Religion

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There could be a pants revolution in a few churches today. A group of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is inviting Mormon women to wear slacks of pantsuits to church. They don't normally do that, by the way. Dianna Douglas reports on how a few Mormon women are trying to change their traditional dress code.

DIANA DOUGLAS, BYLINE: Worship services in the LDS church aren't formal; Sunday Best hasn't meant hats, gloves and tights for decades. These days in most American congregations, the women wear skirts and the men wear ties. Stephanie Lauritzen discovered that pants on women can still raise eyebrows at her congregation in Utah.

STEPHANIE LAURITZEN: People were afraid to talk to me. People who would never hesitate to talk to me wearing a skirt and high heels were suddenly really afraid to talk to me wearing pants.

DOUGLAS: A little fed up with the ossified gender roles this represented, Lauritzen created an event on Facebook, called it Wear Pants to Church Day, and started inviting her friends. Thousands of people all over the country have signed up. Others commented that this is a bad idea. Lauritzen points out that Mormon church leaders haven't actually taken a position on pants.

LAURITZEN: You think we'd have won that battle - we have won that battle. Now, we're just fighting a cultural norm.

DOUGLAS: It's a cultural norm that has gotten harder to pin down as American attire gets more and more casual. A few people in the pews on any given Sunday look like they're stopping in for a prayer on the way to a football game. Mormon women - and women in general - see few modest style icons.

MICHAELA CAREY: I mean, I think people like, say, Kate Middleton, people who maintain a conservative nature while at the same time wearing fashionable clothes that look good on them.

DOUGLAS: That's Michaela Carey, an economics researcher in Chicago. She's not wearing pants to church this Sunday. Not because the Duchess of Cambridge isn't often seen in pants, but because she feels like this movement won't do much to advance the conversation about gender equality. Mercedes White, her sister-in-law in Salt Lake City, feels differently.

MERCEDES WHITE: It's not official. It is happening informally that women are being told what they should and should not wear. And I think that that does needs to be pushed back against.

DOUGLAS: White says she wears pants to church with some frequency. She thinks they're more stylish, comfortable and practical than skirts, especially in the Salt Lake winter. Rebecca Van Uitert, a lawyer in Chicago and a leader in her congregation, will wear slacks to help other women feel welcome however they dress.

REBECCA VAN UITERT: I'm kind of neutral about what people wear to church. So, I am just happy when people are there.

DOUGLAS: Her sentiment is familiar to clergy across many other faiths: whatever you decide to put on, for heaven's sake, just come to church. For NPR News, I'm Diana Douglas.

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