Modesty More than Skin Deep
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.
Sean Brotherson writes:
I've read with interest a number of the responses that have been written on the subject of our LDS youth and fashion trends today. I applaud the desire to teach our youth clear standards of modesty and to encourage them to be a positive example to the world in this regard. However, I also think that we need to understand that every young man or woman does not come from a home environment that encourages this and each young man or woman has a different personality.
Youth is a time of searching and most teenagers, our LDS youth included, want to express themselves through choices in music, fashion, behavior—some of which have consequences of concern. To suggest, however, that because a young man dyed his hair that he is "unworthy" to pass the sacrament or otherwise serve in the priesthood is nonsensical. Do we teach clear standards? Yes. But do we respond to breaches of such standards by declaring a young man or woman unwelcome or unworthy to participate in church activities? I think we need to be careful here. Dying your hair or getting an ear pierced is not akin to fornication or getting drunk. To suggest or act like it is too often will suggest narrow-mindedness or rigidity to youth that they will be more likely to rebel against.
I was the Young Men President in my ward for three years and served for two plus years as a counselor before that, so I've been through all these issues.
Very interesting topic. I just think we need to be careful that we don't "condemn" a youth who doesn't fit in due to choice of dress, fashion expression, etc. We can set positive standards and encourage that without being narrow-minded or so rigid that our youth flee the church. But each individual needs to know first they are loved and welcomed.
An anonymous brother in Texas writes:
This topic has been on my mind a lot recently. The young women in my ward sometimes look like they belong on a street corner. But I don't think it is a lack of decent and /or modest clothing. I see other young women outside of church who dress more modestly than some of the members. For example, on any given Sunday this summer, I could find at least five young women in sleeveless tops, mini-skirts with slits, or crop tops.
I admire you sisters who serve in the Young Women program and know you have your work cut out for you. In my ward, I think the biggest part of the problem is the Young Women leaders. The presidency was just re-organized in September, so maybe something will improve, but I will not hold my breath.
I am a 36-year old married man, and I have seen more at church than I want to see. I am like the man who does not want to invite non-members to church. My wife and I have discussed this, but we don't know where to turn. When we were in Young Men and Young Women, we were taught to prepare for attending the temple. For example, we were taught not to purchase clothing that we could not wear after we had received our endowment. I do not think the Young Women in our ward would even have a decent dress or skirt to wear to the temple for baptisms, let alone after they were endowed.
An anonymous brother writes:
Great topic and great responses. As a former bishop and father of two (now adult) daughters, I can't pass up lending just a few, hopefully helpful comments:
- I don't think girls necessarily dress the way that they do to attract boys. I think they do it to impress their female peers. I have often seen scantily-clad girls—specially very young ones—finding the increased male attention a bit uncomfortable. Of course, they get comfortable with it very quickly. But, the point here is that encouraging males to encourage females to dress more modestly is perhaps misplaced. I think a number of young women would respond to that by saying, "whatever...I do what I do for me (and my friends)."
- The decision to dress according to Church standards has to come from within—with support from the same-gender peer group, in my opinion.
- While most of our young women are still working on getting and building testimonies, I think most of them have as a target the temple and being sealed to a righteous young man, and to have children born in the covenant. If that is their goal, then the garment is going to be an integral part of it. Why not use that standard now? If they come from an active family, they know what the garment is and how much fabric it takes to cover it. They also know that their parents don't wear translucent or see-through fabric. We found this standard helpful in our stake: if an outfit wouldn't cover and conceal the garment, it's immodest. The garment is the Lord's standard for modesty.
- Men, both young and old, should be held to the same standard as young women, as far as possible. Pick-up basketball games in the cultural hall should not allow "skins" (no shirt tops) as one of the options. Beach, lake, and pool parties sponsored by the ward or stake should hold the young men to standards of modesty as well. When our guys get out of the water, we toss them their t-shirts along with a towel. It's not perfect, but it hopefully teaches a principle.
- Church dances have long been a source of contention between youth and adults. We finally posted Church dress standards at the entrance to our youth dances, and told each young person to please read them before entering. At the bottom of the posted standards are the words: "Adult supervisors will require youth to comply with these standards. To avoid embarrassing yourself, your friends, and your advisors, please honor the rules."
With the degeneration of school dances, many youth who are not members also come to our events, but they often have no concept of modesty in the way we define it. We place responsibility for explaining the standards squarely on the member(s) who have invited non-member youth to our dances. We also have a liberal supply of For the Strength of Youth pamphlets available for all.
Standing for something isn't easy for our youth, but it isn't that difficult either. Yes, they may be made fun of, mocked, and derided by their peers. Christ suffered much worse, and are we greater than he? Are our youth? With love, sincere and genuine concern, and caring dialogue, we can support our youth in this important Gospel principle. It isn't easy, but it's worth it.
Your comments were, in my opinion, far and above some of the best suggestions we have received. They are the perfect balance between the Lord's expectations and understanding that youth are a work in progress.
I couldn't agree more, especially with your first point. I think young women definitely dress for peers and not as an enticement. Using the garment as the guide is of course, the perfect template. You would be surprised at how many sisters wrote to us complaining that the endowed leaders were wearing inappropriate clothing as well.
The idea of posting dress standards outside the dance is a very non-confrontational, youth-friendly way to remind…sort of a "you have to be this tall to ride" standard. I like it. Putting the responsibility to educate friends squarely on the shoulders of Young Women and Young Men is just a great idea! I am so against "strong- arming" and confrontational, potentially injurious methods of enforcement. This lines up with Joseph Smith's philosophy of "I teach them correct principles, etc."
Thanks for the wonderful ideas and allowing us to benefit from your experience as bishop.
David from Concord, North Carolina, writes:
I don't often read this column, but my role as the stake Young Men president and the lesson on chastity we had yesterday in priesthood have sensitized me recently. Mostly I'm going to say, "Right on." I find it frustrating that there seems to be a constant fight in the Young Women regarding dress standards every time there is an activity. We are working with our stake youth committee on a stake prom as an alternative to the school proms that often have dancing that resembles tag-team wrestling, and the drinking and the dress. It also allows those without dates to attend. The young women on our stake youth committee have taken the model of the Nordstrom story from the Seattle paper and are looking for one of our local department stores to team up for a fashion show as a preliminary activity.
I have suggested that we hold a fireside (sound familiar?) where the stake Young Women president speaks to the young men and I speak to the young women. I'm afraid that if I told the young women what some young men (and adult men, too) do with the images they store of the girls they see, they would be shocked. I've never believed in mincing words and I'm sometimes looked on as a curmudgeon because of it but dancing around the topic minimizes and trivializes the message. I was introduced into the church (after growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah) by a young woman who always dressed in clothes she said she could wear after she went to the temple. That statement intrigued me and started me on my journey into the Church. As it turned out I didn't marry her and don't know where she is now; but the modest woman of promise that I did marry has taught that lesson to our two daughters and we teach that to our four sons as an example of what to look for in a bride.
One of the wards in our stake has a great Young Men president and he encouraged the young men in his ward to write a proclamation like the Proclamation on the Family from the young men to the young women signed by all the young men in that ward and was circulated around the Stake.
An anonymous brother writes:
I firmly support what Alison has said. Here's my view. A few years ago we had some young women coming to activities dressed immodestly. I was serving as the bishopric member over the youth. I suggested that we have standards and we ask the youth to live by them. When they came to meetings they dressed appropriately or they could put on some clothing we had in the building to cover themselves up. The other choice was to go home and change and come back. If we have standards (standards that they are capable of living up to) why not expect people to live up to the standards? If not, then the value of standards will lessen and slowly you'll find yourself in the situation mentioned in this article.
That was over four years ago and we have not lost a single young woman. The two girls that were causing the problems have all been married in the temple. The girls that were starting to follow have changed and are still active attending different colleges.
We only have one less active young woman in our ward. She would like to attend, but her dad won't let her. Now as bishop, I talk to each of the youth about many things, but we do talk about the importance of modesty in our interviews. I ask them what it is and why it is important. They know. They understand how their dress affects boys. I try to help them understand that, yes, they can dress immodestly and attract the boys, but then they won't know if the boy loves her or her body. And that she may find out too late.
I just read your article. Yes, it would be nice if the young women and their parents listened to what the brethren have said about dressing modestly. It would also be great if the guys would encourage modest dress. That's why I'm writing you.
A couple of years ago, we had an instance in our ward where this happened for the good of the girl.
The young women consistently wore low-cut, tight tops. One day after mutual activities, a group of the youth were hanging out in the hallway visiting. Out of the blue, one of the young men asked the girl, "Why do you dress like that?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Do you think it makes you look good? You don't need to dress like that to look nice. Actually, we'd prefer if you didn't."
The next week she wore a t-shirt under her spaghetti-strap dress. And then she started wearing a sweater over her low-cut, tight clothes. As she refreshed her wardrobe over time, she chose more modest clothes. Those boys did what the ward leaders had been trying to do for several years.
So, there is hope…
Immodesty is a problem all over the church and world. It's not altogether very serious in most spots.
Most young people, including myself (I am 20 years old, so I relate easily to teenagers) want to dress fashionably. The fashion of today is different from the fashion when our parents grew up. That doesn't mean finding modest clothing needs to be hard. In fact, I have never had a hard time finding modest clothes. What people need to know is that you can still be well-dressed, fashionable, and look like a million bucks without spending the million bucks and without damaging your modesty.
I think people are quick to think that because there are immodest prom dresses in stores that finding a modest prom dress is impossible. I know that is the cliche subject brought up when discussing modesty—prom dresses. It is a perfect example though.
I think most young women who are immodest are being a little rebellious, and will find their little niche in the world and likely become good Latter-Day Saints. Immodest clothing is not a definite sign of sexual sin or any other inappropriate activity other than wearing immodest clothing.
I have a personal experience: I took a friend of mine from my ward to my homecoming dance. She was in a very modest dress, but still was exceedingly beautiful and fashionable. All my friends thought she was so beautiful and wanted to know how I met her. (She did not go to my school.) This young lady is a very mature, spiritual girl. Once at a non-church activity, (though hosted and attended by church members) she wore a pair of slightly shorter shorts and was attacked verbally for her choice of clothing. Her parents thought they were not immodest, but the others there did. This young woman was humiliated, as she thought her outfit was perfectly acceptable.
This young lady was an example to all who know her, and continues to be one of the most remarkable young people I know.
Is it also fair to attack and humiliate teenagers? I don't think so.
People should be allowed to be who they are, go through their own problems and demons without the worries of being attacked and humiliated. If any of those attackers really knew her, before judging her by her slightly immodest shorts, they would have known what a remarkable, active, spiritual young lady she is.
Too many times young people see their parents dressing in frumpy, non-fashionable clothes that are said to be "modest." Clothes from the '80's, early 90's, etc. Teenagers are getting a mixed reaction. On one side, they want to be fashionable and modest, but they see their parents dressing modest but completely out of fashion. They don't want to dress like their parents; they want to be unique. Perhaps the solution is to show that young women can be fashionable without compromising their modesty. Young women need examples to show them fashion without being immodest.
Just a few of my thoughts—I do so enjoy your columns, although they are intended for Relief Society sisters, brethren like myself still enjoy them.
Alison, I loved your take on the modesty issue.
The kinds of young men who go after the scantily clad are not ready to date the nice young women who dress modestly. They have to wake up as well. The other problem is that most young people do not date until they're about 17–18. Most of the best young men and women are probably too shy to ask them out. That is how it is here outside of where Mormons are commonplace. I have never been on a real date, but have gone only to dances with dates (who were always friends). I don't date, and don't plan on it any time soon…I'm a confirmed bachelor, at least for now anyway.
I wish someone would come out with an LDS fashion magazine for men and women, with modest but still fashionable clothing. Most of the clothes I see LDS members wearing in church magazines are unrealistic. We're individuals and not models on a page. (Which is why I prefer seeing candid rather than posed shots of models in church magazines.) The clothes are either old-fashioned, really plain, frumpy, or look like they're maternity clothes on a non-pregnant person. No one wants to wear a huge sack if they don't have to!
So, now someone has to come up with the courage to break down barriers of LDS fashion and make a magazine for just that purpose.
Oh, and why does the modesty guidebook always go after the young women? Young men can be immodest as well, although its a bit harder for them to do so on Sunday since men have rather stiff, almost always modest clothing they are forced to wear. Not many choices. I have seen young men in immodest clothing as well. Its not just a feminine thing as well—and by the way, the young women go after the rebels, immodest, wild young men as well! I'm a nice, good looking guy, but didn't have any young women knocking on my door for dates either—it's not a one sided problem.
Most big clothing stores have a lot of modest clothing. My sister has a huge closet of modest clothing. I do as well. My clothing covers me, keeps me warm, and yet I am still able to live a functional LDS life. Both of us shop in large department stores, which are considered expensive. We don't buy a huge closet at one time, but we are able to find a few pieces here, a few pieces there, which are modest and at good prices. Right now I'm wearing one shirt which cost me a dollar, another three dollars, and then I have pants I "splurged on" for 15 dollars, still a good price. If mothers can't find good deals, they obviously don't look hard enough.
Thanks for the kind words and your wonderful comments.
Why does the church "go after" young women? I think you already answered that. Women's clothing is more prone to uncovering body parts. (Of course, showing skin isn't the only sign of immodesty!) But I can tell you that I have been known to walk around church dances requiring young men to cover up their boxer shorts—no matter how many pairs they were sporting at the time!
Greg Olson writes:
I enjoy reading your comments about gospel subjects. Please forgive a brother from horning in on your circle. For several years I have worked in the trenches as a Young Men president and have viewed first hand the effects that fashion trends have on the young men and women.
We have been set apart as a peculiar (special) people to the Lord and we are to follow the counsel of our prophet. We should not sugar coat the doctrines or apologize for the standards the Lord has set. Our youth need to be taught the truth with love by those who have a testimony of the truth. If the parents need encouragement then the home teacher should be calling them to repentanc—that's the way the Lord set up His kingdom.
Too often our youth feel that they can pick and choose the standards by which they live. We do not apologize to investigators when we ask them to make a covenant and live the teachings of the gospel completely. We should not expect any less from our youth than has been outlined in For the Strength of Youth.
The young women have been chosen to stand as a witness of Christ at all times, in all places, and in all things, (that includes their clothing). I believe that the louder the world shouts at them the more often we, as leaders and parents, need to reteach and reemphasize the correct teachings.
Thanks for the opportunity to chime in. Keep up the excellent commentaries.
I hope the sisters will permit a comment from a member of the other gender. I regularly read your columns and often enjoy the discussions but I found this thread disturbing because of its severely judgmental tone. There are wards all over the world (we live in Australia) where teenage girls dress inappropriately. We tend to be a little more conservative here and so it may not be such an issue in most wards I attend because there are simply not enough young women to make it an issue.
What concerned me, I guess, was the fact that no one seemed glad that the young women, however inappropriately dressed, were attending church and Young Women, etc. At least they were there! I know that can sound like a cop-out and it may sound as though I do not believe in dress standards—indeed I do, but you have to find the world as it is and not how you wish it would be. We may think we can protect our children from worldly influences, but unless we all become hermits without access to a single modern service, that just is not possible. I daresay that as many of these young women in percentage terms who are causing a concern today will marry in the temple as a generation ago. There they will learn that spaghetti straps and navel rings are not the go any more.
We have just one daughter who is now 23. We always made sure she dressed modestly at Church and as we have school uniforms here there wasn't much of a problem at school either. She still slipped away from activity in her teens. I have seen her wear all sorts of clothes that didn't thrill me. She has a pierced tongue and a navel ring and a small tattoo. She is still my daughter however and my wife and I love her dearly. She is married to a very nice man. They are planning their first home together and their first child and I'm sure they will be great parents. The sad thing is that whenever she has come to Church with us in the last six years she has worn clothes in which she felt comfortable—not Church standard perhaps, but she always tried to look attractive. And how many people ignored her—even in a ward where I was in the bishopric—it was painful. It was so obvious that "she didn't fit in" and that's exactly how she felt. Now in her city they are building a new temple and she and her husband are talking excitedly about seeing through it during the open house before dedication. They thought of it all on their own…so you never know where tolerance and love can lead!
For the sister whose husband doesn't know where to look in his ward: I would advise him to take each girl firmly by the hand and look into their eyes with love and compassion and say, with feeling "Mary (or Dianne or Kylie), it's really good to see you here. I'm so glad you made it to church today".
When I read the beginning of this thread, my response was, "Go, Alison!" I've seen too much in my own ward of the "Well, at least they're here." school of thought. I'm glad you've gotten some good ideas about how to teach the standards and then make them stick.
One part of the story hasn't turned up yet in any of the comment you've published, so I'll add my two cents worth. This conversation as I've had it with my own daughter includes a moment's consideration of what is on the minds of the clothing designers. Many of the designers that lead the way and set the fashions come from as deep in Babylon as it's possible to get, while another bunch of them are from Sodom. They know exactly what they want boys to think (and do) with the girls who wear their clothes. I believe the choice of what clothes to wear needs to include a conscious evaluation of what the designer had in mind and a decision to agree with the message the clothes send. Once the clothes are on, the message is sent, whether you meant it or not. Better to have decided ahead of time that your intent matches the intent that went into the design.
Michael from Los Alamos, New Mexico, writes:
I was glad to see your article on modesty in dress. Permit me to contribute a thought or two. I served in a bishopric for nine years, five of those as bishop. I am now a Young Men president in our new ward. I firmly believe that teaching our youth is not the issue. Most of the youth that I have associated with have no problem with dressing modestly. The problem is that parents do not firmly and lovingly enforce the standard at home. To place the responsibility on the shoulders of the Young Women or Young Men leaders is incorrect. Lessons on modesty and chastity are always taught by these leaders, as well as through the For the Strength of Youth standards.
But, when a young man or young women comes to church they need to feel safe, wanted, loved, and accepted. Becoming confrontational over dress serves no purpose other than to provide a ready excuse for some of our youth who are waiting for someone to become the reason why they do not come back to church. Our youth leaders can teach and persuade, but their main role is to love the youth enough to accept them, warts and all, for who they are, and gently move them in the right direction.
Michael, thank you for writing and for your great perspective as a youth leader.
I believe I speak for the entire Circle when I say that we all agree with you that parents should teach modesty to the youth—just as they should be the primary teachers of all principles of the gospel. None of us feels church youth leaders should be made responsible for the upbringing of someone else's children. The Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth says:
"Although the Church has many leaders and resources to help them, you as the parents have the primary responsibility to help them succeed. The Church's programs and materials for youth…are designed to assist you as you help you children develop skills and attributes needed for success in life." (p. 3)
Youth leaders are a support and resource to parents, not the other way around. But perhaps the focus on youth leaders comes about because when the parents enforce a dress standard for their children it never becomes an issue with anyone in the ward. And when they don't, many people are affected—particularly the other youth. Or perhaps the focus comes about because, although my true love is teaching Relief Society, I seem to be blessed to serve in the Young Women program for the rest of eternity.
Again, I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we agree that youth who come to church should "feel safe, wanted, loved, and accepted."
Now, speaking only for myself, I have to ask what that means. Does it mean that we "accept" any and all behaviors? Does it mean that if youth curse during church meetings, verbally demean and harass others, physically attack others, constantly disrupt classes, simulate sexual acts at dances, or deface property (all behaviors I have witnessed) that we ignore the behavior? Do we allow such inappropriate things to occur in the name of making sure they keep coming?
I have yet to hear someone say that they would allow such behavior. Almost universally people agree that harmful behaviors must be addressed. Must we be "confrontational" in order to attempt to resolve the problem? Of course not. And I'll say again and again that any time we ever deal with anyone in the church in any kind of corrective mode, we must do it within our stewardships and with love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and the guidance of the Spirit.
But, frankly, I do not understand why youth dress standards have become the sacred cow of Mormonism. Why is it that we generally agree that youth leaders should act (again, with all the conditions listed above) when they hear youth cursing at each other during meetings, and no mention is made of the very real possibility of "driving the youth away," but when someone suggests that some level of dress standard should be enforced (again, with all the conditions listed above) people cry foul?
And why is it that no one seems to recognize that refusing to enforce a gospel standard of behavior at church meetings is just as likely to drive away the kids who are trying their best to follow gospel guidelines, as enforcing them is likely to drive away those who find the standards distasteful. And, even more frankly, if we have to choose to alienate someone—as seems to be the implication—then whom should we choose?
Of course modesty is a consequential issue, or the prophet and all youth materials would not make such a point to emphasize it. And since it is consequential, then ignoring the standard bears significant consequences. And sometimes those consequences include a loving, kind, gentle, patient leader who—under their stewardship and with the direction of the spirit—will bring up and try to resolve the problem with them…just as they would for myriad other behaviors that are contrary to the teachings of the church.
Dave from Rock Hill, South Carolina, writes:
I had the blessing of coming into the church at age 30. I have not only seen, but I have lived on both sides of the "standard." Wanting to fit in, even as a single 30-year-old is a core emotion, and it can drive a person to try anything, and I do mean anything. I remember an experience when I was in the RAF serving in Gibraltar. Then I was active in the Church of England, and frequently served as an altar boy. Our chaplain was a true spiritual giant, and I promise I shall never forget (and this happened 45 years ago) one Sunday service.
We were preparing the communion, I was juggling the wine and the water, and we were all dressed in our black cassocks with our dazzlingly white surplices over them. The chaplain stood behind the altar facing the congregation, and we stood slightly to each side of him, facing him so that we could perform our duties. Suddenly he stopped right in the middle of a prayer, stepped out from his place in the sanctuary, and walked rapidly down the aisle. At the back he embraced a young airman in a great bear hug, and helped him to a seat.
As he returned to the sanctuary, we could see that his surplice was all covered with grease and grime from the work clothes that the young airman was wearing. And the chaplain was radiant in his joy, as he continued with the service.
Later he explained to me that this young airman has told him on several occasions that he wanted to attend services, but as his duty shift on the airfield as an aircraft engine mechanic ended just at the time services were to begin, he couldn't possibly get back to barracks and change. The chaplain had told him to come anyway. Now, in memory, I see that chaplain with his grease stained surplice as an earthly angel who showed a fearful young man a level of unexpected acceptance. And, as I do so, I think of the 16-year-old with 12 piercings in each ear, and a spare in her belly-button (on view for all who would care to look), and I think of the returning less-active member whose clothes and breath still have a substantial fragrance of tobacco smoke, and I ask myself can I ever do less?
The key is the temple. We must invite our young people to attend and participate in baptisms as soon as they qualify. In our ward it is a frequent 12th birthday gift for the girls, and receipt of priesthood gift for the boys.
And the more they attend, the more surely they start to feel that they want to return when they may, and receive the full package. I see angels in the temple every time I visit, and, guess what? Some of them have multiple places in their ears for jewelry, and I'm not sure where else. But they feel the spirit, and I have seen individuals become transformed with every group that attends. As I try to bless their lives, they bless mine, even as that chaplain did so many years ago.
Carl from Mentone, California, writes:
I agree with the observation that our young ladies are not dressing to be provocative, but as an attempt to be in stride with their peers. As an early-morning seminary teacher for 17 years the modesty discussion has come up many times. One day the "dream guy" of all the girls (and their mothers) in the class referred to the immodest dress of an absolutely "drop dead gorgeous" girl in the class. Her response was, "Oh, boys just need to get a grip."
As to our discussion that day in seminary class, I rather nipped it in the bud by simply saying that "bulls have a very strong physical aversion to red flags, so we ought to avoid waving any in front of them." To the young lady's credit, she changed her dress, although I'm certain it had more to do with the young man's comments than mine.
I agree that women (young and old alike) often dress to please their female friends. While males are selective about overall attractiveness, it is the women who are picky about fashion trends. In my experience however, it is the men, almost exclusively, who respond to the level of undress—which is really quite distinct from style.
It bears noting, as well, that the "drop dead gorgeous" girl—who was presumably dressing for her girlfriends—changed her style to meet male approval.
An area to explore in modesty is understanding that the temple is the standard and our ward is where we nurture and teach the standards. Why we live with imperfections is because we are imperfect. While I was serving in the bishopric years ago I had a very strong witness that we need to be very careful how we judge situations and appearances. Take an example of a mother and father that have done all that they can do to get their daughter to attend church. This mother and father at this point are working harder then possibly any of us have in attending church as a family. How devastating it would be—and is—to be anything but warm, loving and anything but friendly to these lovely sisters attending church. I know we are all at different levels in our spiritual growth and we need to be very careful about judging. The Savior has the unique ability to look into our hearts and see our potential and we need to work at developing and magnifying these same abilities. My experiences with the youth has taught me that the gospel and its principles are caught and not simply taught. The examples we set as leaders are the greatest teacher.
Thank you Alison for saying it like it is. Modesty is a big problem. It may be hard to find modest clothing but it is out there and stylish. Young Men and Young Women need to have it straight. These are the last days and there is no time for mollycoddling these kids.
I am in Young Women and I have Beehives that brag about their immodest clothing. One girl said she didn't have any clothes that would pass the modest shorts rule at girls camp. She was proud of it. Hello! Maybe 16-year-olds with jobs buy their own clothes, but not 12-year-olds. The parents are responsible for the way their kids dress.
Many parents in the church say that kids should be able to dress any which way because soon enough they'll have to wear garments, so let them do it while they can. Wrong answer! Children should be taught from infants to wear garment modest clothes. How can the Young Men in the ward keep their mind on a Sunday School lesson if the girl in front of them has her bottom hanging out of a skirt? How can the Young Women have the spirit if they are not respecting themselves and the precious temple that Heavenly Father has given them? I could go on and on.
Don Lively writes:
Humans process best the visual mediums. Even individuals with learning disabilities are able to process visuals I am not talking about text, I am talking about graphics. Text is the least effective medium.
If you are willing to buy into this documented assumption, then why should we be surprised that we fight against such a powerful (the most powerful) medium (graphics) with the least effective tool? That is why MTV has more influence than the individual who drones on for 40 minutes in our church classrooms.
Bill Hall of Naperville, Illinois, writes:
My work of repairing electrical systems in gas stations takes me to the seedier parts of town, near the drug houses. The ladies of the night wear clothes designed to show what they have to offer. Bare midriffs, tight form fitting stretch tops, tight pants. Many of our young women follow the exact same fashion scheme.
The great incongruence is between the message desired and the message sent…are you really a choice daughter of God and expect to be honored by men as such, or are you really advertising yourself "for sale" and expect to be treated as such? Of great concern is that the young women don't realize what a powerful mixed bag of messages they are sending.
How do you tenderly, gently, and without offense tell someone that they are dressing like a whore?
It appears that some need to re-read what President Hinckley said in the most recent priesthood session of conference. I think Brother Olson is right on track. I don't think it is proper for a young man with "dyed green hair" to pass the Lord's sacrament. Quit trying to "be of the world" and "follow the prophet" instead. Quit trying to excuse what Satan is getting our youth and adults to do! These things just don't come from our Savior.
Tucker Dansie writes:
Well, I'm a male, but I wanted to mention something. I never thought of my wife as an immodest dresser, ever. But when she started wearing garments, she had a few items of clothing she couldn't wear anymore, because her garments would show. Modesty can be tested by the garments. And mothers or fathers can "tell" what their daughters or sons should be wearing based on what they think they would be showing if they were wearing garments.
At the same time, I think modesty is our own decision, and judging others for their modesty or lack of is not really our right.
If I had a chance to talk to the young women of the church about modesty in dress I would say this:
My dear young sisters,
You have no idea how tedious, boring, sleazy, and awful the "oh so hip" dress of the day is.
When I go to church I go there seeking refuge from the world. I hope for it to be a place that is safe, and where I don't have to think about, for just a little while, all the evil that is rampant in the world. I go there to worship my Lord and my Savior.
I cannot tell you how disruptive it is to the spirit when I look up from worshipping and participating in the sacred ordinance of the sacrament, and see a young woman wearing her shirt so tight I can see her Victoria's Secret underwear and often what is beneath it in vivid detail, or a navel hanging out with some form of jewel dangling there, or a skirt so short and tight I can tell what color and type of panties are lurking beneath.
When I see all this I become sad. Sad that such beautiful daughters of God have no idea who they are. Sad that you think by wearing this you will be more popular, more dateable, more "in the group." Sad that you are so willing to risk so much for such unimportant things. Sad that your parents seem to be more afraid of offending you than they are of offending God.
Most of the time I want to walk up to you in the hallway and plead with you to cover yourselves, at the very least while you are in the Lord's house. I want to go to your parents and beg them to be more assertive, more stern, more diligent in helping you set and keep standards.
Please, don't even begin to think you have cornered the market on rebellion and trying oh so hard to be different by being so like everyone else.
I grew up in the 60's and 70's. We of that generation wrote the book on the whole rebellion and "I'm different" thing. I should probably say we re-wrote the book, since such things have been around from the start.
There is nothing new or inspired or creative in what you are wearing or doing. It's just the same old story, the same old hogwash, the same old hooey Satan hands out on a daily basis, as he has done from the beginning of time.
Being immodest in dress is not of God. It is of Satan. When you dress in such a fashion, you are shouting to the world where you have chosen to stand. You are telling your parents, your brothers and sisters, the boys you want to date, the girls you want as your friends that you do not care how your Heavenly Father wants you to dress but that you care that you are hip and in and cool and hot and sexy and worldly and ready for a good time.
We as parents and leaders beg you to understand how wrong this is. It is wrong on oh so many levels. You have no idea what men (and boys) think when they see you this way. Trust me on this; they are not good thoughts. I know where of I speak. I am the youngest of four children and the only girl. My brothers often left nothing to the imagination when they spoke of what came into their heads when they would see a woman and girl dressed in such a fashion.
I know you would probably respond that I am just some old fogy woman that has no understanding of what goes on now. Perhaps, but I am an old fogy who's been there. I know my words are hard, but coddling you along, and begging and pleading, and saying it in a soft way apparently has gotten us nowhere. Sometimes the hard words have to be said and I am not afraid to say them.
I honestly pray you will somehow begin to understand who you are and what is required of you if you are truly desirous of obtaining the best of what lies beyond this life. If you are not desirous of such things, then I guess it doesn't matter.
Sara from Layton, Utah, writes:
Dear Circle of Sisters:
Wow! Thank you, Alison! Finally, a voice of reason out there! I agree with everything you said. I feel like I am the only one who thinks this way sometimes. We live in Utah and moved here from out of state not too long ago. I was totally shocked at the way the young women dress here. There is so much immodesty; it is very disconcerting. There seems to be a hardness to the look of the young women that is becoming more and more prevalent. My sister goes to BYU and went to another university out of state for her first year. The strange thing, she said, is that the problem with immodesty is so much worse here than at her previous college where there were virtually no members of the church. She said the way they dress to church is unbelievable. I don't get it! These are girls who are graduating from seminary, getting good grades, and in general coming from active LDS backgrounds.
I first realized that there was a serious problem when I went to see the movie, "Singles Ward" which is made by Mormons for Mormons. The girl they held up as the "ideal Mormon girl" wore terribly immodest clothing throughout the film. Low-cut, tight, cleavage showing tops—I came home so bothered by that movie and kept thinking, "Something is wrong here." There is a need for a standard to be set so that this kind of behavior is not seen as acceptable.
To me, church should be a safe place. There is so much to contend with in the world everyday, we all need to be able to go to church and focus on spiritual things and receive the spiritual strength we need to be able to "go back out into the world." I think of how many men and young men in the ward are struggling with the problem of pornography and seeing these young women in such inappropriate attire must be a real snare for them. In my sister-in-law's ward, she said they do hold the standard for the youth at church. (She is a Young Woman.) She said the leader will just quietly take the girl aside and ask that they wear "such and such" next time. The girls aren't dropping out like flies! I think if it is done with love and sincere concern, the girls will know it is only because they truly care about them.
It reminds me of an article I read recently in the BYU alumni magazine about a teacher who had a student who would continually grow his hair out long. The teacher asked him several times to cut it and he refused, so he turned him in to the Honor Code office. He had to cut it or be sent home. He did cut it, though it made him angry, and he just grew it out long again. This happened about three times. A couple of years went by and the teacher never knew what happened to this kid until one night in the middle of the night he received a phone call and the voice at the other end said, "Help me. I'm surrounded by darkness." The teacher talked to him and found out it was this same kid from his class. He was suicidal and the only person he could think of to call was this teacher. The teacher helped him and this kid really turned his life around, got married in the temple, etc. When the teacher asked him why he called him that night he said, "I always knew you cared."
At this last General Relief Society Meeting, Kathleen H. Hughes, the first counselor of the Relief Society presidency said, " the world’s ways are too often becoming our ways and our children’s ways." She said that she talked with a mother who said that with all of the evil influences facing her daughters these days, she had to choose which battles to fight. And so she had chosen not to fight her dress standards. But, the counselor continued, "Modesty is a battle worth fighting because it so often affects larger moral issues." As parents, we must ask ourselves, "Are we subsidizing this?"
We may not have control over a lot of things. But there is one person in the whole world that we have 100% control over. Ourselves. We can set limits as far as what we are willing to do. We have control over our money and our time.
Our money is given to us by the Lord and we have a stewardship over how that money is used. This is our money and we need to be firm that this money goes to support the standards of the church.
We can say, "My money goes for these kinds of clothes." We have to carefully watch where allowance money is going—if Christmas gifts and birthday gifts are being returned and the money used for other things.
Maybe instead of giving cash, we give gift certificates to places they like to go (i.e. fast food, movie theaters, hair salon, etc.) that cannot be redeemed for cash until they can show us that they can make better choices.
We can say, "My time is spent making this sort of a dress." "My car drives kids to school (or to the pool) who are dressed appropriately."
I love the saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. But we can salt the hay." We can be creative if we need to!
First and foremost, we should try to lead our children to find their own testimony of this principle so that it doesn't have to be such a "battle."
My six-year old daughter really wanted a two-piece bathing suit like many of her friends have. I told her that Heavenly Father wants us to cover our bodies and that those kinds of bathing suits are not modest. This became a real issue and finally I realized that she thought this was an issue between her and me when really it was between her and the Lord. She said one day, "Heavenly Father doesn't care about whether or not I wear a two piece bathing suit." I said, "Honey, you need to ask Him. Ask Him what he thinks." So she said she would, but that she wanted to do it in private. A couple of days later, she told me that she was over at a friend's house and her friend wanted her to put on her two piece bathing suit to go swimming in their backyard. My daughter said, "Mom, I wanted to so bad. I started to put the top on and then I felt all cold inside and I just couldn't do it! So I decided that I would just wear my one piece. Then I got in the water and even though it was cold, I felt all warm inside." I explained that that was the Holy Ghost answering her prayer, telling her that she made the right decision. Since then, it has never again been an issue.
These Young Women are getting their identity and feelings of self-worth from dressing in such worldly ways. They become addicted to the kind of attention it brings—that is why it can become such a "fight" to get them to dress modestly. There are no easy answers, but there are things we can do. I will be interested to read what others think.
Laura from British Columbia, Canada, writes:
I continue to be amazed at the rationalizations of all regarding fashion. You can find modest clothes!!!! It may not always be easy but you can do it and you should do it! Some points to note:
- My daughters always say that they weren't immodest cause they can't wear what they don't own. I wonder why a young girl can use her hard-earned money to buy immodest clothes. Even immodest clothes aren't cheaper than the thrift store clothes. That is where my kids go to buy the coolest, weirdest, and totally modest clothes around. I wonder why young women can use their money to shop for clothes without having to pay toward household expenses, the family car, lunches and food, save for college, pay for lessons, etc. Life has some lessons and they need to learn them now. I sure can't use my money all on clothes for myself.
- I believe that fathers play a critical role here and they need to open their eyes and see what their daughters and sometimes their wives are wearing. They can teach them when they are really little and teachable. We just had a great Primary Sacrament Meeting. I never saw one immodest outfit in the presentation: just proud fathers.
- Teach your girls that if they think they are attracting a guy with immodest clothes, they are wrong! You cannot be selective about who you will attract. You are likely to attract the people you don't want to. A righteous young man is offended by an immodest girl. Just watch a girl dressed immodestly and she will spend all her time tugging at her shirt, wrapping a sweater around herself when she has to come up and talk to a teacher, etc. It just shows how uncomfortable she really is.
- My daughter didn't like to sew but I made sure she learned. Now she is a mother and she is grateful. It has become an important life skill.
- And to mothers of sons. Encourage them to date the modestly dressed girls. You can even talk with the girl's mothers to let her know that your son hopes her daughter's prom dress will be modest so that he doesn't have to spend the night worrying about where he can put his hands when they dance.
Judy from Leonardtown, Maryland, writes:
Bravo to Alison for her important words! Yes, I think that we should be very explicit about teaching the importance of following God's laws and the results when we don't. And the main result is spiritual death. I imagine that many of the young women who wear the fashions of the day assume that they'll sometime get married in the temple and then have to give up their fashions. But they won't end up there if they don't start now.
I have raised two daughters and three sons. I have been Young Women president, and I have taught the lessons (and I've been scoffed at--but I survived). So, I agree that nicely teaching the standards AGAIN isn't the answer. But pointing out the pitfalls to their spirituality (sometimes the subtle penalties are the hardest to realize) is very important.
I do so agree with the notion that the kids who keep the standards are being put down by the acceptance of the wrong dress by those leaders who will not speak up. Let's reward the ones who keep their standards high. Let's redirect the ones who don't by openly modifying their inappropriate dress with other clothing. I've been to many dances where we did this--the kids knew it would happen--they came with immodest clothes, we redressed them, they dressed differently the next time. When you don't kid around, you teach them a valuable lesson. Coddling them does not teach anything good.
Diane from Tumwater, Washington, writes:
As a mother of two teenage daughters, I testify that they can be dressed modestly, without sewing and on a limited budget. Now California may have different offerings, compared to Washington State, but I find it hard to believe that one can't find anything appropriate. I have purchased clothes for my daughters labeled several sizes larger than what my girls wear, just so they can have their bellies covered. I'm just here to say that it is possible. Certainly dresses for church are almost a thing of the past, but occasionally, I can find just the right one.
As to the individual who won't take investigators to church…I have a friend who'd been trying for years to get her mom interested in the church. While visiting her mom in Nevada, they went to church one Sunday. Now it was not my friend's home ward, she was a visitor as well, and she was shocked at the appearance of the youth in that ward. Bright colored hair, piercings, the clothes…well, you get the picture. It did not make a favorable impression. But this is an important opportunity to teach about free agency.
My previous ward in Vancouver, Washington, did not have this kind of problem. (We moved this year.) My current ward has sported youth in bright colored hair and prom dresses with spaghetti straps. So it's my impression that it varies from ward to ward. It's been my experience that the bishop can have a great deal of influence on the atmosphere of the ward. (He's told me that it used to be a lot worse.) I do know that the Bishop has prevented the youth from passing the sacrament if their hair is not a normal hair color. Subsequently, we have more appropriate appearance with regards to boys' hair. This same bishop has counseled the girls about modest dresses, but to date it has failed to change a couple of girl's attire and they showed up last month in prom dresses with spaghetti straps.
I don't know the amount of involvement of the mothers, but it does offend.
In my opinion, this issue involves the principle of free agency and has more to do with attitude than circumstances. It's the same attitude that allows some to continue wearing multiple ear piercings. It's the same attitude that allows a young bride to remove her newly put on garments, so that she can take her bridal pictures outside the temple in her immodest wedding dress. It is a reflection of their faith and knowledge in and of the Savior. It, sometimes, is a reflection of their willingness to obey. It is a reflection of their testimony!
We can continue to teach. Sometimes this involves correction. As a parent of teenagers, I teach, correct, encourage and allow free agency. I will not purchase immodest clothes for my daughters, but what they do with their own money is their choice.
There is one more issue: the choice to correct an offender or not. And if we fail to correct an offender, does that automatically imply that we condone? Certainly, those of us who try valiantly to live as we've been taught, are offended by what appears to be simple, flagrant violations in basic standards. We could go over to the offending individual and ever so kindly, but firmly, inform them that they are out of standard. In so doing, we recognize that we run the risk that the offending party will leave the church when corrected. This is often the reason stated for not saying anything. But, perhaps, the real underlying reason for not saying anything is simply, that to point our finger at their obvious weakness leaves three fingers pointing back at us. (Certainly, we have weaknesses too.) I also know that I would never correct anyone in my ward without the influence of the spirit telling me to do so. I do not condone their actions, but I allow them their free agency, even when it makes me uncomfortable.
As we follow the example of the brethren, we can ask what would they do? They have taught, explicitly. They have openly chastised those who blaspheme. (I'm thinking of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, condemning his blaspheming jailers or President Kimball when he corrected his hospital attendant's blaspheme.) I tend to think that they don't go up to their ward members and correct dress standards during Sacrament on Sundays. As we follow the example of the Savior, He taught righteous principles and then allowed individuals to govern themselves. I choose to do likewise.
P.S. I would just like to add that the reason the YM are not allowed to pass the sacrament if their hair is a weird color is because of the counsel of Pres. Hinckley. There are two main reasons for this. One: they are participating in a priesthood ordinance. Two: during this priesthood ordinance they are representing the Lord. As such they are expected to comply with basic standards for participating in that ordinance. It is as simple as asking them to wear a white shirt to pass the sacrament. They are not prohibited from partaking of the sacrament and are welcome in all activities.
Bonnie from Jackson, California, writes:
I am a mother of seven. My last two children are girls in their teens now. We have not had problems with our daughters dressing modestly. It is true that shorts are very short so my girls decided they would wear pants or capris. T-shirts too short? Not all. My girls have a drawer full of t-shirts that cover their midriff. Immodest dresses? No. We usually find long skirts or dresses with sleeves. Sometimes it takes time to find the modest clothing but it is out there. Nephi was required to travel to get the plates. He didn't make any excuses. He just did it. I think we need to ask ourselves how willing are we to look or even travel a distance to follow our prophet. Remember, the Lord will provide a way for us to fulfill what he has asked of us.
Karen from Goleta, California, writes:
Several years ago, when I was a Young Women president, I got my Laurels and Mia Maids together for a study of "personalities." I told them that I wanted them to look at other girls and tell me what they were like by only looking at their pictures. I had cut some pictures out of magazines for them to look at. As I held each one up, many of them were dressed like our Young Women were dressed or wanted to be dressed. A girl in a really skimpy outfit invariably got a, "Oh, she's a slut," or "She probably tries to get guys all the time," reply from my girls. One that was only lightly immodest got, "Oh, she looks like she wants to be popular. That's sick," etc.
When we were finished, I told them that the lesson wasn't about personality at all. I told them it was about dress standards and that they had just judged themselves. The room went absolutely dead quiet. "Don't you ever think," I said, "that people don't judge you by what you wear. You just did it." It worked wonders! (For a few weeks, anyway.)
Wow, Karen. I'll bet that was a defining moment for some of these kids. And hooray for Goleta chiming in! I spent the first four years of my life there, while my dad finished his PhD at UCSB.
Janet from Nebraska writes:
One of my sisters with teenage daughters expressed the same disappointment in not being able to find modest prom dresses even in Utah.
As a textiles, clothing and design graduate student I can tell you that design students are instructed by faculty to show more skin in designs as one of the hallmarks of contemporary fashion. Many couture designers use very little or transparent fabrics for their designs. Even though very few people wear the Paris runway fashions, the influence trickles down to ready-to-wear. But the bottom line is that the consumer drives the market, if the LDS didn't buy the available prom dresses, eventually merchandise selection will eventually change. Sew your own dress or pay someone to do it for you.
L. from Missouri, writes:
Our Young Women here in a small Missouri town aren't nearly as immodest as the ones that were described in California. But nonetheless they could use some improvement. (I am the Young Women's Secretary in our ward.) I have read some articles recently about teens and moms who are trying to encourage retailers to sell modest clothing and formal dresses. I think this is absolutely wonderful. Not only because teens need to dress more modestly but because I am a 33 year old mother who wears junior sizes. I have to search high and low for modest jeans in my size. I would love to be able to buy all my clothes at Wal-Mart, but unfortunately everything in the junior department is sick and disgusting. And it isn't any better anywhere else.
My husband is a high school teacher and is mortified almost every day by the clothes that the teens wear at school (supposedly there is a dress code). The shirt mentioned in one of the articles we've read recently ("I make even good boys bad") was worn by one of his students recently. Clothing styles at the school dances are even worse. I hope things get better before my daughter is a teen. I am a convert to the church, but even before I knew of church standards I have always had a natural inclination towards modesty, even when I tried to dress immodestly during my rebellious teen years I felt extremely uncomfortable. So far I feel I have been instilling in my daughter, who is 7, the importance of being modest and I will continue to do so.
Sue from Seattle, Washington, writes:
You can imagine how small our primary would be if we did anything to discourage all our lovely young people from coming if they didn't know how to be reverent. We are patient and keep teaching them and expect some to sink in over time. Maybe young women leaders could do the same with the modesty topic.
Sue, your letter seems to imply that we suggested that youth leaders should discourage girls from coming to Young Women if they aren't dressed modestly. You did not quote anyone in particular, but I don't believe that to be the case.
I agree that it is not appropriate to tell a Primary child not to come to Primary if they are irreverent. However, within their stewardships and with love, kindness, patience, and under the direction of the Spirit, a Primary leader might:
- Teach the group in general about reverence
- Speak individually to a child who continued to be irreverent
- Speak to the parents of the irreverent child for support and/or feedback
- Find an alternate teaching situation for the child
- Remove the child from class when he/she prohibits others from learning in class in order to:
- ask the child what is wrong
- speak to the child about expected behavior
- take the child to the parent or have the parent talk to the child
I have seen each of these methods used effectively and lovingly, without "driving the children away."
Immodesty, like any other inappropriate behavior, can be addressed in similar ways with love and sensitivity.
Many years ago I was serving as YW president we had a beautiful Laurel. Marie and her sister were the only members in her family. Her older sister left home to serve a mission. Each week Marie rushed to YW directly from her job at a local fast food restaurant. Her uniform included slacks. There was not enough time for her to change clothes to participate in opening exercises in the chapel. The YW gave her such a hard time about wearing slacks in the chapel that they drove her away.
It took a year of friend-shipping her and tutoring the YW to be more understanding and less judgmental to bring her back to church.
All of us have individual ways we fall short. How we teach our youth and our sisters to handle those shortcomings is important! As a new member I remember wearing very short skirts. Observation of the sisters and their style made an impression.
I would suggest fashion shows or even trips to the mall to see appropriate and stylish examples of wear.
Thank you for writing. You bring up a very important point, something that was implied but never stated explicitly in our original column. And it should have been!
Correctionof any kind—not just about modesty issues—should only be given when the giver has the stewardship to do so. And even then it must be done with the utmost care and only under the direction of the Spirit. It simply is not within the stewardship of the general church membership to march around the church looking for infractions of others to reprimand or report. In other words, ward members are in no position to make judgments about other ward members except in manners that deal directly with their own stewardships.
The Young Women who you say were bothering the young sister about her attire were, simply and completely, out of order. They had no business making comments to this young woman about her dress. And even those who may have been in a position to do so would not be justified in "giving her a hard time."
It is baffling, isn't it, that someone would justify mean-spirited, nasty behavior in order to chastise someone else's "sinful" clothing? Sheesh! We just don't get it!
Abby from BYU, writes:
While modesty for young women is extremely important, modesty for young men is too often overlooked. I am a student at BYU, and while the honor code is mostly upheld and respected, there are many young men and young women alike who have the notion that the dress code is an optional part of the honor code and the gospel. While there is a bit of a problem with the modesty of my fellow young women, there is at least as much of a problem with the young men.
At the beginning of fall semester while the weather was still warm, I saw groups of young men playing football out on the fields with no shirts. Men are not the only people who are capable of having problems with members of the opposite sex who dress immodestly. It's not good for any of us young women to be seeing men running around without shirts, or in other inappropriate clothing.
While I understand there is some lenience about the dress standards during exercise and sports, there are still limits.
Another problem with the modesty of our young men is their language. While I am one who understands the "spirit of the law" the language of our young men is all too often just below our standards. Even some of the "substitute" words can sound too similar to the real thing, and other language that isn't necessarily swearing is just downright crude.
I think it's unfair that young women are singled out as having problems with immodesty when young men have many of the same problems that are simply never addressed.
Excellent input, Abby. We can all stand a bit taller in our behavior. Especially that which clearly needs to represent our beliefs, such as public activities on campus at church schools. Language is another way to profoundly influence others, and to help us define ourselves, even to ourselves. We could implement a lot of positive change if we would correct even these "worldly" behaviors. We don't need to cling so stubbornly to cultural influences outside the restored gospel. Why do we want our allegiance to be so far outside the protection of our modern day prophets' guidance? I hope some of our young men at the Y will read your note and think about some behaviors that they might like to improve as part of their commitment to discipleship.
Abby, thanks very much for the student perspective! I'm glad to know the Circle is among you less-wrinkled folks. (Of course, by that I'm assuming you're a traditional college student, unlike my aged 42-year-old sister who decided this fall that a master's degree was not enough.)
You are absolutely right that modesty includes both men and women. But in all fairness, I think the focus is usually put on the women because they do exhibit immodesty—especially in the sense of showing more skin than they should—more often. Check out any prom. It's hard to find a modestly dressed girl…and equally hard to find an immodestly dressed boy.
Look at For the Strength of Youth:
"Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire." (pp. 15-16)
That section is a general recommendation, but I'd say it applies much more to what I see women wearing than men—at least this year. Even the quantity is an indicator of who is seen as having the greater problem. The direction specifically to young women says:
"Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or back or revealing in any other manner." (p. 16)
The direction specifically to young men reads:
"Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance." (p. 16)
Of course bearing it all isn't the only way to be immodest, and in some ways men do seem to be more prone to some kinds of extreme styles and manners. I'm still scanning for the passage that says, "Wearing multiple pairs of underwear with the goal of exposing one or more pairs is not becoming to a priesthood holder. The wearing of humongous pants down around the knee area is also considered unacceptable dress for future missionaries."
I'll let you know when I find it.
As for the shirts and skins debate…well, I dunno. If BYU dress standards are any indication, swimming in trunks without a shirt is considered to be acceptable athletic attire for men. I do not wonder that some of them do not see a marked distinction between swimming and running down a field when covered in sweat. So, until and unless there is some kind of official statement about men covering their torsos during sports, I'm willing to give them some slack.
Language may well be a great column on its own. You and I are in complete agreement here. The words of our prophet and official church publications leave no room for fudging around. "Profane, vulgar, or crude language or gestures, as well as jokes about immoral actions, are offensive to the Lord and to others." (For the Strength of Youth, p. 22)
Myk originally from San Francisco, writes:
After reading through all the articles, I just had to put my two cents in, too. I have been a member for 22 years. I joined the church a week before my senior year in high school. I came from a very liberal family from the San Francisco area. Dressing modestly and talking modestly was not something that I grew up with. My parents were kind of stuck in that hippy mentality of "If it feels good do it." My mother bought beer for my brother and me and our friends when I was a freshmen in high school. I was dating a 17-year-old guy when I was 13. So when I found the Church, I had already tried a lot of stuff that left you empty and unfulfilled. From the first day I read the Book of Mormon I knew I had found what I had been searching for. I was drawn to the standards of the church in every way. Well, as I remember it, the style in my day wasn't old prude.
At church I got to know the girls in my ward, and I noticed how they dressed and acted confidently. Maybe because we lived in an area where liberal thinking was the standard. But it became clear to me that they weren't afraid to stand up and be who they were. This inspired me, as I was growing in the gospel. I learned it was all about attitude, of loving the Lord and his ways. It wasn't trying to be like everyone else; it was about being true to yourself and the Lord. Later on in my early to mid 20's I started modeling. I am sorry to say I learned it was all about attitude as well: Shallow. Fashion today is as it always has been; it is about selling a product and I am sorry for youth and parents of youth who don't understand that concept. Every model no matter what she wears, knows she has to sell the clothes or rags she's wearing with an attitude. If you wear this outfit you will look as skinny, as beautiful and as fashionable.
What most girls may not realize is that many of these models really struggle with who they are and wonder if the guys they go out with really like who they are or are hanging around because they look good on the outside. I dated several guys and had several proposals before I met and was sealed to my husband. I am around a size 4 or 5 today. We have 3 great children and let me tell you shopping isn't any easier now than it was back then. In fact it's more of a pain as I want to look my age. Please don't get me wrong--I am still far from wearing old lady clothes. But I don't give up and decide to tuck in my garments here and there so I can look like the rest of the herd.
On the issue of teens who dress not to the standards of the church, we need to reach out to them and love them. I have worked with the youth as a Mia Maid leader twice and as a Beehive advisor once as well as having taught Sunday school to all the youth age levels. My husband has served as a bishop and he has spent many hours counseling youth who wanted rights but didn't factor in the responsibility or consequences.
Let me just say this: Love your kids. Let them know you are their biggest fans and also let them know where the line is drawn. All the advertising, music and movies geared at our kids to get them to be like the rest of the world are tough to combat. Every parent needs to kneel and pray with their kids twice a day and read the scriptures with them and then discuss them so they understand the scriptures, and make our homes places worth coming to and hanging out at.
What a great message from the "other side" of the catwalk. Thank you so very much for sharing an important part of the equation: i.e. the target element of the fashion industry. I think young women fall prey to this "herd" mentality before they realize that their fashions may also be provocative.
I'm going to frame your last paragraph. Loved the part about reaching out and loving those who transgress and then teaching them about responsibility and consequences. How right you are that if our homes are a "cool" place to have our youth hang out, we will be able to have fun and lovingly guide their spiritual education.
A concerned sister adds:
I fully agree with the standards of modesty set forth in your article. I'd like to point out, though, that not all young women have enough knowledge to use the temple garment as a point of reference. I was eighteen years old when my seminary teacher's wife first explained the concept of the temple garment. The whole idea of endowments and garments was completely unfamiliar to me; I thought the temple was a place to get married or perform baptisms for the dead. A little education might go a long way toward alleviating the modesty problem in many wards.
I'm presently dealing with another issue. As an adult mother to two teenaged daughters, I find my standards of dress for my daughters are higher than those expected at our ward. At a recent Young Women Fashion Show, purported to exhibit modest clothing, at least 75% of the dresses could not have been worn with the temple garment. I'm not sure how to handle this discrepancy, as I am not in a position of YW leadership. How can I encourage my daughters to dress modestly when these are the clothes held up as examples at church? Of course I do not lower the standards in our home, but I feel as though my authority as a parent is being undermined by my daughters' youth leaders.
Carol from Layton, Utah writes:
Be glad that they are attending inappropriately dressed and all? Excuse me, but the point has been missed entirely! Yes, celebrate that they are there. Yes, welcome them with open arms. But where are the lines drawn? They have the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet drummed into their heads from day one in YW or YM. They also have their free agency and yet they choose to disregard the Church's teachings! They choose to ignore their leaders counsel. They choose fashion over the prophet—and don't tell me for one minute that they are just being moderately rebellious. Is that like being slightly pregnant?!!? How can you condone such lukewarm shilly-shallying? It is an either/or issue. Or, that the preteens are dressing for each other and not to attract the boys. Yeah, right. They are attracting the boys all right—what kind doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. All those raging hormones and we are being so polite by not saying it like it is.
Come on—these are our future we are talking about here! Say it like it is. Set the parameters. Psychologists by the bzillion have said it over and over and over again—our children want to know where the limits are. Their job is to push them and our job as parents is to not let them! "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." Revelations 3: 16
Modesty in today's world is not convenient. It makes you stand out for something different. By so willingly accepting their immodest presence at their meetings without clearly setting the standards only confuses and muddies the issue further. It gives them a false feeling that what they are wearing and doing to themselves is ok as long as they are in church. Wow.
Are we raising a generation of Brittney Spears wannabe's or are we "standing a little taller"? For the here and now or for the eternal purposes of our Heavenly Father's plan? "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24: 15 You can interpret "gods" to be in whatever modern day vernacular you choose; i.e.: movie stars, fashion industry, glamour, or fill in the blank.
Juanita from Anchorage, Alaska writes:
Thank you for the opportunity to join in your discussion! I am the mother of four grown daughters, all raised in the church. Every one has had her time of inactivity during her youth or as a young adult. They experienced the attacks mentioned, not for immodesty, but for "fun" clothing. We moved from Southern California to Ohio, where it took five years for "fashion" to catch up to us! What was perfectly acceptable (even conservative) in our old ward was considered outlandish in the new ward! Acceptance is so important to each of us, no matter our stage in life, but youth are especially vulnerable to this need to fit in with their peers.
The big concern I have with youth dress today, which I have not seen mentioned is the lack of slips. How many times I have seen young women in nice clothing lean against the door while waiting for a ride, the sun shining through from behind, very clearly showing every curve of her body. Most of the older men look away, embarrassed. But some don't. With some of the lighter, increasingly more sheer fabrics clothing is made of today, a good slip would be well worth the investment!
Thank you for letting put in my two cent's worth. I plan to copy the brother's comments to give to the church leaders in our area.
We are always so tickled to hear from a smart reader who has seen something so obvious that the rest of us have missed. My goodness!! What's wrong with us? 3/4 of the problems we have been discussing could have been managed in five minutes by having our daughters wear a pretty slip to church. Many thanks for reading and writing. We will be really pleased to have a fun, positive suggestion to offer.
Thanks for joining in Juanita. I hope you will copy the women's comments for your leaders as well as the men's!
I'd like to make one more comment on the topic of modesty (or lack of) in our youth. One very important concept that needs to be taught, not only to our youth, but to all of us, is that "it isn't the cup of coffee that will keep us out of the Celestial Kingdom." What we need to teach, preach, and live is obedience, with the understanding that none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, some small and some not so small. There should be no stones cast by any one of us. We are all in this together, and should strive to love each other into becoming what the Savior wants us to be: obedient to his word.
I have a beautiful grand daughter, in whom I am very pleased. I am also pleased with her mother and father. They also have a problem finding modest clothing and at a price they can afford. One time my daughter-in-law went to the goodwill store and purchased a dress they could afford, then she cut some of the material from the front of the dress, as it had three layers, and made sleeves for the dress.
In my daughter-in-law's haste to get it done, she sewed the sleeves incorrectly and the mistake was noticeable, but my wonderful granddaughter wore the dress and was happy to have it. Her date on that occasion recently left on his mission.
She is truly a daughter of God.
I have a big concern with the young women of the ward and I wonder if it is this way everywhere. My granddaughter is popular with the boys, but not so with the girls, because she is pretty and not pretentious or a fake. She has been at my home where she has broken down and cried because of the jealousy of some of the girls and their unkind words. She is a lot of fun to be around and wears a smile most of the time. She is very talented. She is first chair in orchestra with the Viola and has a beautiful voice. She also is a good student with a high grade point average and has earned several awards. She has plans to attend BYU next year if they can afford it.
I am very pleased with my granddaughters in the church and the examples they set for their friends and others that might see them.
I just wanted to share this with you.
Sister Palmer writes:
If someone has the resources to do so, she might purchase or sew a modest and attractive outfit and give it as an anonymous (or non-anonymous if the girl knows, admires, and loves the giver because of a longstanding relationship) gift to someone who needs modest clothes.
A Young Women activity could be how to find clothes that are modest or adapt purchased clothes for modesty.
Your discussion focused on Young Women. The problem starts in Primary and modesty should be taught and encouraged then. Parents who allow their children to watch TV/movies/music videos without discussing the immodest clothing (among other things) are simply asking for trouble.
Hi, Sister Palmer. What a wonderful suggestion!! Of all our avalanche of readers, nobody thought of outfitting one of these cute young women if she really wants to wear something she loves but can't find. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if every experienced seamstress in the ward who had a little bit of room in her budget, would take a young woman shopping for fabric and a pattern, show her how to fit it, modify it, let her help cut it out and mark it, etc? We might form some lasting inter-generational friendships and teach or sweet little gals, from the ground up, how to exercise complete control over their appearance. I hope your message will open some doors and hearts. Your suggestion is a delightfully refreshing thought about how we might pull together instead of taking sides.
Sue Gilmer of Collinsville, Texas, writes:
This is a subject that I deal with regularly. I am the mother of six daughters ranging in age from 9–19 years old. Balancing each individual girl's need for individuality and self-expression with the standards of modesty revealed to us through God's prophets is challenging. It is also difficult to be in fashion while trying to raise a large family.
Young children learn first by the example set by their parents. If Mom and Dad don't spend their hard-earned dollars on fashion fads, but instead invest in classic styled clothing of good quality that will stand up to years of wear, they teach their children to think with the future in mind and to spend their money wisely. Parents have a lot more influence than they think, and even though our children complain and call us old-fashioned, they look to us for an example of what is right. The "I don't see why it is such a big deal" or "everyone else does it" comments can lead to a perfect opportunity to bear testimony to your children and teach them about their Father in Heaven. As children of God, we don't always see why the Lord commands us to do things. A loving Father in Heaven explains to us in the scriptures and through his prophets the benefits of living our lives according to his laws. Like him, we as parents should lovingly explain using the scriptures, teachings of the prophets and our own experiences. Heavenly Father does not back down on his commandments because we don't agree or want to comply, and as parents we shouldn't either. The final choice is always going to be theirs, but as parents we have a duty to lead them and guide them on the path that will lead to their Father in Heaven.
In our family, we approach dress standards simply. Their Dad is the final authority in the home, and he has final veto power on the appropriateness of our daughter's clothing. If he feels it is too short, or too tight, etc. it goes. We teach our daughters that the garment is the standard the Lord has set. And yes, we have heard the argument "but I have not been to the temple and made those covenants, so why do I have to," but we stand firm and make no apologies for our chosen family standard. We do not purchase clothing for our daughters that does not meet our family standard. We have also taught them that how they dress is a reflection on their family and what their parents teach them, and they have a responsibility to represent their family honestly and honorably.
Our approach might be considered strict, but our children have learned to find other ways to express their individuality, than through dress. It has also been my experience that if dress is not a fluid issue in the home, but firm and steadfast, the issues of music, friends, activities are manageable.
I also agree with all that I read in this article. But a note of caution here. I am also in the YW presidency and we have had girls become inactive because of things that were said to them about what they were wearing. These comments have come from the other girls and from adults in the ward.
We need to remember to not judge and to remember sometimes that it is better for a youth to come to church dressed inappropriately than to not come at all. What would Jesus do?
Oris from Oceanside, California writes:
I, too, am appalled at the standards of dress, not only among the young women, but also the adult women. I understand cultural differences but was somewhat taken aback when a young Samoan elder was blessing the sacrament dressed in a white dress shirt, tie, dress shoes and sox, but wearing a black Lavalava instead of pants. However, I had to admit he looked very nice.
I am much tempted to tell one of the young sisters who favors the latest styles that I think her top is very lovely, but too bad they didn't have it in her size, or did she wash it in water that was too hot and did it then shrink to this unbecoming style. As the enrichment teacher I gave a lesson trying to get the adult sisters to be more careful in their dress. I had them consider possibilities, such as a job interview, a calling from the General Authorities for an interview, etc, and then a call to appear before a very, very important person in a gathering of saints and others. I asked them to consider their wardrobes and then write down what they would wear for these occasions. Of course, the last occasion was Sacrament Meeting. I would like to say it was successful. It was not. It is up to the adult sisters to set the example by dressing at least as modestly for Sacrament Meeting as they would for an important job interview.
I had an idea once that I thought might help. I thought that one could make two figures from styrofoam balls and decorative pipe cleaners. One would be a very cute fly with a flirtatious grin leaning against a garbage can, the other a very cute bee standing by a flower. Then to point out that we attract what we dress for, and that the fly, though cute, was not desirable as a permanent partner, because flies just wander from garbage to garbage, taking what they want, leaving more flies behind them. The bee on the other hand is very particular about what it gives it's attention to, and will go to just one kind of flower. I then would suggest that you get what you put your bait out for. I could verify this because I have been married four times, three times before I joined the church, and "caught" just what I could expect from the bait I put on. The last time I was married I had changed my "bait" for something more modest and "caught" a very wonderful man, one who honored his priesthood and was faithful and true to his covenants. Someone with whom I will be glad to spend eternity.
My husband served his mission in Samoa and so I would not be taken aback by this at all! In Samoan Mormon culture, respectful male Sunday dress is just as you describe: dress shirt, tie, and an ie fai toga. The ie fai toga is "clothing after the manner of the Tongans." The Tongans generally wear the belted (or more formal) lava lavas—as opposed to the more casual wrapped and tucked fabric square that is more common to Samoans. It should be noted that church representatives, such as regional representatives, have also donned the ie fai togas to officiate in church meetings. And the missionaries often did as well. (And did you notice the lei on President Hinckley at the last General Conference? My bishop doesn't usually where a necklace!) Happily the church has no problem incorporating aspects other cultures that are not contrary to established doctrine.
Wow! I loved what everyone had to say about what is out there for our girls in the fashion world. Not a pretty scene.I loved all your ideas and understood all the excuses. Still the problem is bigger than all you have said. I saw it coming when my collage of Clothing and Textiles was shut down at BYU and sewing and the home arts were taken out of the schools. When it is cheaper to buy a dress than buy the fabric to make that dress most people will buy the dress. And so sewing is becoming a lost art and people like me and Kathy Green are becoming a lost breed. That puts us at the mercy of a fashion industry that is dictated by a less than moral entertainment industry. I fear for my grandaughters.
What am I doing? Well for one, I am making two wedding dresses at cost for two close friends. I wish I could do more but I can't. I wish I could sew for every girl I know, but I can't. My time is limited and my resorces spare. I do what I can and I challenge all who have anything to do with the fashion industry or have skills to change this trend to do so. I am incouraged by the online stores that sale modest clothing. I am glad that those with time and resorces are making an effort.
I joined one group of young women that sent letters to stores asking that buyers whould buy more modest clothing. I don't know if it changed much but that is no reason to stop trying. Keep pu the good work! There is much to be done and so many of us to do it. Kids are smart. Let the young men and women know they can do somthing about changing this awful trend by following the giudelines of our prophet. I believe with the help of our Father in Heaven anything is possible. And I will continue to do all I can do.
Excuse me while I pull my little "soap box" out. I am a counselor in our Primary Presidency. The modesty issue can and does begin in Primary as well. We have some children whose mothers do not sew and are on strapped incomes. What ever they can find at Goodwill to fit their child, is considered "good enough." I agree whole heartedly with the insights of these good Sisters. I just want people to know that it doesn't start in the Young Women's age group. I think everyone can remember what the body looks like between the ages of 7-12. It has very little definitive curves, lumpy in places and moves awkwardly. (Sounds like my body and I'm over 50.) Imagine this pre-adolescent child in a tight, flimsy sheath dress.
The foundation of the church begins in the lessons taught in Primary. It seems to me that the days are gone when we use to try and out do each other in the "outfits" that we made for our daughters. I remember the Era of Gunne Sax and Little House on the Prairie dresses. I believe that it comes by example. My own daughter never wore anything sleeveless, because I didn't. I don't have the answer, but I do know that we can't stop trying to teach modesty. Society has become too complacent with the attitude…"whatever." Has anyone thought that these young women may feel wrong about the way they are dressing? Sometimes it is hard to step out of "the flow" and it is just easier to follow the pack. The Temple night idea that Jeannie suggested might be the inward "relief" that some of these young women are looking for.
I will now prepare to put my little "soap box" away, but with one final reminder. Do not stop teaching correct gospel principles.
Evelyn from England writes:
I live in England and we do not have much of a problem with dress standards in our stake and certainly no problem at all in our unit, where I am the Young Women President. We do not have much of a problem because we will not allow the problem to exist. The Young women are not taught about dress standards when they enter the program. We start earlier than that. Each year the Valiants in Primary have a Dress Standards Achievement Day which we have the Young Women present. We have games and quizzes and dress parades and lots of fun. The YW are in charge of the whole event, but the leaders assist with ideas, etc., if asked.
The Young Women would be hypocrites if they said one thing to the Primary kids and then did another themselves, so if they have a problem this soon sorts them out. If the YW let their standards slip just a slight bit, the Primary girls are soon on at them. It is great to see girls over eight living the law of modesty and encouraging others to do the same.
If YW come to church activities dressed inappropriately, they are offered big baggy T-shirts or tabards to wear over the top of their "trendy" clothes, and they have to wear them all evening. If they choose to go home and change, all the better. We will not tolerate girls breaking the standards and "teasing" our Young Men.
On Sundays, the same rules are harder to enforce, but the girls know perfectly well what is expected of them and I will never let them think it's okay to bend the rules even just a little. I may sound harsh, but as well as having one daughter who has just completed Young Women and one who will start next year, I have three teenage boys, all of whom want to go on missions, and I will not allow anything to get in the way of their "righteous focus"—especially if I can help it through my calling.
There is no excuse for not trying to get the right type of clothing—it is out there, you just have to look harder and learn to make slight alterations to clothes if necessary, even if you aren't the greatest seamstress in the world. For my daughters prom, we couldn't find anything suitable for miles around, so I found a local seamstress, explained the situation and she found us a pattern. She told us how much material to buy and then made it up for us. It cost £40 (about $60) which was not much more than some of my daughter's friends paid just to hire a dress for one night. Remember, where there's a will, there's a way. If you want the girls to live the standards, live them yourself and encourage them constantly through loving kindly words. If they know you love them, they will never take offense.
While I agree with the Circle's comments entirely regarding the need for change regarding the immodesty of our youth, I feel the need to point out that at least the girls mentioned are at church. It's a sticky issue—one where, when we are dealing with the youth and their dress standards, we need to radiate the light of the Gospel as much as possible, so that any changes in the kids' outward appearances come from within. Otherwise, they will just rebel and quietly drop through the cracks.
I had an unconventional appearance at times during high school (blue hair, etc.), but because of a charity-filled Seminary teacher who loved me for me, and never criticized (or even seemed to notice) my appearance, I felt accepted and loved, and kept coming back to church. I eventually matured past the point of needing to express myself through my appearance. I'm now a returned missionary, was married in the temple to a wonderful, worthy priesthood holder, have four beautiful children, and am thrilled to be serving as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in our ward.
My brother had a different experience (different ward). He pierced an ear, and was told he couldn't pass the sacrament any more unless he removed the earring. (Other than the earring, he dressed in a perfectly appropriate manner, and was worthy in every way to participate in the ordinance.) Other families forbade their sons from associating with my brother—because of his earring. My mother, a single mom working and going to school full-time, couldn't spare much time or energy to ask for help from home or visiting teachers, who might have been supportive. My brother lapsed into hostile inactivity at the age of 14. He hasn't been back since; in fact, he's now a Buddhist who won't even participate in family Christmas gift exchanges.
"The Lord looketh on the heart." Whenever I see a teenager in scanty dress or with crazy hair, I repeat that scripture to myself, look right in the teen's eyes, and give him/her a big smile. I know that, if we will do our best to model correct principles with our own kids, then reach out and communicate unconditional love—or as close to it as we can muster—to others, we'll see more results than if we hold yet another Standards Night, where we end up preaching to the choir.
Thank you Alison for having the courage to say it like it is. I see the same thing in our ward and everyone just looks the other way. I've even heard some say, "if we bring attention to their dress it gets worse." So nothing is said, and it still gets worse. It borders on having to stand at the door of the chapel with a disclaimer and blinders. What's even worse is some of the adult female ward members with the slits in their skirts up to their thighs! Just recently a sweet young adult Primary teacher sitting on the stand with her class during the Primary program in a skirt that was slit basically to her waist and wearing black lace thigh high stockings. You could see no slip and the entire length of her leg when she walked and when she sat down. I gasped at what those little kids had to view and wonder about. This girl is from a very active family, but the mother of this girl wears very similar skirts that are slit way past what is acceptable for the wearing of gaments (which she does).
I am the mother of four daughters and I have had to stick to my guns on each and every one of the prom dresses and the fashions that cross the line. My girls would laugh when I'd comment about an outfit, "That's cute if you can find a tee-shirt to match to wear with it." Then grimace because they realized I meant it.
School clothes shopping did not mean giving the girls the credit card or cash and sending them on their way alone. I had to make it a point to "guide" them and tell the reasons why they would not be wearing those things as long as they lived under my roof and we even had some of the discussions come to the level of, "Do you really feel this would be appropriate to wear to meet the Prophet?"
Sometimes it even got to the level of "you will lose privileges if you break the rules and have the fashion police called in again." I constantly drilled home the point about having the courage to be different than the world around them. I had many times when I wasn't their "best friend" and I finally realized my girls didn't need another friend, they needed a mother. I spent many hours on my knees, as I still do, praying for all the lessons and all the mother-daughter talks to sink in and become part of their own testimonies.
Now I see my own daughters fighting battles of their own with my grandkids and that brings me to my knees again. The battle is getting harder, but the reason for fighting the battle never changes. It is worth the battle and worth the bruises on the knees to help those precious young women stay precious and clean and finally realize how much they appreciated their parents fighting the battle and never giving up on them because they know why it was so important to them, to their earthly parents, and to their heavenly parents.
I spent many hours teaching the concept that as a young woman, you have the responsibility to help those young men reach their goals of serving a mission and being able to do so without distraction from a young woman who dresses in a way to help Satan sway that young man to think the ways of the world are okay and even good. And I also very much agree that more has to be done with the young men to help them realize it is their responsibility to help foster the attitude of young women that real beauty does not dress as the world around them suggests. And the women in our wards need to take a good look at their attitudes and make some changes in their own dress standards and "get a needle and thread" to those slits in the skirts.
An anonymous reader writes:
A couple of years ago on the day that I was released as Young Women president, a sister in the ward choose to bear her testimony about the fact that the young women in the ward, including her daughters, were glad for the change because of the fact that modesty in dress was stressed, white shirts for the young men blessing and passing the sacrament was stressed, and just how horrible YM/YW had been for the last several years that I was president because of this. I was devastated and still have a difficult time with it, probably in part because no one came to my defense, her "testimony" was allowed to go on and on blasting me for following what the prophets have said was to be a part of the YW program. What a wonderful send-off for seven years of work, I no longer look at those years as the wonderful years of service, and I have a really hard time looking at those girl that I loved, knowing they hated YW and me.
Unfortunately, our mothers feel that it is OK. My husband and I now serve in a singles ward. It is amazing how some of the girls dress. Do I say anything to them? No, I do not. If someone is really inappropriately dressed, my husband handles it.
Karolyn from Winlock writes:
Shocked at the way someone in your ward dresses? Have you thought of bringing in a fashion consultant to do a makeover for mutual? As a former YW president we were always looking for activities t o keep the girls interested and what is more interesting to a teen girl than clothes and makeup? How about combining a Relief Society and Young Women evening of makeovers for moms and daughters? It is possible to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem as Elderige Cleaver so eloquently put it.
Concerned Sister writes,
"How long can we go with midriffs showing, thong underwear and tight skirts and still keep the Spirit?" I say a long while! It is quite easy when we let those in charge do their callings. Be prayerful, be kind, be loving and not judgmental. It is not anyone's responsibility to be the "clothing police" in your ward unless of course this is a new calling!
I might ask how anyone would know or care what kind of underwear a person was wearing in the first place. It reminds me of people who are not LDS asking about my garment and I always ask why they are so caught up in the importance of discussing my underwear.
You said the problem is the mothers and, supposing you are right, it should stay there with help, love, kindness, and compassion of those who hold the mantle of responsibility. If you have talked to the bishop and the stake president, then you've gone to the right people and did what was necessary. Maybe not even that was necessary because I am sure the bishop had noticed also. I would say you need let the Bishop handle it and do what they are set apart to do and get back to looking for the beam in our own eyes. In meetings keep prayerfully tuned into the music and talks, sit in the front row so you cannot see the way they are dressed. Perhaps those girls are there—how they are and where they are—for a purpose, a test or even a lesson for us to learn about unconditional love.
I can assure you this is not a California problem nor is it an exclusive problem to the new millennium in the church. In the 40's the fashion was short skirts, very immodest; the 70's the skirts were even shorter and the pants worn every bit as low on the hips as they are today. My oldest daughter graduated in 1976 and believe me even in our little town of 850 there was much of the body shown both by girls out of Church and by Church member's daughters.
Maybe commenting positively on how beautiful their complexion is or how great their hair looks would get more results than preaching, looking at them in a disgusted manner, or "tsk tsk" and shaking your head when you see them. Kids respond negatively to threats or intimidations, so maybe giving them a warm hug and showing them they are loved no matter what is in their minds, what they look like or act like would be better. What underlying message I got is that obviously these young women are lacking in self-esteem and negativity, by looks or action, will only exacerbate the situation.
We had the most wonderful Relief Society meeting Sunday. It was ward conference and the 2nd Counselor in the Stake Presidency was our speaker. I am seldom moved to tears by a speaker—tough old bird that I am—but this was one of those times. President Budget spoke about who we are, literal daughters of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. We have Gods as parents. We are daughters of divinity. We are worth Christ dying for. I thought I was aware of this but there was just something about his manner and his being filled with the Holy Ghost that gave the subject more meaningful, personal and real.
I wish I could have canned his talk and send it to you for these wonderful daughters of divine birthright. They do not seem to realize yet just who they are. They will some day and it will be in no small part to the care and concern shown to them by people who care, like you!
Sister, you asked about how people know someone is wearing a thong. Let me explain. The underwear fashion of the new millenium dictates that the girl has low-slung pants and high-slung thong straps. The lovely floss-action immurges from the…um…derriere and floats up nearly to the waist. This (the waist) would be the area about eight inches above the pants.
Admittedly, my closest brush with the 1940's were when I (1) played a ballroom dancer in the NBC TV movie Side by Side and (2) when I played dressup in my Grandma Empey's wardrobe. Still, my image of 1940's fashion was more like this, than like you describe. And my memories of 1970's hip-huggers (which I did have the great displeasure to live through) is that they were a bunch higher than today's. But maybe I've just turned into my mother.
I appreciate your thoughts, but disagree in an area I think significant. If my children went to church and were pelted with rocks, I wouldn't sit back and say, "Oh, my. Let's hope the mommies of these children teach them some day." I tend to have the same desire to protect them from spiritual damage that I do about physical damage.
Kathleen Hedgecock writes:
I loved everyone's comments about modesty this week! All points apply. One of our sons came home from church fuming over another young man in our ward who openly made a rude comment to a young woman and how she was dressed. She was the only truly modestly dressed girl in the class! And he was the most handsome and sought after young man. How sad. As parents of boys, we try to teach them to respect Young Women…all of them. I personally make a point of complimenting properly dressed young women in very public places and in a fairly loud voice. I think it's an especially important thing to do on the Sunday after prom.
We recently held a Standards Night and the speaker made the point to the young men that they needed to be careful about how they treated young women who dressed improperly. She pointed out that righteous young men who gave extra attention to such young women were sending the wrong message, not only to the young women in question but to others who dress properly.
At the same time, it's hard as the parent of a beehive when my daughter wants me to buy her the almost-see-through top she says everyone at church is wearing. And she's partially right. Harder still for her to go to school where she's the only LDS girl in her grade and when she says everyone does it she's really right!
Go back to the Relief Society Broadcast. We were told that modesty is an important battle to fight with our young women because immodesty leads to so many other problems. Add to that the statement I heard from Education Week about how a righteous Young Woman would only dress a certain way and a righteous Young Man would only be seen with Young Women who dresses that way. (OK, I probably got that quote messed up. I heard it second hand!) That's the ticket. We need to be sure, be positive, and then be sure some more, that our youth have internalized the concept that their bodies are sacred. When they understand exactly who they are there's no arguing about how to dress.
Modest dresses, inexpensively priced ones at that, aren't that hard to buy off the rack. Even here in sunny, hot in the summertime, Arizona ! No excuses!
Thanks for the excellent ideas, though. I'm looking forward to planning a temple evening for our Young Women (and their mothers!).
How about a take on this from a totally different perspective? There is a young lady in our ward who is the epitome of a sister missionary. I will call her, Sue (not her real name). Sue is about to graduate from high school and already she shows the level of compassion, knowledge of the gospel, and leadership skills you would expect from a young lady just finishing her mission. Sue will likely go on a mission.
My son, a priest and just a bit older than Sue, is struggling with all aspects of worldliness. As Alison says, he knows what is right, he just has trouble doing it. Plus, he has reached the age (over 18) where I have little-to-no influence on him as he no longer lives in my home.
So what does all of this have to do with modest dress?
My son would love to date Sue. He speaks of her almost reverently and has placed her on a pedastal. Sue is exactly what he believes would make the perfect eternal companion.
But who do you think my son dates? The girls of questionable moral character who definitely don't dress modestly, let alone behave modestly. He dates this type of girl because he doesn't feel he is worthy of Sue, she would never date him. My son has felt that Sue is beyond his reach from a long time. Even if he repents and goes on a mission, Sue will still be unattainable. "Why bother?" From his view, any young lady of high moral standards is beyond his reach.
Perhaps it is more than the girls not caring about dressing modestly, perhaps it is because they don't feel worthy of the blessings of the Gospel and the blessings that come from obedience. That perhaps it is a feeling of "Why bother? It doesn't matter. I won't be forgiven for my sins."
It's a lack of understanding of the atonement more than being disobedient.
Andree, I am so grateful for your letter. What an important insight you have brought up! I truly feel for your son. I was one of the "why bother" kids, too. And it often takes a lot longer to forgive ourselves than it takes God to forgive us.
Please tell your son that, miraculously, repentance really does work. Completely. We can be as "white as snow," not just a lighter shade of pink. I highly recommend to him a book entitled, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News by Stephen Robinson. It changed my life.
Andree, your letter coaxed a few tears from my ducts this morning. Let's address this in our Circle of Sisters. I think it is a very, very important idea for an LDS community. How can we love each other more perfectly? If Sue had known about your son's admiration, might she have found a few opportunities to have heart-to-heart conversations with him as her peer in the LDS community? She might have literally changed his life. She would possibly not have even needed to "date" him. This is a different level of communication. My kids have commented on the enormity of the spirit of complete charity and unconditional acceptance at successful youth camps and activities. The leaders somehow foster this, and I think the fact that these experiences are removed from the social strata that is so rigid and perceived as so important in high school somehow makes it OK to throw your arms around every kid you meet, with red eyes and a lump in your throat, recognizing this feeling as celestial.
Mar in Arizona writes:
In my corner of Arizona I see teens wear fairly modest clothing but they wear faded, frayed denim and tight, stretchy tops to church events. What I see as much as immodest clothing is clothing that is wrinkled, like it has been lying in a corner on the floor for several weeks, sort of the type of thing one would wear to clean house or do yardwork in. It does not look like Sunday clothing. Then there are the adult women who wear dresses with plunging necklines or side, front, or back slits that show way too much and shorts to shop in that are so short that garments have to be rolled up so they don't show. I also see the very casual dress in the women, denim jumpers, bare legs with no hose, rubber flip flops and other apparel that would not be suitable to wear into the temple. In fact I saw someone coming into the temple as I was leaving that literally shocked the breath out of me. I realize that at 65 I'm probably out of the scene so far as being modern, but to me any woman who loves the Lord will surely dress in a manner appropriate for the time, place, and in a way that shows she remembers who she represents as a church member. When the moms set a better example it should be easier for the young women to follow suit. Thanks I enjoy the column.
Anne in Manitoba, Canada, writes:
This one should get a lot of feedback—brace yourselves! And thank you to the sister for bringing it up for discussion.
First off, it isn't always the parents, and frankly, it often is. What I mean by that is the girl who is outrageously worldly in her dress is probably making a statement to provoke her parents. She knows that her dress is a concern for them, an embarrassment, and a provocative act in more than the sexual sense. She is begging someone to challenge her so that she can legitimately take offense and justify walking out of the meeting or non attendance to subsequent meetings. Her parents fall into the category of: "I don't care if she's buck naked, she's here" and you know what, they are probably right. This girl needs relationship and love to nurture her to the point of caring about dress standards long before she needs to be called on the carpet as much as those of us with compliant kids would love her bishop, parents, and Young Women leaders to do so.
My friend is wonderful and has children who are less active. It has been my observation that most parents are heartsick about their children's inactivity and would do anything to recover them. But they tread lightly, because the child is hyper sensitive to anything they can snatch to their bosom as criticism and use it to justify their behavior. Who can blame them for being grateful that the kid even shows up at church? And, knowing that they are having little effect on their own kid at that time, their greatest prayer is that someone at church will LoVE their kid and thereby influence them for change. So our job on the flagrant displays is probably to look for the one thing that is right in what they are wearing, and try to support the parents and look past the clothing to the kid underneath.
That said, it often is the parents. And by this I mean that the old adage that people will rise to what is expected of them holds true.
I am authoritarian and firm and have always had high expectations. And I have kids who pretty much have lived up to them. I am in my 40's, three of our four kids are married in the temple and the fourth is actively preparing for a mission. That is not to say my kids were perfect, they weren't. They had their struggles.
People ask us what we did, and I mostly think that my kids turned out as well as they did in spite of us, not because of us. I know the most wonderful people who are stalwart Saints whom I could only dream to be as good as or valiant as, who have wayward kids, so I know that it isn't about righteousness, as they are far more so than I. I know that they said more family prayers, had more family home evenings etc than we did.
I am not sure that there is an answer, but if there is, I guess it would be that we were consistent, and we had expectations. My children were raised that they were to behave in church, that their teachers were volunteers, and to respect their time and commitment, that no matter how bad a lesson might be or poor a teacher might be that no one in this family would ever disrespect a teacher. And they also knew that there would be consequences if they did. There was never a question about church attendance, Sabbath day work or things of that nature. They were simply non-negotiable. And church standards also applied. Now, I cannot say that my daughter never did wear a too short skirt- but when she did, a member's surprise that this child would be immodest was registered, and her reputation gave the expectation that this would not be usual for her so the surprise was warranted, it was not seen again. In part because my daughter had respect for her elders in the first place.
What we see a lot of now in children is a disrespect for everything. Our buildings are abused, mucky feet that would not enter our homes tramp through the halls. Teachers are increasingly babysitters for little brats with no regard for their time or efforts and parents who think that their child can do no wrong. I have always had excellent control of a classroom, worked with teens lots, and even been given the "tougher" class so to speak because it was felt I could handle the harder kids, and I have. I treated them with respect, expected it in return, laid out clear expectations, and followed through on them. But lately, there has been a shift.
If I were to speak to the average parent of a disobedient/disruptive child in my classroom I would receive either an outright denial, defensive stance, or worse yet shoulders shrugged in resignation. Parents are abdicating their jobs. President Hinckley said in his talk at conference that we need to "work at our responsibility as parents as if everything in life counted on it, because everything in life does count on it." And what I see more and more is parents who are afraid to expect anything of their children—when it comes to the gospel- they are willing to expect them to win at sports, perform in school, etc., but expectations of them in church are somehow omitted. It is tragic and its effects are far reaching.
So I think that parents need to expect something of their kids. And follow through on their expectations. That said, what about us as members in positions working with youth? My ward is affluent and comfortable. The class I teach in YW is made up of girls who are stable and growing in the gospel, not without their issues, but stable. These girls are not going to bolt from church if they are asked to wear dress shoes to church instead of flip flops or skater shoes. And I think that we can ask more of them. When we hear our Prophet, of all people, saying in conference that he is going to "try harder to be a little better," I think that it doesn't take much to conclude that "so can we." Plus he asked us to. And that should be enough. The beauty of the simplicity and humility of his message was too profound to miss! "If the prophet thinks that he can improve, then there must be room for improvement for me, too" has got to have been the conclusion we all drew.
In conversations with them (I'm new in Young Women) I address dress code in the context of the fact that they are in the Lord's house, and ought to dress in the best that they have to be there. I am also direct. I have said to them 'You girls are not marginal. You are well on your way to being leaders in the church. You will in only a few short years be teaching and holding callings in the church, getting married and being mothers yourselves. You have more influence than you realize, including a tremendous influence with the younger girls in YWomens. If you can afford $140.00 skater shoes, then you can afford a pair of church shoes—and if you can't, I will buy them for you." We talked about skirts and I asked them to take it a step higher than the jean skirts that they are wearing. (I have to say that when I suggested this to the leaders they figured I'd alienate everyone and were very reluctant, saying "The lord looks on their hearts, not at their clothes!") but it was time for a temple trip (my first one with them), so I called each girl and reminded her of the date and time, and asked her to look in her closet as she was getting ready and think carefully about what she would wear to the Lord's house. I suggested that while a jean skirt would be fine if that was all that she had, if she had something nicer that would be preferred, and concluded with "nylons would be appropriate also." Well, every girls came in a nicer skirt than a jean skirt, and some wore nylons while others said they didn't own any. One wore nylons with her skater shoes—bless her heart!
It was a first step, but they are getting it. In the car with three of the girls, we discussed the difference it makes, if any, to be in jeans or a nicer skirt. Fortuitously, one girl had some Belgian chocolate that she was sharing with us and a light went on in my head! "Its like chocolate! Now there's chocolate and there's choc-o-late. Say you are dying for some chocolate. Now if I happen to have some American chocolate, like a Hershey bar you would eat it right? But what if I have a Canadian chocolate bar, like a Cadbury bar (apologies to our US friends, but Canadian chocolate is so much better!) which would you prefer? (Hands down the Cadbury.) Now that is good, but what if you had the choice of a Hershey bar, a Cadbury bar, or a Callebaut bar (Belgian chocolate)? Well, of course, their response was the Callebaut! Your standard of dress is like the chocolate. There is good, better, and best. A jean skirt will do if that's all you have, but a nice skirt of dressier fabric would be better, and your nicest skirt or dress with nylons and church shoes would be the Callebaut version."
Bottom line, the Lord will accept you if you are in jeans, but don't you think that he registers the level of respect and obedience that you are demonstrating when you come in your very best? And don't you feel and behave differently when you are in your very best dress?
I later heard that this conversation continued on with the Young Men (my son is their age) and the boys were all over it. "Yah! How come we have to wear our Sunday best, shirt tie, dress shoes, and you girls are showing up in flip flops and skater shoes? Or jean skirts—we can't wear jeans."
This is just a small example. Its only been a couple of weeks, but there were three more girls this week than last in appropriate attire, so we're getting there.
One last note on parents and I will stop! As I look around at meetings both stake and ward, I am struck by the casualness of the women. I love fashion, and like to wear current styles as much as the next person, but there are times and places. At the Nauvoo Temple dedication where we were specifically beautifying our stake building to be like a temple, and one ward went so far as to instruct people to bathe (!) in their invitation, it was hard not to notice that better than half of the women were in clunky outdoor recreation type sandals, no nylons, and jean jumpers and dresses. (Just so that you know, I couldn't tell you who was wearing what, and I don't spend my time in church picking apart dress code/standards and forming judgments, I have just been making some observations on this lately). I cannot speak to all wards in the church, but we are not in a poor area, with few exceptions, we are able to afford clothing of better quality than jeans. We had a regional conference and I could not help but notice that the wives of the bishops and stake presidents and other authorities were wearing nylons and skirts or suits or dresses—not a single t-shirt, sandal, or jean fabric among them. I look at the girls who are wearing jean skirts and flip flops, and so are their mothers. In some wards, the Young Women leaders in an effort to fit in are also dressing down. This is so unfortunate. So my parting note, is be an example. If you are able to dress fashionably and modestly, do it. The girls want someone to follow. Many of us are young mothers still "with it" so to speak, set a fashionably modest example if you can! Let the girls see that being a Mormon women doesn't mean being relegated to a shapeless smock at 40! I shop in the same stores that my daughters do, but I don't dress like a teenager. When the YW tell me there are no long enough shirts out there I can respond that I own several and I can show them where to get them. Not only that, I have a long torso, so I do know how hard it is, but I also know that it can be done. There are beautiful fabrics out there, and simple, simple patterns that can be sewn. If you don't know how, there is someone in your ward that can help you make it-—or an Enrichment night could be requested. Your ward also probably has its own sewing machine that can be signed out from the ward library if you don't own one. "I can't" in this category is really an "I won't"—there are tons of resources and solutions out there.
When we discussed the sad state of affairs for trying to buy modest clothing with the Young Women that night, they lamented the choices available for modest prom dresses right down to skirts, and together we came up with the idea of sewing their own skirts for church as a Young Women activity. I was on the internet the other day and read of a prom dress design competition for LDS girls—what a great idea! The winner gets her dress made by the sponsor, Modest by Design. We are not in Mormondom, but I bet those of us in farther away places can still come up with a fashion show or contest of something…I know I'm talking to my YW leader about it.
Sisters, it is doable, but we have to believe that it is, we have to dress the part ourselves and we need to communicate expectations and be consistent in them. Finally and most of all, we need to help the girls to understand that they are in the house of God and that they show him respect in their dress and demeanor.
Sherry Terry writes:
Skin Deep? How 'bout you struck "nerve" deep!! This is a topic I find frustrating and, frankly, perplexing. However, before I get to my confusion, let me site some recent situations/examples of this problem.
As camp nurse, I had the privilege of observing the girls for the entire week. It was a constant battle to have them wear appropriate (and the leaders were very lenient) shorts and clothing. It wasn't enough that their shorts were way above their knees but they rolled the waistband down to expose their bellybuttons! Not to mention tying their shirts in knots just below their bras and bunching up the sleeves under their bra straps. This was not a matter of purchasing appropriate clothing, this was a matter of intentionally changing existing clothing to appear "in style" at camp!!! (No boys in sight except men, like your husbands, the priesthood leaders!)
My husband is a recent convert, temple endowed, and the executive secretary. As many of you know, the young men and women are regularly interviewed by the bishop. As my husband approaches the young women for their interviews he has to avert his eyes due to plunging necklines and slits in their skirts up to their panties! Yes, their panties! I know this because I can tell what color the panties are! My husband has stated on numerous occasions that he is embarrassed to even escort these young women to the bishop's office let alone imagine how the bishop conducts an interview!
Now ladies, those of us who are endowed realize we wear clothing that is appropriate; I must say, I dress as stylishly and fashionably as any woman. I'm able (size wise) to shop in the junior department but chose to shop in the women's because the clothing is stylish and modest and is definitely not dowdy! I am frequently asked where I purchase my clothes not only by church members but by non-LDS women. I refuse to accept that clothing is not available to purchase. Where do our young women who serve missions find their clothes? We have two darling sister missionaries in our ward who dress appropriately but are very stylish and fashionable.
One of our young men recently met with the bishop after his school's homecoming. The reason: he was so embarrassed by the suggestive dancing of the LDS young women in our ward that he left the dance. He is not a nerd, but an all-Star football player and wrestler with hoards of girls chasing after him. His friends teased him relentlessly about the church standards and how suggestive and "easy" the Mormon girls were. He is trying to remain worthy to serve a mission and meet the honor code of the church schools but he is also human. How are our young men suppose to do thiswhen the young women are "flaunting" themselves??
Sisters, the clothing the young women wear represent their attitudes and I'm beginning to believe the attitude of their parents. The perplexing part is "where are these girls parents when they go out the door to church?" Do they not see their daughters as they accept Young Womanhood Awards or seminary certificates? I am sorry to say that I have witnessed over the last couple years the agony of parents as their daughters have strayed from the gospel and found themselves in life-altering situations. My heart aches for them and yet, I have to admit, many of us "saw it coming." These girls were permitted to date before 16, dress as described above, and acted accordingly. I have served in the Young Women presidency, Relief Society Presidency, etc. I know the challenges that leaders face, but parents turning a blind eye and allowing minors to conduct themselves contrary to the beliefs of the gospel and teachings of the prophet is the "tail wagging the dog."
As I said in the beginning, you struck a nerve. But more importantly you brought to the attention of many an all too common problem and hopefully it will help.
I just want to say, "Way to go, Alison." I am so tired of going to church activities where the girls were told that if they were not dressed appropriately they would not be welcome until they were. In this stake, without exception, these girls who choose to come dressed inappropriately are always invited in to flaunt their disrepect to those who did dress as was requested. We do need to make everyone feel welcome and loved, but not at the expense of giving up what we believe. Every time an exception is made, it encourages more girls to ignore dress standards. As a mother it is frustrating to tell my daughters to dress to standards only to have them attend church activities where they are the minority. We expect that at school activities, but it undermines everything that I try to teach at home when it happens at church. Thanks for letting me get! that off my chest.
Right on, Alison! Right on. Right on. Today's youth are not blithering idiots. They know and understand what is enticing and what is not. They all hope that parents will set the guidelines and the limits. Is setting moral boundries a wrongful thing? The scripture says, "Train up a child in the way he should go…" Don't we want to shape our stewardships into successful and honorable children of God?
In any group of people there are at least some sewers. If not, there are many schools and technical colleges which have sewing courses. Take some. The Relief Society can provide lessons on Enrichment night. No sewing is no excuse.
I am grateful that all my children are grown so I do not have this problem. But they all have children that they lovingly guide to want and wear modest clothing.
What parents permit—children will commit.
Sally from Oregon writes:
Thank you Alison!
It's about time someone stood up for the kids who are trying to do what is right and for the poor Young Men who have to put up with immodest Young Women and look "else where."
We are from Oregon and it's far too prevalent here as well. The girls may be covered, but their clothes are so tight you can see every wrinkle and dimple. One pretty young woman got up to bear her testimony one Sunday and her sweater was so tight and maybe the room a tad chilly and you know what the result was! I looked down the pew at my teenage sons who hung their heads down and shielded their eyes as did many of the Young Men in the audience. One son glanced at me and just shook his head.
As for the problems with finding modest clothing…if my teenage daughters can find modest clothing to wear, so can everyone else. It just depends on who you want to dress like. A daughter of God or a daughter of man. That excuse is just a cop out.
Debra Russel writes:
I read with interest the question and answers about modest dress. Our stake recently decided that something had to be done about the dress at our youth dances. Now they have a supply of t-shirts ready for those who come to the dances too bare to be seen. It doesn't solve the Sunday problems, but, I am sure most young women would rather wear their own clothing than the stake's big sloppy t-shirts.
I believe, however, that the "solution" to this on-going problem must be in the homes with parents who have taught their daughters from almost infancy that modesty is important—and also their sons the same thing. Being "in" the world, but not "of" the world is possible. All it takes is consistency from the beginning.
Linda Smith of Brainerd, Minnesota, writes:
Oh, Alison!! Well said!!! I have been working on my own boys as they have grown to do exactly that! I often ask them if they truly like to look at a girl who "dresses like that" and they honestly say that they don't. And their actions show it. When my girls were growing up I asked them the same kind of questions: "Who is it that you want to impress, and what impression do you want to make?" They knew the standards and that they were expected to live up to them. Fortunately my parents pretty much did the same thing when I was growing up, so I began with my children early. It certainly prevented a lot of grief when they reached their teen years, even when their so-called friends were doing otherwise. Thank you!!!!!
Christina Elliott writes:
Bet this one opened a big kettle of worms! I have a point that is not being addressed. There are mothers dressing just like their daughters in our ward and several of these are the leaders of the Young Women.
Now, I know I am over weight, I have begun to move into that grandmotherly area of life and so I have geared my clothing to that need, but when I joined the Church 30 years ago I gave up sleeveless clothing. I never did wear the short skirts or dresses as I knew that it was not very conducive to picking up small children or modesty. I raised my three daughters and two foster daughters to think that they were special to have these guides in clothing, manners, modesty, and morality.
I think that young mothers need to give up the idea that they need dress as teens. Even when we have activities that require a more sporty dress there are short shorts, tank tops and swimsuits that are not what they should be.
Now, at 60, I worry that the real ten virgins are missing the message and are asleep when the Spirit tries to contact them with the modesty message.
I worry that our precious daughters think that fads and "worldly " style is more important then learning to sew for themselves and use their creativity and be obedient to the words of prophets, parents, and God.
Sorry if I am so worked up at this problem. With 12 grandsons and 11 grandaughters all trying to learn to live in this world but not be worldly, I think we need to set a good example.
I'd like to make one more comment on the topic of modesty (or lack of) in our youth. One very important concept that needs to be taught, not only to our youth, but to all of us, it that "it isn't the cup of coffee that will keep us out of the Celestial Kingdom." What we need to teach, preach, and live is obedience, with the understanding that none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, some small and some not so small. There should be no stones cast by any one of us. We are all in this together, and should strive love each other into becoming what the Savior wants us to be: obedient to his word.
An anonymous sister writes:
Oooooooh, Alison!! You go, girl!! I agree completely. We certainly have our "modesty in dress" problems with certain of our Young Women, though they don't seem to be as drastic as exists in the ward of the sister from California. Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, one of the worst offenders in our ward was our previous stake president's daughter. Her belly button was on display every Sabbath day. Her dresses were far to short, skirts as well. I was always afraid that she would drop something and have to bend over. And it wasn't just "intimate apparel" I was afraid would be in view. Since her blouse or T-shirt never covered her belly and waist, you could see that if she were to bend over, the top of her hip-hugging skirts and pants would certainly revea…well, how shall I say this? Put it this wa…we all know the joke about plumbers bending over! (No offense to any plumber's wives out there.)
So here's my thought on the whole subject. Despite the fact that I think that parents are being a little wimpy, and letting kids run the house when they, under the guise of "picking their battles," decide to let the teenagers win this one—I would just hope, and ask, that parents, at the very least, insist that their children dress appropriately at church meetings and functions—at the very least.
Bonnie Wilson writes:
I am a mother of seven. My last two children are girls in their teens now. We have not had problems with our daughters dressing modestly. It is true that shorts are very short so my girls decided they would wear pants or capris. Tee shirts to short? Not all, my girls have a drawer full of tee shirts that cover their midruff. Immodest dresses, no we usually find long skirts or dresses with sleeves. Sometimes it takes time to find the modest clothing but it is out there. Nephi was required to travel to get the plates. He didn't make any excuses he just did it. I think we need to ask ourselves how willing are we to look or even travel a distance to follow our prophet. Remember, the Lord will provide a way for us to fulfill what he has asked of us.
L. Gilmour of Missouri writes:
Our Young Women here in a small Missouri town aren't nearly as immodest as the ones that were described in California. But nonetheless they could use some improvement. (I am the Young Women secretary in our ward.) I have read some articles recently about teens and moms who are trying to encourage retailers to sell modest clothing and formal dresses. I think this is absolutely wonderful. Not only because teens need to dress more modestly but because I am a 33 year old mother who wears junior sizes. I have to search high and low for modest jeans in my size. I would love to be able to buy all my clothes at Wal-Mart, but unfortunately everything in the junior department is sick and disgusting. And it isn't any better anywhere else.
My husband is a high school teacher and is mortified almost every day by the clothes that the teens wear at school (supposedly there is a dress code). The shirt mentioned in one of the articleswe've read recently ("I make even good boys bad") was worn by one of his students recently. Clothing styles at the school dances are even worse. I hope things get better before my daughter is a teen. I am a convert to the church, but even before I knew of church standards I have always had a natural inclination towards modesty,even when I tried to dress immodestly during my rebellious teen years I felt extremely uncomfortable. So far I feel I have been instilling in my daughter, who is seven, the importance of being modest and I will continue to do so.
In our ward some of the Young Men plan to get T-shirts soon that bear a slogan they heard about from one of their leaders. The shirts will all say something like: "Modest girls stir my chili" or some other catchy slogan. We are pleased that they are taking a stand to support the raising of standards, and committing to encourage others to be more modest.
Karen Bridgers of Santa Barbara, California, writes:
Several years ago, when I was a Young Women president, I got my Laurels and Mia Maids together for a study of "personalities." I told them that I wanted them to look at other YW and tell me what they were like by only looking at their picture. I had cut some pictures out of magazines for them to look at. As I held each one up, many of them were dressed like our YW were dressed or wanted to be dressed. A girl in a really skimpy outfit invariably got a "Oh, she's a slut" or "She probably tries to get guys all the time" reply from my girls, and one that was only slightly immodest got "Oh, she looks like she wants to be popular. That's sick." etc. When we were finished, I told them that the lesson wasn't about personality at all. I told them it was about dress standards and that they had just judged themselves. The room went absolutely dead quiet. "Don't you ever think," I said, "that people don't judge you by what you wear. You just did it." It worked wonders! (For a few weeks, anyway.)
Juanita Wright of Anchorage, Alaska writes:
Thank you for the opportunity to join in your discussion! I am the mother of four grown daughters, all raised in the church. Every one has had her time of inactivity during her youth or as a young adult. They experienced the attacks mentioned, not for immodesty, but for "fun" clothing. We moved from Southern California to Ohio, where it took five years for "fashion" to catch up to us! What was perfectly acceptable (even conservative) in our old ward was considered outlandish in the new ward! Acceptance is so important to each of us, no matter our stage in life, but youth are especially vulnerable to this need to fit in with their peers. The big concern I have with youth dress today, which I have not seen mentioned is the lack of slips. How many times I have seen young women in nice clothing lean against the door while waiting for a ride, the sun shining through from behind, very clearly showing every curve of her body. Most of the older men look away, embarrased. But some don't. With some of the lighter, increasingly more sheer fabrics clothing is made of today, a good slip would be well worth the investment! Thank you for letting put in my two cent's worth. I plan to copy the page of brother's commentsto give to the church leaders in our area.
An anonymous reader writes:
I agree with the observation that our young ladies are not dressing to be provocative, but as an attempt to be in stride with their peers. As an early morning seminary teacher for 17 years the modesty discussion has come up many times. One day the "dream guy" of all the girls (and their mothers) in the class referred to the immodest dress of an absolutely "drop dead gorgeous" girl in the class. Her response was, "Oh, boys just need to get a grip."
I don't think seminary, where the stated curriculum is the scriptures, is the place to get into the realities of just where the minds of most of the world's young men are at that age. I've taught in the Young Men program for many years and know precisely what is covered in the annual lesson on chastity, but I'm not familiar with what the young women are taught.
At home, with our six daughters, my wife and I together have gotten very specific about the physical changes that boys go through, the strength and persistence of the hormonal urges as well as the constant peer influence. President Packer's The Very Key is excellent. Knowing these things puts the statement, "boys just need to get a grip" in the extremely naive category.
I know how specific I have been in teaching my daughters, but I don't know how comfortable I'd be teaching someone else's kids at the same level. I'm with the brother that likes to get to the point and not dance around it, but I do respect and encourage the parent's need to be the primary source of this type of information.
As to our discussion that day in seminary class, I rather nipped it in the bud by simply saying that "bulls have a very strong physical aversion to red flags, so we ought to avoid waving any in front of them." To the young lady's credit, she changed her dress, although I'm certain it had more to do with the young man's (now assistant to the president) comments than mine.
Michele Meyer writes:
I was a little dismayed by the first two sisters (Jeanne and Kathy, I think) and their comments about modesty. I feel like they were kind of sitting on the fence. As wives, mothers, YoungWomen leaders, etc., we need to take a very strong stand on modesty in dress in our youth. I have to agree that I would not bring friends to church because of the dress of some of our young women. It's just plain gross in my opinion.
I am saddened to see the open rebellion to the words of the prophets in our young women. I don't know how some of them justify it.
I did enjoy the discussion and I am so glad that some of the brothers have joined in to express their side.
Lynette Robinson of Richmond, Utah, writes:
A lot has been said recently about modesty and prom dresses. As LDS and an experienced retailer I can bear witness to the trends toward bareness and my frustration in trying to keep everybody happy. It would seem reasonable to carry mostly modest styles in our northern Utah store, right? A couple of years ago we got a big surprise when at the end of the prom season our sales were not only way down but many of the modest styles we were so excited to offer ended up on our clearance rack. I can't tell you how many times we heard "is this all you have?" Even though we had several different styles, more was expected. We feel the pressure from parents and LDS standards to carry modest styles but it's hard to sell what the kids won't buy. Is it easier to shop elsewhere and claim that there are no modest dresses available?
The recent articles published nationally could lead one to believe that merchants are encouraging immodest dress or at the very least turning a deaf ear to the requests for modest apparel. Our recent international formal wear market offered more modest formals and prom dresses than we've ever seen. Due to the numerous requests, many conscientious retailers have ordered deep for spring. If you really do want a selection of modest dresses, now is the time to make your voice count. If you are shopping and find a retailer making any effort to carry modest apparel, support and encourage them with your positive comments and your business. Modest styles may cost a little more but there is more to them and isn't your virtue worth something? When manufacturers see that we will support their efforts and purchase what is offered this season they will be more willing to carry modest apparel in the future.
We're not asking for miracles or misfits. We know there is pressure to fit in. Not the least is peer pressure. Teenagers need to learn to balance the sometimes-competing demands of what's in vogue and what's virtuous. Practicing modesty need not make them misfits; this is not what the Lord means when he says he would have us be a "peculiar" people. Peculiar literally means we are his special treasure, purchased with his blood. Latter-day Saint teenagers show themselves peculiar in the true sense when their dress and demeanor reflect their spiritual identity as covenant citizens of "an holy nation." 1 Peter 2:9
Many teenagers feel the need to dress like others in their peer group or to wear styles that enhance their sense of themselves as individuals, as attractive, and as different from adults. This is not wrong, so long as their fashion also sets them apart from the crude and vulgar and unworthy, and so long as their dress is conducive to the Spirit. See To Clothe a Temple by John S. Tanner for wonderful insights.
We belong to a worldwide church where different cultures may dictate modest standards. At the very least we have a guide in the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner.
Clearly, For the Strength of Youth teaches the correct principles and leaves us to govern ourselves. And that's the way it should be. Heavenly Father has given us the freedom to choose, and we can't grow or receive blessings from obedience if all the decisions have been made for us.
Within some limits, appearance is important. To whom, professionally, for example, would we turn to? To one grubby, unkempt, an extremist who follows frivolous fashion, or to one clean, well groomed, attired in good taste? Clothes don't make the man, but they may suggest some symptom of something inside. As a certain king once said: "I can make a lord, but only the Almighty can make a gentleman." Music and the Spoken Word, March, 14, 1971.
On the other hand, we have no cause to criticize those who either have different values or choose not to follow divine counsel. Our loving example will speak volumes and be taken more to heart than any criticism conveyed.
Lynette's beautiful offerings can be seen at The Gallery.
An anonymous sister writes:
I was glad to read that Jeannie brought out the point that the endowed Young Women leaders are also pushing the limits of their own dress. This, too, seems to becoming more and more common—which, in my opinion, is the natural outgrowth of Young Women who have never come to internalize or understand the importance of modesty. This is what I see happening: these young women get married in the temple to young men who were attracted by their provocative dress and then (surprise, surprise) they are still attracted to provocative dress after they get married—only now it is to the younger, unmarried young women. In order to feel like they can get the attention of their husband, they feel like they need to dress that way as well. Just my two bits.
Barbara M. writes:
Thank you for these words!!! (I'm going to forward them to several Young Women leaders in my area.) I have been struggling with these very thoughts myself. (I am a mother of three boys!)
I have wondered what to say to these young women who wear such immodest clothes to church. I can only imagine what they wear to school. I have been dying to know what I could say to them, but up until now I've just held my tongue. I do tell the few young women in my own ward how I appreciate them because they do wear modest clothing. I guess I felt that if I built some of them up, I was at least doing something constructive about the situation.
I have to agree with Alison that we should teach our young men to pay more attention and appreciation for the girls who dress appropriately. That was a great suggestion. (I just hope it works! I'll try teaching my boys that.) I appreciated the boldness your opinion.
We shouldn't have to turn and look the other way at church! I worry about my husband having to look at them each week. (We had one Sunday when another ward's young women came to sing for our ward and I wanted to scream and run. 90% of them were up there in front of the whole congregation with their stomachs hanging out.) Even my teenage son noticed. I don't appreciate them flaunting their bodies like that when he's trying to do his priesthood duties—let alone when he's at school.
Keep up the great work.
Scott & Carol Askew write:
We'd like to offer a few additional comments on the subject of modest dress from a slighlty different perspective—that of a smallapparel retailer catering to LDS consumers.
We own a modest clothing company. As a result, we are uniquely positioned to observe the dynamics of parent-child interaction, evaluate consumer demand, and the study the economics of manufacturing. I hope the following observations will add to your discussion.
Parenting is hard work. We have seen countless confrontations, some rather heated, between parents and their daughters. The argument is almost always the same—parents trying to convince a reluctant daughter that a modest style should be worn without regard to trends. Parents only seem to win those battles if they are uncompromising in their expectation of modesty. We have, however, been surprised at the number of parents who are unwilling risk teenage wrath, apparently afraid of temporary unpopularity with their kids. While we see many strong LDS parents,we can plainly see that there is vast room for many parents to improve.
We are not alone. Our customers include many folks who are not LDS but who share our values. While we do not directly market to these people, they seem to find us by feverishly searching the internet for anything more modest than what canbe found in most stores. While our LDS customers occasionally express their gratitude, we receive our most gracious comments (including words of blessing) from our non-LDS customers.
The economics of manufacturing prevent catering to small groups. We applaud the worthwhile and principled efforts of those that petition department stores to carry more modset clothing. But it is naive to think that the voice of hundreds or even thousands will result in anything but token public relation efforts by these publicly traded companies, who owe their allegiance the shareholders and the bottom line - not moral values. We live in a world of mass manufacturing, where 10,000 units of an apparel style is the minimum many manufacturers will consider.And even if a small manufacturer is willing to produce hundreds or thousand, the costis significantly higher than what we like to pay at WalMart. LDS consumers (like most others) aren't too excited about paying a 50% or 100% premium for their clothing.
Not long ago, wondering what it would take to interest a large apparel company in producing a line of modest casual clothing, we asked the President of large nationalbrand how large a "specialty" niche would have to be in order to attract their interest. He responded that their minimum investment threshold was $10 million. Although there are several LDS modest clothing businesses, I do not believe any are close to havingenough LDS patronage to attractthe attention of national retailers.
So how does the LDS community become a real force for changing immodest clothing trends? By concentrating our resources as hundreds-of-thousands of consumers so as to become an identifiable, legitimate market force; by joining forces with others not of our faith in this effort; by making principled consumer purchasing decisionsand avoiding retailers that prostitute our daughters; and by investing capital in value-based entreperneurial ventures. We do notsense that these things are happening quite yet.
We hope that the growing outrage in the LDS and non-LDS communities over immodest retail trends is the forerunner of more serious action for change.
The Askew's products are available at KneeShorts Clothing Company.
Liz in Colorado writes:
I knew as a kid that Young Women wasn't for me, and all these letters about clothes only reinforce the feeling (and I'm nearly 38 now). I hope I never get called to serve in Young Women. I really didn't care about clothes, had (have) no clue about them, and can't understand why time has to be taken during church to talk about them. It seems so blessed petty. I never saw any need for going any farther than putting on clean clothes that covered shoulder to knee…what else is there to talk about? Who cares? (What I'm saying is that all this focus on clothing and so-called beauty is a turn-off to girls who have other interests or are more intelligent than such lessons would appear to admit.)
As a kid, the leaders in Young Women would offer lessons about ghastly boring inane topics like make-up and hair and sewing modest dresses, and I would roll my eyes. Puh-leeze. It was as if the whole effort was behind defining girls as objects to be judged by their appearance, not by what they could think or do. Did we do cool things like home or automotive repair? Did we learn how to study? Did we learn about how to be self-reliant while learning to be mothers in Zion? No. I can still remember being taught that the way to honor the priesthood was ironing shirts (gag!). The only redeeming value (in my opinion) of the whole Young Women program was Young Women Camp, but most girls hated to go because they had to leave behind their make-up and curling irons. All this fuss about clothing and beauty as lesson material makes me think the situation hasn't changed in two decades. What are we teaching girls by spending so much time on appearance?
Let's spend more time on who they are and who they will become.
I managed to get a college scholarship—with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo and a full tackle box of makeup. And I hated camp, too. It wasn't the pageant accouterments I missed. It was the shower, the mattress, and mom's cooking.
I want to thank you all for your well thought out comments.
One comment brought backsome experiences I had when I was working the counter at Beehive Clothing. Each day mothers and daughters would come in together to purchase the garments prior to the daughter going to the temple for the first time. On several occasions I was shocked when the daughter complained that she would no longer be able to wear the shorts or skirts that she was used to. I was more shocked to hear some of the mothers assure their daughters by saying that if she bought the petite size she wouldn't have a problem.
Each time it brought tears to my eyes, because in many cases it is the mother who is teaching the daughter that style is more important than modesty of dress, and the proper wearing of the garment.
I have always been grateful to my mother for her gentle efforts when I was growing up in the late 60's and early 70's when mini skirts were the "in thing." She taught me to respect myself, and Heavenly Father's standards more than the ridicule of the world. That has been a lesson that will always be with me, and for which I'm eternally grateful.
To you mothers and fathers who do this for your daughters and sons now, may the Lord bless you in your efforts. Your children will praise you for it some day.
Florence Heath from St. George, Utah, writes:
I would like to say that I agree that a lot of young women do wear immodest clothing, whether they are in school, public,and in church. But what about the young men of this world? Do you think the pants that they were around their knees are modest? I am embarrassed to even look at them. It brings out the mean streak in me. Just kidding. I have a 16-year-old son who gets ripped on because he does not wear that kind of clothing. He wears blue jeans that are not tight fighting but not baggy either. His shirts are nice, appropriate, and doesn't embarrass him or us. His hair is always neat and cut missionary style because that is the way he likes it. He has been called names and shunned because he is not "with the rest of the fashion world." Yes, he does sound perfect, but believe me he is not. He is far from it. He still has some other church standards to work on. But at least he is "standing tall" in the way he dresses and I am proud of him for it. He does not let his friends tell him how to dress.
I was not raised in the church but all my clothes were modest. Except in my senior year of high school. I can remember one time my family and I were living with my grandmother. I wore this very tight pair of hip huggers and I mean they were tight. My grandmother looked horrified. She said "Take those pants off. You look like a slut." I said "But grandmother, this is what every one is wearing." This is what has stuck in my mind ever since. She said "I do not care what ever one else is wearing. Proper ladies do not were stuff like that." You know what? I changed my clothes. My grandmother was not a member of the church, nor did she swear, drink, or smoke. She was a "proper lady." She was from the old school and so was my mother. I miss them both.
I have five children now. Three boys and two girls and all five of them dressed modestly. They never followed the fashion. Two of them are married in the temple and have children of their own. Another one is married also and has children. Some day I hope they will get sealed in the temple and the oldest daughter had her endowments taken out when her younger sister got married.
The point I am trying to make is that it not all up to the leaders to teach our youth about modesty. It is up to the parents also. If the parents are not up to the challenge, well then what more can I say?
M. from the midwest writes:
Thanks for all of the wonderful thoughts. It is a thorny issue. My daughter wears a camisol under all of her t-shirts so that if she raises her arms, nothing shows. I have taught her to always wear a slip. So many adult women, as well as youth, do not wear slips or pantyhose and believe me it is not pretty! My daughter goes to BYU and my niece to BYU Idaho. They are both lovely, modest, chaste girls. They do not date much. Why? The boys ask out girls who are "hot" and who dress immodestly. They feel punished instead of blessed for keeping high standards. But we know that their day will come. In fact, my daughter is dating a wonderful boy right now.
I also had the awful experience of being chastised by the bishop's wife for suggesting to her daughter that her shorts wear too short. I was told that they were not, (three-inch inseams) and they knew they were not because they grew up in Utah! I really had to stifle a laugh over that one. I am glad my children are raised and I am no longer a Young Women leader!
Laurel in Colorado writes:
When I was a counselor in MIA in Pueblo, CO during the 70's, we had two girls come with extremely short mini skirts. Their brother was a convert but they were non-members. Some of the sisters wanted the president to tell them to dress differently or not come. She told them she wouldn't do that because if they were there she could work with them. One of those girls became her daughter-in-law and they were married in the temple.
I'm as appalled as anyone about the way some of the girls dress, but it's better that they dress incorrectly and someone work with them than for them not to be in church at all.
Remember…we had another brother who wanted to force us all to do what was right and he was turned down.
Sister Wilson writes:
My concern is that we do not prepare our young women to be successful members of the Church as adults. Our roles are filled with wonderful women who are not active, often because they feel lost as a single member or part-member family in a family oriented church. It many areas of the church approximately one-third of the families are single member families.
We need to help our young women prepare for life as successful single women in the Church. Although the ideal is temple marriage, the reality is that many will be single and if they are not well prepared they will not be active as adults. Unfortunately, there are many more faithful women in the Church then there are faithful men. If we do not prepare our young women for this possibility, the odds of them remaining faithful and active are slim.
I love the young women personal progress program. Its focus is on bringing young women unto Christ through the Temple. We cannot promise every young women a temple marriage by 20 or 25 or 30 or whenever. As Elder Oaks recently indicated in a talk, accepting the Lord's will also means accepting the Lord's timing. We can prepare all our young women for the temple. If our young women focus on the temple followed by lessons on marriage and family, they will become endowed and will only want to be married in the temple. If we focus only or even primarily on marriage, our young women may only hear the part about marriage and children and decide any marriage is better than no marriage. Obviously, what we all want for our young women is a temple marriage, but again at the timing of the Lord.
We must focus on preparing our young men and young women for the temple. As they focus on receiving their endowments they will be better prepared to serve missions, be faithful spouses and parents, and be successful single adults, if that is their opportunity for a period.
We must prepare all our young people to become married to the Bridegroom. A focus on the temple will help resolve many of these other issues. Young women focused on the temple, not on attracting young men, will know how to dress and for whom they dress. As we focus on the temple, we prepare our young people to become much more successful members of the Church as adults.
As a side note, I am amazed at how quickly we judge others. More love from leaders and adult friends will influence youth in living the standards of the Church. We have credibility with youth as they know we love them. We need to resolve our own issues regarding being distracted by the dress of others and then reach out to others as we strive to help us all to do better.
My prayer is that we all can be a little better in each of our lives and reach out to youth in love as we try to teach them a better way. I also hope we can focus our lives and the lives of the youth on the temple to insure we are prepared for a lifetime of making and keeping sacred covenants.
Susan from Kentucky writes:
I really liked the idea one sister wrote about when she showed her young women pictures of other young women and asked them what kind of personality they thought each one had. Relief Society and priesthood classes could also do the same, possibly on the same day. I am a believer that we shouldn't allow someone to dress immodestly at church or at church activities. That doesn't mean you turn away people at the door, but let most people know up front what dress standards are and most will comply. An example is the dress code for the youth at conference. You've got to be silly if you think free agency applies everywhere. You can't enter the temple unless your dress appropriately. You can't behave or dress immodestly in someone else's home unless they permit it. I believe the chapel is another place where dress standards should be kept. Parents are mostly to blame if their children are not dressed modestly. Then hopefully when ourchildren are on their own they will keep the standard. If we ignore immodest dress for fear of offending, then dressing immodestly will become the norm, and even the most modest will relax their standards. It would also be nice if we would let those youth who keep good standards know we appreciate them for doing so.
Virginia of Sugar City, Idaho, writes:
Reading the comments of Sue from Collinsville, Texas, started a train of thought that might open up some ideas. She said that some young people say, "But I have not been to the temple and made those covenants, so why do I have to?" regarding wearing appropriate clothing (or any other standards issues). They could be reminded that because their parents were married in the temple, they themselves were born in the covenant. That before they came to earth, they probably knew that they were coming to a "covenant family." If they want that covenantal relationship to be in effect for them, they too need to keep the standards. And, conversely, people need to know that when they marry in the temple, they are making covenants that affect not only themselves, but the children, born in the covenant, who will come to their home. Those children have a right to expect that the covenants will be kept by their parents, that the promises their parents made will be held sacred.
An anonymous reader writes:
I am so thankful that there are young men, such as these who advocate the view of modesty. I believe this is the type of men that we would like to have as eventual leaders in our state and country. And the young women who go along with the idea of modesty deserve to be congratulated as well. I pray that others will soon go along with the idea. Thanks!
Claudia Goodman writes:
Thanks for your article. The information is great. As a young women president I'm sure I will use it with the young women in our ward. On a happy note, you might want to check out the front page article that appeared in the East Valley Tribune in the Phoenix area on October 29,2006. The article is titled, "Teens petition stores on clothes" by Michelle Reese. A group of young women gathered 1500 petitions and presented them to Dillards and other department stores to carry more modest clothing. Dillards has complied, and you can now get modest prom dresses and other outfits there. The youth who participated should be commended!
Thanks for all your efforts. Keep up the good work!
Delsa Anderson of Phoenix, Arizona, writes:
Reading the letters on modesty today, I wanted to share what has happened recently here in the Phoenix area.
Several girls from Mesa, (LDS, although that wasn't emphasized in the newspapers) took a petition with 1500 signatures (among them, many male signers) to Dillards Department Store to meet with their buyers and urge a commitment to purchase modest clothing for girls who are tired of searching for hours to find clothes they can wear, with prom dresses and partywear topping the list. The buyers promised to work on the problem.
The exciting part was that both The Arizona Republic and Scottsdale Tribune, among others, took up the girls' challenge as a worthy news story. The Tribune had an editorial actually applauding the girls for their act, and denigrating the clothing which young women are now wearing. Since we take the Tribune, I started collecting signed letters and call-ins to The Vent.
Following is a sample of calls and letters received from the public:
"I am an American teenager, and although I am not Mormon, I recognize the need for more decent attire in department stores. The less fabric there is to clothing, it seems the more they cost…some of America's teens have decided that they would like to maintain their self-respect." (Nicole from Gilbert)
"Now that some of our young women have taken a stand for modest clothing it is time for the rest of us to do the same. We need to get rid of the magazines that flaunt it…in every grocery store. If we renew the fight for decency and modesty it will benefit our society in many ways." (Charles in Mesa)
"I would like to heartily thank every young man who signed the petition upholding a more modest wardrobe for young ladies. After 29 years of living in a world that continues to objectify the female image and cultivate a sense of sexuality instead of intelligence, it's nice to know that parents are raising their boys to respect young women. Because you supported and upheld a standard that ultimately didn't benefit yourselves, I would be proud to call any of you my sons." (Heather in Mesa)
"Thank you for putting the article in the paper. We believe boys our age feel more comfortable around girls when they are modestly dressed, and we know that they are often confused about where to put their hands and eyes while dancing with girls. We also believe wearing modest clothing will help increase moral behavior." (Alison, age 15, and Carly, age 13)
Tara in Mesa didn't agree with any of the praise given. She wrote, "Just wanted to let someone know, I have found Saturday Night Live's next character. 'The Mormon Lady.' I believe I will mail this ('A modest proposal: Retailers should heed E.V. (i.e. East Valley) girls' plea for less-revealing fashions,' Editorial Wednesday) to the writers at SNL.
"Any comic could quote this editorial word for word and it would be the hit of the show. This is the funniest thing I have read in months. Thanks for the comic relief.
"Why, with all the news about the stock market, corporate fraud, war in Iraq, etc., I am extremely concerned about the amount of effort some girls may have to put into their shopping experience."
To tell the truth, I was astounded by the very positive editorial written by the Scottsdale Tribune, and that they continued to print vents and letters three weeks after the original story and editorial came out.
Yesterday's news is old news, so it's been heartening that the girls' actions are still a topic of conversation.
Carol Kendall of St. David, Arizona, writes:
I'm delighted with the publicity you are giving to the efforts of youth, parents, and leaders to encourage the clothing industry to provide more modest clothing. I was also pleased to see sewing recommended.
I have just finished creating a formal gown for my second daughter, having made one for her older sister last year. As we shopped last year, I came to the conclusion that Satan had been active for quite a long time in this area. I credit the following sequence of events to a Satanic conspiracy.
First, we see the costs of sewing increasing. When I started sewing (more than 30 years ago), you could buy a pattern for less than a dollar, and fabric as low as ten cents a yard. Now patterns list for $12 or so, and the cheapest fabric I've seen in years is a dollar a yard. So that's at least a 10-fold increase.
Concurrently, the price of ready-to-wear clothing drops, with the proliferation of discount stores (Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, etc.) and thrift stores. I only rarely buy new clothing for myself, preferring to shop at thrift and consignment stores (where I can get pretty clothes in older styles). For my children, I head to Wal-Mart, which is as cheap as the thrift stores (especially the clearance racks, on good days) and takes a lot less time. (Thrift stores don't have much in boys' clothes, as they wear them out!)
As a result of steps one and two, the demand for sewing supplies declines, competition decreases, and the prices and availability suffer.
Now the final battle: fashion. In the past, the pattern manufacturers kept classic styles available all the time, with current fashion patterns changing with the seasons. Now almost all you can find is the current fashion. Having learned that some styles (especially the current fashion) look downright awful on me (because of my size and shape), I find it very frustrating that all the ready-to-wear and patterns are offering the same style of garments. I've been waiting for many years for the "fashion pendulum" to swing back the other way to more attractive styles, but my girls couldn't wait for their formals, so I ended up creating them myself. It won't be long before I will be making wedding gowns for them.
I feel badly that my girls haven't learned to sew. I wanted to teach them, but they weren't interested when they had time. Perhaps I can pass the skill on to someone else.
Michelle Vincil of West Palm Beach, Florida, writes:
This is one of the beauties of the internet, to help others that are trying to live a righteous life know that they are not alone. Down here in south Florida the pressure is immense, just as everywhere else. I hope this article will give our youth new courage.
Bill Wehrmacher writes:
Perhaps you could suggest most stores in Afghanistan would fulfill the need for modest female dress.
Hope this suggestion proves useful to your readers.
Bill, you made me smile. Yes, moderation is often elusive. Hope we didn't sound too far over the top. We had a heated conversation on the topic of modesty in our local press, with the LDS gals (and guys) having fits over the inch of bare tummies (or whatever) that the current styles are showing. A non-member wrote in to say he thought the whole discourse would make a hysterical "church lady" skit for Saturday night live, unedited. You have to see his point. I told him I want to be Dana Carvey in that skit. I think I can get the hair right.
Thanks for reading and writing. I think we can all use a dose of humor and a breath of fresh air. Please write us again.