Get it fit: Not only does the Missionary Department recommend this inexpensive and often free step but so does every wardrobe professional. Fitting into something isn't the same as it fitting you.
If fabric is worn tight in areas then friction, a suit's foremost enemy, will prematurely wear it out, said Stuart Christensen, wardrobe consultant and son of suit extraordinaire Mac "Mr. Mac" Christensen. And wearing a suit loose looks sloppy and unprofessional.
Many retailers, like Mr. Mac, tailor for no extra charge. But even a $30 fitting fee from a national outfitter like Men's Wearhouse is worth it.
Fabric: The clear preference is wool, or at least a high-percentage blend of the sheep-sheered fiber that's so magically versatile to every climate on the globe — even hot, humid, equator-hugging zones. Wool absorbs about 30 percent of its own weight in moisture, making winter wearers warmer and summer suitors satisfied. It's warm because it insulates, and, when weaved to breathe in tropical or worsted styles, it's cooler. They don't wrinkle, either. All-wool suits cost more, roughly $20 to $80 more, but last longer.
For elders who will bike a lot in their suit — or who are going to a mission where suits are used daily, Mr. Mac makes a specialized missionary line with tough-as-rhino-skin reinforced seats in the pants, and a mesh material in the suit's underarm area for flexibility and venting — the only retailer with such missionary-specific features. They're also the pioneers of selling two-pant suits.
The most common suit material, a poly-wool blend, isn't a bad choice. Even Jordan Sinquefield, a returned missionary and wardrobe consultant at Men's Wearhouse — which only sells all-wool suits — said poly-wool is OK for missionaries, who have "more important things on their mind" than trends and comfort.
Christensen said the smaller the percentage of "poly" in the wool blend, the less cheap-like shine will show and the better it will "drape" an elder. He recommends at least 60 percent wool.
For colder missions, try a dark flannel suit. For warmer missions stick to an all-season worsted-type weave. And make sure to wear a button-down shirt when trying on suits.
Suit style: Some missions, especially European ones, discourage cuffs. Pay close attention to your specific mission style instructions. If mission papers don't specify, go for a single-breasted piece, especially if you're heavy-set (double-breasted accentuates the midsection) or if you're called to an American mission where double-breasted styles draw attention.
Long- or short-sleeve, silky broadcloth or rugged oxford weave, the most important part is keeping a dress shirt brilliant white and wrinkle free. The best way to take care of both areas is by getting a poly-cotton blend, about 65-35 percent, said Trevor Orme, sales associate at Missionary Mall in Orem. "But don't go any higher than 65 percent (polyester) because (the shirt) won't breathe."
All-cotton will allow more wrinkles and will be more vulnerable to discoloring.
Button-down collars are traditionally not as professional or fashionable as pointed collars, especially when worn with a suit, but are still acceptable and widely purchased for missions.
For Luke Allen, who's mission bound for Peru in June, shoes are one area he said is worth splurging on if they keep him working, and blisters to a minimum. Peter Curtis, who's destined for Poland in June, agrees. Both are planning to purchase higher-end footwear: They mentioned brands Ecco, Dr. Marten, Rockport and Belvedere Studio.
Stuart Christensen recommends elders use moisture absorbent cedar shoe trees daily to keep footwear in shape, last 20 percent longer and smell better but admits most elders "are too preoccupied" to take his advice.
Not only should you avoid buying patterns to stay conservatively dressed but doing so will also save you time when you go to match them later. Aim for wool blends in cold or wet missions and avoid all-polyester socks, which "may last forever, but your foot will die inside of it (because it can't breathe)," said Spence Christensen, Stuart Christensen's brother, who works at the same Mr. Mac and has been selling suits, or at least maneuvering clothes racks, since he started sweeping the floor of his father's clothing shop as a 12-year-old.
Although most of the more-than-a-dozen soon-to-leave missionaries interviewed for this article, like Tyler Stahle, who's off to Zimbabwe in August, were remarkably uninterested in discussing the difference between a poplin and seersucker suit, they told Mormon Times they expected to pay an average of about $970 for all their mission gear.
The Missionary Department states, "Ties should be conservative in color, pattern, width and length. They should not contain pictures or caricatures." But because it says nothing about avoiding "ugly ties" — and because ugly would be an utterly subjective term anyway — many elders get away with routinely, and purposely, sporting hideous old-fashion ties. Perhaps too immature to understand the value of conforming and too used to high school fashion antics meant to emphasize individuality, elders coyly wear patterns, colors and material akin to Grandma's curtain or couch, a burnt orange polyester belly warmer with an olive green floral pattern.
Associates at Mr. Mac, Men's Wearhouse and Missionary Mall all said they were aware of the cliquish ugly trend in missions worldwide. Some associates laughed. Others, like Spence Christensen, bludgeoned the bandwagon fashion, saying it "undoes a lot of good (missionaries) do" and "directly diminishes the important message" they're sharing. "Somehow they think it's a badge of honor, but it redirects attention from the message to themselves. ... The Brethren don't wear them. And that's who we encourage them to look to."