Is purchasing a new white dress for baptism day necessary?
Updated: Jan 20
Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know that we wear white clothing when making eternal promises with our Heavenly Father. Really ugly, yet totally functional jumpers while getting baptized and white robes while in the temple when receiving an endowment.
But when did purchasing white and frilly dresses for our little girls to wear after baptism become a thing? I don’t think I even bought my boys a new tie for their baptism day. My daughter turned 8, we met with the Bishop, the primary presidency, wrote the program, planned all the food and shopped for a new dress. Not finding anything we could both agree on, we settled on a dress Grandma made from scratch.
Since this experience with my daughter I’ve thought about this cultural tradition and wondered:
How recent is this tradition?
Who is responsible for this tradition?
How important is this tradition?
Is this just a “Utah Mormon” tradition?
Back in the Day
I was raised in CA and baptized in the 80s. In a time well before blogs, Pinterest and Instagram could help my mom know the latest baptism trends. She purchased a white dress for my baptism day that I also wore for my aunts wedding. I vividly remember this dress which was classically 80s with all the tiered, lacy, skirt layers.
She also borrowed a white dress from a friend that I wore while actually being baptized. I loved this dress even more. I felt like it was a dress that Anne Shirley from Green Gables would have worn. It was quite vintage and I felt so smart, just like my story book heroine. As for worrying about the dress billowing up while being dunked in the water, I didn’t. I was instructed to push the dress between my knees and hold it together until I was out of the water. Worked out great.
Based only on my own baptism day I made the assumption that this tradition of having a white dress for baptism was older than me. Not only is this tradition relatively new, it’s also not a tradition that members of The Church of Jesus Christ today follow world wide, or even nationwide. Also, women baptized after the age of 8 almost never wear a white dress when they change or go to church the following Sunday.
My Mom, The Trend-Setter
A few years back, a discussion sprung up on a forum for members of the Church. The question was more of a poll. Did you purchase a white dress for your daughter’s baptism day?
While most acknowledged that this is a cultural tradition, all agreed that it’s also not necessary for a memorable day. Several were even surprised to learn that this is even a tradition.
“Wait what? People get suits and dresses with a baptism? I never got one.”
“It's not a tradition here.”
“We didn't buy my daughter anything special for her baptism.”
“It's something we've never done before because it actually hadn't occurred to me to do it. We've been out of the church trendy loop living in MN for the last decade.”
“I got a *new* dress when I was baptized, but it wasn't white.”
And so, if my mom wasn’t the national (or global) trend-setter for this tradition, when DID it become a thing?
The talk that inspired white dresses for LDS 8 year-old girls
In 1993, L Tom Perry’s daughter, Linda Gay Perry Nelson, composed a poem about white dresses. Linda’s daughter read this poem at her own baptism, and Elder Perry shared it in his conference talk titled, “Choose the Right” in Oct 1993.
My Three White Dresses
My mom bought me a white dress,
Not red or pink or blue.
She said it was a special dress
Like very other few.
There has been just one before,
A dress now put away,
That I wore some time ago
Upon my blessing day.
As a little baby clothed
In my first white dress,
My dad held me in his arms,
There to name and bless.
So pure and clean was I just then,
With time to grow and learn
About the Father’s plan for me.
My glory I must earn.
Now I’ve reached the age to judge
The wrong road from the right,
And I am here to be baptized
In this dress of white.
So once again I’m free from sin.
The path is clear to me.
I’ll grasp the rod and hold on tight,
I vow with certainty.
Just as mud would stain my dress,
Sin would stain my soul.
The key is to repent or bleach,
For whiteness is my goal.
And if I try my very best,
Then richly blessed I’ll be,
Wearing inside God’s holy house
White dress number three.
So today I make this pledge:
I’ll strive to choose the right,
Through this sacred baptism ordinance
In my second dress of white.
Beautiful sentiments. The idea that 3 white dresses worn at such important stages in our mortal existence, yet representing eternal principles, is a remarkable image. In fact, I believe my mom displayed my “white dresses” during my wedding reception. And although owning a set of 3 beautiful, white dresses is absolutely not necessary for members of the Church, I believe they can be a visual reminder of what is important as members of Christ's church. They can invoke memories long forgotten, and even bring to surface feelings from the spirit felt on the days they were worn.
In his talk, Elder Perry also refers to the strength of things in our life that are visual reminders of our covenants, specifically the CTR emblem found on rings and tie tacks, as well as white dresses. He says,
“To offset the worldly messages that entice us to choose the wrong, the Lord has blessed us with symbols of purity to keep us on the right course to choose the right.”
He then teaches that beautiful white dresses can also be symbols of purity. He says,
“I suggest that each of you find or create reminders to help you and your loved ones choose the right when a choice is placed before you. There is power in a tie tack, a CTR ring, or a white dress hanging in the closet if we associate them with our desires for purity and righteousness. Even more important than physical reminders is to have the conviction deep down in our hearts to live the kind of life that will cause us to make the right choices, not only for peace and happiness in the world right now, but also for peace and happiness eternally.”
I imagine that after Elder Perry read this poem over the pulpit and gave his testimony, that the number of sales for white, size 8, baptism dresses for latter-day saint girls increased in the following years.
Shopping for the perfect girls white dress
If this is something that you and your family decide to invest in, where can you find the perfect white dress for your girl? Thanks to the internet, finding a white dress for baptism is easier than ever.
Depending on what time of year your girl is baptized you may get lucky and find something sweet and simple during the spring or summer for $20-ish at Target or Old Navy. Zara, Gap or JCrew will likely have options for closer to $40. If, like in my situation, your daughter was born in December, hoping to find something local and on the rack won’t be an option. If you happen to find something hidden online during the winter, the odds of it being somewhat season appropriate will be slim. Think shivering little girl in a thin, cotton white dress with short sleeves, standing in the snow for pictures.
Some women are taking the opportunity to up-cycle their wedding dress for a daughters baptism dress. You can hire a seamstress to use the wedding dress material to create a baptism dress for your daughter. Depending on the size of the wedding dress, the size of the girl, and the cost of the seamstress, this option can be cheap or very expensive. But also, the most meaningful option for both mother and daughter. Seamstresses can be found locally via Google or follow the links below to well reviewed shops on Etsy.
Seamstresses can also sew a white dress from a pattern. This option is surprisingly expensive, especially if paying the seamstress. Anyone who has experimented with making a Halloween costume only to wish they had just purchased the stupid and cheap pre-made costume will understand. If however, sewing is a talent and an act of love, this may be the best option because the white dress will also be quite meaningful for you, your daughter, and the family.
If you are local to Utah or have family or friends in the area willing to do some leg work, several brick and mortar stores exist that sell white dresses for baptism. This is also not usually the most cost friendly option. I found that the dresses sold at these locations are typically $70 or more and the styles are much more formal.
In recent years, there have been several online shops that have emerged who design and sell specifically, white baptism dresses for girls. Shop here for dresses from FreeVerce.
Whether you purchase, create, borrow, or celebrate without a “new” anything, there is no doubt that it will be a memorable day for your daughter and your family. The Spirit will make sure of it! Keep it simple. Keep it as stress free as possible and use your time and effort to make beautiful memories with your family.