White shirts are kind of a big deal in my church. And so, by the way, is facial hair. Though I have tried most of my life to figure out why these subjects are important, so far I have failed. But I keep trying.
I'm of the Mormon persuasion, and I attend my weekly meetings. Indeed, I teach Sunday school. For regular readers of this column, these facts will either be a disappointment that a scoundrel such as I fouls their beloved church with my membership or a confirmation that Latter-day Saints just aren't very good at thinning the herd.
For as long as I remember -- five decades-plus -- church leaders, both local and worldwide, have worn the Wall Street uniform: dark suits and white shirts with non-flashy neckties. I've always wondered, but never bothered to research because above all else I am lazy, why the Lord's anointed and Mammon's minions share the same wardrobe. It makes no sense to me; I chalk it up to delicious irony.
When I was a youngster, lots of my peers wore white shirts to church. But just as many didn't. I don't recall being instructed one way or the other. It just wasn't a big deal.
Indeed, this fact was confirmed when a neighbor gave my parents an old photo of me and six members of my Bountiful 27th Ward priests quorum -- 16- to 18-year-old males -- standing on the church lawn, obviously on a Sunday morning. It's revealing to compare the go-to-church fashions of 1976 versus 2013.
Of the seven lads, only four of us are wearing ties. Four, not the same people, are wearing plaid pants; two, including me, are wearing bright yellow slacks. Four are wearing sport coats, two of which are plaid. Three are wearing white shirts; I'm wearing a white turtleneck. Someone's also wearing a white belt.
Flash forward to today, and those of us who regularly wear colored shirts to church are in an extreme fashion minority. I know the white shirts aren't a commandment from on high, but the cultural pressure to conform is real. I scratch my head and wonder why.
Likewise, there's my curiosity about LDS attitudes toward facial hair. I have never seen a bishop with a beard or a mustache, though I hear they exist. This, even though seven of our religion's 16 prophets have worn beards -- some of which might correctly be described as aggressively long. Indeed, our houses of worship feature paintings of our bearded and usually long-haired Savior. The incongruity makes me smile.
I find refuge in my particular corner of Mormondom. There are a few of us in my ward and stake who don't strictly adhere to the white-shirt and clean-shaven parameters of contemporary Mormon custom. This doesn't happen much anymore, but in the late 1990s one man my age occasionally wore Wranglers. Yeah, people: jeans at sacrament meeting. Over the past 16 years, two members of my ward's bishoprics -- though never the bishops themselves -- have sported some of the best mustaches and goatees/Vandykes you'll see anywhere. But, really, why not the bishops?
My father's MANstache -- a thick push-broom he's worn as long as I can remember -- has surely swayed my feelings on the subject. Following in his footsteps, I've worn a mustache, or more, continuously since my college-freshman year, shaving clean for one three-month period in the late 1980s, just to annoy my wife by exposing the acreage of flesh that is my upper lip.
I realize it's all so trivial: white shirts and facial hair -- practically everything's more important. Even so, it remains a THING for Mormons. Maybe I'll never understand why.
Email Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.