I recently met a lady from the mainland when we were both doing presentations at BYU-Hawaii. Talk turned to life in the islands, and she asked me how I enjoyed living in paradise. Among other things, I mentioned that one of the first things I had done when I moved here was ditch all my pantyhose, a welcome change. In response she told me that in her stake in Utah the stake president had made a request that all sisters from then on wear pantyhose to their Sunday meetings. I asked her how that dictum had been accepted. (I imagine any stake president in Hawaii issuing such a decree would find himself in a cave, perhaps next to the bones of Kamehameha, bound and gagged with several pair of pantyhose.)
The first thing that came to my mind is Whatever happened to “Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves?” To save time for those who feel compelled to write and take me to task for my frivolous use of a serious quote, I will readily acknowledge that when the Prophet Joseph Smith said that, I am sure he was talking about weightier matters than pantyhose, just as I realize that the scriptures about a “house of order” in my previous column were not about vacuuming. You’re welcome.
Before I go any further and risk offending people, something I seem to do now and then, let the record show that I understand that the intent of the stake president was likely to increase a feeling of reverence for our sacred meetinghouses and to encourage women to dress in a fashion that reflects that respect. The wearing of pantyhose usually accompanies women’s more dressy outfits and would discourage the wearing of more casual attire, such as jean skirts and trendy tops, to Church meetings.
While the intent may be good, however, there are often unintended consequences of a directive such as this. In response to my question about how this edict had been received, she told me that the elect few obeyed unquestioningly and immediately. Most others obeyed grudgingly, accompanying their obedience with a little low-level grumbling. A few others complained more vocally and refused to wear pantyhose at all, even though they used to wear them most of the time, coming out in open rebellion. Then she described something more disturbing, that wearing or not wearing pantyhose now seemed to be the criteria for separating the sheep from the goats. Again, I realize those scriptures are not about pantyhose either, not to mention the disturbing images this comparison calls forth. Allow me to support my theory by sharing a recent photo from the Big Island—several mountain goats playing King of the Hill, none of which seem to be wearing pantyhose.
According to my friend (who shall remain nameless lest she be fingered as complaining semi-publically about pantyhose while in the boundaries of one of the Lord’s universities), this new policy has resulted in the unofficial creation of “The Pantyhose Police.” Women who once sat in Sacrament Meeting contemplating their relationship to the Saviour (or so we hope) were now surreptitiously looking around and taking note of the pantyhose status of the other sisters in the ward. Pantyhose compliance is now being considered when deciding who is worthy to lead the Relief Society or who should be allowed as a Young Women’s leader and held up as an example for the upcoming generation, many of whom eschew pantyhose and must have the benefit of a proper role model. The women all have yet another criteria on which to judge one another. Those investigating the Church or coming back into activity have another way they can fall short, while likely not even being aware of the expectation. Is this a good thing?
Last Sunday a member of our bishopric wore a lavalava. That’s a male skirt, popular among Tongans and other islanders. He wasn’t wearing any hosiery, either, come to think of it, and our stake president, who was sitting behind him, seemed to be fine with his apparel. Of course, most men who wear lavalavas are of a size and stature that inhibits anyone to comment on their choice of clothing, or anything else for that matter. Wardrobe choices can say much about our heritage, our personality, our taste. I worry that in the Church we are leaning more and more toward “being commanded in all things.”
I was recently on the mainland for my nephew’s wedding. As I dressed and noted that we were on schedule to be at the Idaho Falls Temple at noon, I realized that I had failed to pack a pair of pantyhose. Yes, I do keep a couple of emergency pairs on hand. Off-black. Queensize. Tummy Control. Sheer Toe. L’Eggs. (In case you wanted proof, that’s all I have to offer.)
We had chosen a hotel that was a straight shot to the temple. Get on Broadway, head west. Turn into the temple parking lot. Armed with this new information that the wearing of pantyhose was no longer considered optional or a personal choice in many locales, I contemplated a quick stop at a store where I could purchase an emergency pair. I realized such a side trip would result in us being late to the temple. I was wearing a mid-calf black skirt, long enough that I hoped no one would notice my lack of hosiery, and I was wearing dressy black sandals. I took stock and decided that it was more important to be to the temple on time so that the bridegroom would not shut the door on me because I had no oil in my lamp nor pantyhose in my purse. (Yes, I realize I am, yet again, likening the scriptures when in all likelihood Hugh Nibley or any other Bible scholar could tell you that pantyhose had not even been invented when those verses were penned.)
As we approached the desk, I noted with some relief that there were several other patrons of the temple that appeared to be respectfully dressed but yet were bare legged. Perhaps I was in luck that the Proclamation on the Pantyhose had not yet reached Idaho. Born in Idaho and living in Hawaii, I figured I could use the “hick or heathen” excuse, if it came to that.
As I sat in the temple sealing room, I caught myself. I wasn’t contemplating that my nephew was about to enter into an eternal marriage with the girl of his dreams or thinking about any of a number of other things that I often reflect on when I am in the temple. I was looking around the sealing room to see how many women were wearing pantyhose. (In case any of you are interested, about one in three, no PH.) That’s the problem with being a Pantyhose Pharisee, while you are deriding others for being one, you might miss looking into that temple mirror and seeing your own hypocritical self staring back at you in an endless eternal reflection.
There must be a way that we can learn to teach about having a spirit of reverence for sacred places without resorting to a checklist that can inadvertently lead to an opposite result. Imagine a young man who has just become a deacon and does not have a white shirt, perhaps cannot afford one.
Does he need a lecture about what is appropriate and a judgment levied on his current compliance or lack thereof or does he need a caring leader who, familiar with his circumstances, as good leaders often are, gives him a gift of a new white shirt at his ordination and tells him “I knew you would want to have this for when you are passing the Sacrament.” In doing so, he would impart his own feelings of reverence and respect for the ordinance, communicating gently what is expected without judgment or hurt feelings.
Does a newly converted sister with a somewhat worldly wardrobe need a lecture about “not having the right to bare arms” or does she need a new friend who will plan a shopping expedition and lovingly guide her toward more conservative choices?
I have always been taught that we need to be able to tell the difference between a principle and a preference. The principle is reverence and respect. In my opinion, the pantyhose is a preference. I live in a place where I don’t have to address this issue, and for that I am grateful. No pantyhose in paradise works for me. President, whoever you are and wherever you are, this is just the opinion of one woman, but sometimes sensitive matters such as this are better couched as suggestions. I know I would be more inclined to cooperate if I received a talk about respect for sacred places and suggestions of a variety of ways to better show that respect. Then I could reflect on my actions and make the changes I felt were needful and experience those affirming good feelings that come when I have made a good choice. So many things that happen in life (or are not stopped from happening) confirm to me how much God respects our agency to do even that which He would rather we not do. Ought we not then, in the final analysis, have that same respect for one another’s agency?
In the end, it all boils down to what’s in your heart, not what’s on your legs.