless dress. Her demeanor in Relief Society indicated that no one had said anything to make her feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately others sometimes interpret our more covered way of dressing as being a judgement on them. I’ve received comments on my knee length pants and 3/4 length blouse sleeves in warm weather. “Aren’t you hot like that?” as well as blatant staring. I wear longer sleeves because I’m an old lady with a history of skin cancer. I hope I avoid making others feel uncomfortable.

  8. Pat Chui,
    You had me laughing out loud at that one… That’s the sort of thing I’d see even if the person weren’t my kin.

    I agree about the comment of the “watchers of the self-righteous”. I like white shirts, I think men and boys look better in them. I enjoy wearing them on Sundays, but the thought has never crossed my mind to care about those who don’t wear them for non-rebellious reasons. The moment it becomes a, “I just work against the crowd and agitate for change and “aren’t I awesome for being rebellious”, then I get a little snippy

  9. When you are asked by your SP to accept the calling of Bishop, see how it goes if you agree to it under the condition that you are not going to wear a white shirt and tie to Church.

    And then ask yourself if we do or do not have a dress code.

  10. Jman,

    Did you read my post, or just skim? Did I not say if put into leadership that I would wear a white shirt? Did I not also say that if asked to pass the sacrament (certainly a chicken and egg situation, I might add), I would do so in a white shirt? Therefore it goes without saying that yes I do know we have a dress code under certain circumstances. I even agree with the theological and cultural reasoning.

  11. I only wear white shirts cause, well, I’m boring. I’m really bad at trying to coordinate colours, really don’t like spending time worrying over what I should wear for the day, and barely vary which tie I pick.

    For others, though, I really like seeing a well chosen skirt, a suit with unexpectedly dressy shoes, the tie with the fancy pattern. I admire the talents for clothing that I tend to lack, just as I admire artists at their work, no matter what form it takes. It’s a bit selfish to resent the clothing choices of others just because we ourselves lack the coordination.

    We had the Elders Quorum passing the Sacrament this week. No one got up in outrage because one of them had a short sleeved, coloured shirt. We work with what we have, and be glad for the talents (or lack thereof) of the people around us.

  12. After my mission, I too couldn’t stomach any more of the plain white shirt & ties. My solution, though, was to go all out for sweater vests so that I could add color and keep the white shirts (not out of a sense of “righteousness” but because of the versatility of the white and so I could get by with only 2 dress shirts)

  13. One of my favorite stories about a prophet comes from Spencer W. Kimball’s biography. Apparently he never learned to properly tie a tie so he loosened the knot of a tie tied by someone else and pulled it over his head, repeating the action to remove it. After several iterations the front part of the tie was too long and he would cut it off with scissors before finally discarding it, but he always wore a tie as required in keeping with the dignity of his calling. I once read an article about a very wealthy man who worked on Wall Street and was also a sculptor of some note. An interviewer noticed that he had dozens of identical high quality white shirts in his closet as well as many identical deep navy suits. ‘It is what is expected of a man in my position,’ the sculptor/ executive said. He wore jeans and a tee shirt when sculpting. Like it or not, the clothing we wear is a form of communication.

  14. Currently I wear white to the temple and if I perform a baptism. When I was on the high council, or in a bishopric, I alternated between white, tiny pinstripe, and light colored pastels. Since I was not living in Utah at the time – and Church was very “sparse” were I lived – I rarely heard much about it. Growing up in Utah County and now living in Salt lake County I heard, and currently hear, about it a lot. It drives some people nuts, and others appreciate it. for myself – I just don’t like white shirts.

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