When I taught Religion 130 at BYU-Hawaii I used to tell my students that they needed to present a good appearance and they should all read books like What Color is My Parachute to learn how to dress for success or consult a few issues of GQ or Vogue looking at the conservative clothes ads. I told them that their mission president would make an initial assessment of them in the first thirty seconds of seeing them in the airport or the mission home.
The LDS Mission Network has a general description about what clothing will be needed you can at least estimate your clothing costs. First impressions could make a difference between being a leader on their missions. When a missionary is called they will receive a list from the Missionary Department of the specific items of clothing their mission president wants them to wear. It is usually related to the climate and culture in which they will be going.
Items on the mission clothing list sent from the Missionary Department should be purchased without any deviation. You need to make sure you have every item on the list since they will check you when you get to the MTC. They even have a person over checking missionaries clothing who will make sure you have all the items. The clothing coordinator will even go with you and help you get the missing items. Usually the person is a rich member and he or she will help you if you are desperately poor get the right stuff.
I have personal experience since one of them called me when my oldest daughter went on her mission. She explained to me that the elders were having a hard time concentrating because my daughter was too distracting due to the fact she was good looking and well endowed. Even though my wife and I had spent hundreds of dollars and had purchased conservative clothing she explained to me that my daughter needed a make-over so she had gone out to ZCMI in Orem and bought her five hundred dollars worth of new clothing. She called me to get reimbursed.
He or she will go out with you to ZCMI's (Purchased by Macy)or Dillard's or Macy's or Target's and get your missing mission stuff. Since they are bankrolling you they will strongly suggest what you wear. They will contact your parents to pay it back or your bishop or stake president. Sometimes it is really embarrassing but the rich member will just pay for it out of their own pocket. If your clothing is too revealing or not conservative enough the MTC clothes consultant will have you send your clothes home or to a sibling and insist you get new stuff, so be careful and follow the list exactly. Otherwise you might have to buy your clothes twice.
I suggested that Elders buy a conservative blue/grey and a conservative brown suit from Mr. Mac's or the Missionary Mall in Orem, Utah just up the road from the MTC. Mr. Mac's is the cadillac of missionary attire and there is a large percentage of elders who buy their suits there. There is a definite look to Mac Missionaries. I personally prefer Hugo Boss, Armani, Zegna or Hart, Schaffner and Marx. For about three or four hundred dollars you can get one of these brand suits on believe it or not Amazon. Make sure you get suits that suit the weather of where you are going. You don't want a heavy wool suit in Polynesia or a light cotton one in Russia. If you want to find out about suits and different materials and thread count. Not all suits are created equal.
If you're lazy and want to take a chance you can try out the Missionary Mall online which has moderate priced stuff which they claim has a two year guarantee. Another online store is LDS Outfitters. ce. A third online place is the Missionary Depot which has a limited selection. I really suggested Elders and Sisters could buy good quality clothes at places like Burlington Coat Factory or even on the Internet on Ebay if they were careful about what they were doing. I don't endorse any of these since in outfitting two missionaries I had to go to five or six different stores. There really was no one-stop shopping place for all our missionary shopping needs. In addition you paid a premium price for shopping at the missionary specialty stores. If you are in a hurry and are rolling in the dough then you can try buying your stuff there.
The best place I find to buy ties is on Ebay. An interesting thing is that you can even buy about 75 different neckties from Deseret Book. A good place to buy shirts and ties relatively inexpensive is Paul Frederick. It will give an Elder some conservative style at a modest price. You don't want to end up buying ties like I did at a cleaner's on Ninth East in Provo that looked like the five dollar tie was made in China. You want to buy good Italian silk ties that are classic in style and quality in their make. Stick to Italian or French ties and stay away from gimmick ties like CTR or Temple ties like LDS Grand sells unless your going to wear them on P-Days.
In the Utah Area CTR Clothing has been hot the last few years. Almost all of the online vendors carry this brand including Smart Missionary. Make sure when buying a tie if you are tall to get ties for tall dudes. In wearing a tie a good rule of thumb is to know that the tie should be two fingers above the belt buckle. I hate seeing missionaries with ties half way up their shirts they look like doofuses. They might as well carry a pocket protector and wear black thick framed glasses. While we are on the subject of glasses make sure to take your glasses prescription with you and a spare pair. Really cool missionaries have a pair of sunglasses. The missionary list doesn't really address glasses wearers. One of our commenters Jeans on her blog beginnings new has a great site for buying modest clothes for sister missionaries called funkyfrom.com.
If you are extremely poor in the Intermountain West in the United States (California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona) you can always ask your bishop for some Bishop's storehouse help. He can write you an order from Deseret Industries for some basic clothing like suits, ties, overcoats. I suggest you buy your shoes, socks, and underwear new. He can also provide you with a set of a moderate set of scriptures and your garments through LDS distribution for free. Some of the larger stores in Salt Lake City and Provo have some good gently used second hand things are are good quality. When I went on my mission way back in the 1970s my bishop helped me get a few items like a belt, a briefcase, a tape recorder, and a missionary overcoat from them since I was recent convert and the only member of my family. He was able to also provide my temple clothing and garments from LDS Church Distribution. It was nice to have my own temple clothing but I didn't end up needing them since the Provo Temple provided them free every week when I went on a session.
Elders are easier to fit than sisters but even so missionaries should try on their clothes to make sure they fit. You should measure very exactly if you are going to buy clothes online. You need to know the arm lengths, chest width, pant lengths, waist size, etc. You don't want to find pants that are too long since the missionary will wear out cuffs then be left looking ragged. If you don't hem them right in the first place you might have to wear high waters later. You don't want to buy shoes that are tight. I wore a half inch hole in the back of my right foot on a mission that took three days of inactivity to heal since it was bleeding badly from poor fitting and cheap shoes. I had to wear a pair of Birkenstock's with crepe souls to heal them up. The best shoes I ever had were a pair of $30 Skeecher's black oxford work shoes from Sears which had oil resistant soles they last for years and keep out a lot of the water.
Sister missionaries should also look at purchasing conservative suits and get a couple of them. They should have mix and match clothes that is modest and will cover their garments. They should be conservative and a good rule of thumb is to have hems that are at mid-calf. They should get comfortable shoes that are sturdy since they will be walking or riding bicycles. Sisters are encouraged to bring a few pairs of black, blue or brown dress shoes so they can change from their Mary Jane style shoes to heels in a more formal setting. When their missionary call comes they will receive specific instructions from their mission president on what is appropriate clothing attire. In some missions they dress casually and in others there are specific cultural differences. Some mission presidents allow light blues, browns, or grays while others insist on ultra-conservative attire.
Having two daughters go on missions the last couple of years I was able to find them very good clothes in Orem at places like Ross, Missionary Mall, etc. One thing sister and elders are asked to do is have handkerchiefs to blow their nose. I don't suggest Elders offer crying members or investigators their handkerchiefs but rather should carry small packs of Kleenex in their inside suit pocket since that is a classier touch. Also I don't suggest you jump on the bicycle purchasing bandwagon but rather wait until you are on your mission to purchase one. You can buy one from a departing sister or elder. Also your mission president might be partial to a certain brand of bike. My mission president M. Russell Ballard insisted we ride three-speed Raleighs since that is what he had in the British Mission. He didn't want us on ten-speeds since he said we might kill ourselves.
Years ago when I went on a mission missionaries traded Article of Faith cards with their name and mission on them. You can still get something like that or business cards if you want to. I think Article of Faith cards might make a comeback yet. It was one way of knowing other missionaries home addresses so you can keep in touch after your missions. Don't to forget to include home email addresses.
James E. Faust said about missionaries' appearance: "As a representative of the Lord, your personal appearance is very important. You, the Church, and your message will be judged in part by your cleanliness and neatness. People will be reluctant to invite you into their homes if you are unkempt."
I wonder if other people have had similar experiences like my daughters or know of some examples of how to make good first impressions. I have been told over the years that perception is reality I would like to add I think first impressions are hard to overcome so a smart missionary should dress for success. I always thought missionaries looked like junior General Authorities or LDS women board members in the making when I went to zone conferences.
I hope you will look spiffy on your mission. Remember despite what people say about judging a book by its cover, booksellers and retailers know that people choose a book or a piece of clothing on impulse by their appearance. Missionaries will make their first impressions on investigators just like their mission presidents in the first thirty seconds. It is hard to overcome that impression if they think you are a slob so dress well. Don't forget to shine your shoes and carry an umbrella on a rainy day so your clothes will last for two years.