An anonymous reader asks:
How does one convince mothers to encourage (no, insist upon) modest dresses for their daughters? The problem is so bad in our ward that my husband said he would not bring his friends to investigate the church because they have higher standards than we do. How long can we go with midriffs showing, thong underwear, and tight skirts and still keep the Spirit? And the problem is the mothers! I’ve talked to the bishop, the stake president, the relief society president and still every week my husband has to stare elsewhere to avoid seeing young women who appear to have no underwear.
I teach in the Young Women, and talking about modesty is completely ineffective because their mothers don’t discourage (and in some cases encourage) their daughters from dressing in spaghetti straps and sheer, clingy material. Is this just California, or is it everywhere? Sundays are a trial every week because I don’t want to go to church and see this. Anyway, just some thoughts of a raving mother whose own 15-year-old daughter does dress modestly.
Modesty seems to have been a universal problem throughout the ages. I think of the words of Isaiah relating to his time and, prophetically, ours when he described the apparel of the daughters of Zion “mincing as they go.” The Retrenchment Society organized in 1869 by Brigham Young was to “prevent young ladies from imitating the pride, folly, and fashions of the world”to encourage them to wear homemade articles and make them fashionable.
The theme of “World vs. Latter-day Saint Youth” is so painfully obvious. It is escalating and our prophets have warned that the chasm between the world and members of the Church will widen so drastically that being part of a “peculiar people” will be visually evident to all.
Several years ago, I accompanied my friend to every store in Provo and Orem to find a modest prom dress shockingly, to no avail. Since that time, a few stores catering to modesty in formal wear have opened and our own Kathy Green (applause, please!) saw a need and opened a custom-sewing business. There are options for those who wish to follow the advice of prophets and leaders.
It is evident that not all have a ripened testimony of the importance of modesty. Since you are a teacher in the Young Women organization, it might be worthwhile to organize a mother-daughter temple preparation night. With the approval of your leaders, perhaps you could invite a member of the temple presidency or matron in your area to come and speak to these women on the sacred blessings of temple attendance. A great deal of time and publicity should go into the promotion of this special evening. Invitations could state clearly that participants should dress as if they were coming to the temple. In preparation, you could read from the mouth of the brethren exactly what this dress should be. If these girls (and some of their mothers) have to hunt though their closet to find something appropriate, a bit of schooling would already have taken place before the meeting.
Remember, it took 40 years in the wilderness to prepare the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land. How many years did it take for the Word of Wisdom to become doctrine rather than a guideline? It took a huge drought to bring the principle of tithing to the remembrance of the saints in Lorenzo Snow’s time. In addition to time, patience, tolerance, it will take acceptance and love to bring about change.
I think back to my own youth and that horrible mini-skirt I wore to church. Had someone chastised me openly, I promise I would have turned my back and left without looking back. We need also to remember that sometimes, in spite of good parenting, our children are going to make choices that are not in concert with the things we have tried earnestly to teach. At least these girls are where they should be, getting the spiritual input that will perhaps help them re-think their image.
Until then, tell your husband not to stop inviting those non-members. Maybe one of them will be instrumental in helping your Young Women.
You are in exactly the right role to impact this situation in your ward. But you might need to enlist support from other leaders, if your bishop, stake president and Relief Society president weren’t able to become agents for change. Fortunately, I’m sure they are already sensitized to the issue. I know I don’t need to say that lots of adults are dismayed at the styles the kids are wearing this fall.
The women’s apparel industry is very competitive. There are fortunes to be made in fashion, but only by a rarified cadre of top designers and brands. The competition among the rest is such that literally hundreds of brands and distributors enter the market and are wiped off the slate by the competition before we can even read their hang tags. Because of this, it is unusual for most manufacturers to try anything innovative. Their safest bet is to imitate the designers who are making money and finding retailers to distribute their products. The result is the view you and your husband are confronted with at church on Sunday. A rare exception is Nordstrom, who have once again made headlines by offering service only Nordie’s can afford. The Seattle newspaper recently ran an article about a Costa Mesa Nordstroms that hopped on the corporate bandwagon with a fashion show for LDS and other modest young women, featuring specially supplied prom dresses. In some cases, the gowns were even specially manufactured just for LDS clientele. It was an invitation-only show that sold out to 2,000 participants immediately. (Go to Goodworks to participate in this LDS movement.)
But I have never shopped at Nordstrom’s except with a gift certificate. I will never have that kind of money. I agree with Jeannie that it is very unusual to find a line of young women’s clothing in an affordable retail shop that is substantially different from the weird designer stuff. The designer lines make huge bucks from movie stars who utilize shock value as part of their self-promotion. Apparently the “winner” in this game is the young lady who is most nearly nude. At least this appears to be the main criterion. The inexpensive knock-offs are, of course, exactly as you described. A sweet little girl I sat with in Primary recently was wearing a very translucent dress with a too-short top and a too-tight skirt, in wild sheer fabric. Her mom is not nuts. She’s a nice, normal lady. I’m sure she just couldn’t find anything opaque and roomy, and finally chose the least goofy thing she could buy in her price range and within her time constraints. Maybe she doesn’t sew and doesn’t have a relative who will volunteer. (Hiring a seamstress and buying fabric at retail prices is not inexpensive, by the way. Gulp).
So our Young Women have a pretty valid problem, and so do their moms. It’s only a problem, though. Not even a huge one, given the right leadership. I think the right mindset for the ward members of these girls is one of very deliberate non-judgment. I don’t think these girls are wanton flashers. I just think they are representing their peer group in ways that are entirely to be expected. They need guidance and a lot of motivation. But this is exactly what our church programs are for. Our region has made this a top priority, with beautiful, powerful presentations by institute teachers, leaders and board members, and high-profile support from charismatic Young Women who are committed to the principle of modesty. The regional campaign has been emulated and carried forward at the stake level, and our ward has followed through with memorable special events offering clear expectations and undeniable testimonies. Our Young Women have boldly stood out from the spaghetti strap crowd to show up at their proms in sleeves and moderate necklines. Among these dear little pioneers were our own high school homecoming queen, the head cheerleader, and the past two student body presidents of the other high school in our ward boundaries, all of them LDS. Their dates didn’t ditch them at their front door, the world didn’t end, they lost none of their social cachet, and gained respect and admiration from their peers and their teachers and other influential adults. These programs were all completely positive. There was never a word of criticism or derogation toward or about anyone who did not share this triumph. I hope none of the bare-shouldered kids with disreputable undies felt publicly rebuked. The spirit of the meetings I attended was one of love and concern; never exclusivity.
Go get ‘em, sister. This might be the divine purpose for which you were called to your position.
There is a reason Circle of Sisters has more than one writer. And today you all are going to see the third wheel rolling at full tilt. I agree with everything my dear fellow-writers have said and want to add a word or two. I, too, am a Young Women leader and have been for most of the past half decade or so. And from this little corner of the ward I see some different modesty problems.
God has set a standard for us and part of that standard is how we dress. There is no reason for us to minimize or neutralize that standard. And there is no reason that we cannot be firm about enforcing it with our youth as long as we are loving, kind, and as should go without saying following the Spirit. Each soul is of infinite worth. As a somewhat rebellious kid, I can tell you that I needed to know that. But as a youth leader I am also terribly aware of the havoc that is sometimes wrought on the “good kids” because of the coddling done to those who are always pushing the limits.
Is it right for a modestly dressed girl to be looked on as “dowdy” at a church function, no less while the immodestly dressed one is allowed to prance around the gym, shaking her booty? Is it right for a boy who is truly attempting to prepare for a mission to have to pass the sacrament to a girl whose cleavage is hanging out at him and whose skirt is riding up to her waist? To me these situations are no less problematic than allowing a youth to constantly ridicule and taunt another or curse and disrupt meetings, because the leadership is afraid that correction, or that requiring an adherence to the church’s standards, would “drive them away.” Frankly, I think we need more leaders who aren’t afraid to “stand for truth and righteousness” and who won’t abdicate their responsibility to set standards. Of course set them with love and patience and great care, but set them nonetheless. We have every bit as much a responsibility to protect the kids who are struggling to try to do the right thing as we do to help those who are doing the wrong thing.
Most youth efforts in the church seem to focus on education. “Let’s teach the girls (and/or their mothers) about modesty again because, if their dress is any indication, they didn’t get it the first 362 times.” Education, of course, is terribly important and should precede any expectations. Having moved from a ward with many new converts, I know this teaching process can be long. But I’m telling you that these girls aren’t stupid. 99% of the girls who’ve been members for any length of time know exactly what church standard dress means. And 99% of the ones who dress immodestly simply don’t care. [Disclaimer: I have not done any actual double-blind studies of significant magnitude to verify these statistics. I'm just going with my gut.]
I remember yet another youth meeting when I was a teen where our leaders carefully and delicately explained what “happens” to a young man when he sees a scantily clad woman. I nearly burst out laughing. Duh!! Why do you think people dress immodestly? Because they want to blend in? Because the room is stuffy? Because they can’t afford more fabric? Helllllooooooo!
The education needn’t continue to focus on what the standards are, but why we should abide by them. They don’t need to be taught what modesty means, they need to be taught to care about it in spite of the fact that the world usually doesn’t.
That brings up the other part of the troublesome equation. Many girls dress immodestly because they get attention from boys for doing so. As often as not, the attention says they are pretty, sexy, attractive, and desirable when they show a little skin.
I live in Eagle Mountain, Utah. That’s Utah County (a.k.a. Happy Valley to those of you behind the “Zion Curtain”). The heart of Mormondom. In the city of Lehi (you know, named after Nephi’s dad), which I drive through almost daily, there is a tailor shop and in that window are displayed the wares of the shop. I would estimate that 98% of the prom gowns and wedding dresses on display there violate the basic LDS rules of modesty. The common phrase that floats up from the back of the car as we drive by is, “Wow, that would be really pretty ?if it was modest.” So who the heck is buying this stuff??? People who’ve never heard about the sleeve thing?
Look, I’d like to cover up Britney Spear’s belly as much as the next mom, but since I can’t, I’d at very least like the Young Men of the church to be strongly challenged to encourage and support modesty in the Young Women. Of all people on earth the Young Men who hold the priesthood should be the ones to show that they appreciate a Young Woman who is willing to go to the trouble to dress as God would have her dress. And part of that means not ogling the half-naked girls, not asking them out, and not calling them “hotties.” I’m telling you, if the girls showing their belly rings were home alone every Friday night and were the wallflowers at every dance, they’d start covering up mighty fast.
The solution comes from both sides of the aisle.