On a few special days, we pay particular attention to our children’s clothing. We carefully dress a precious infant to receive a name and a blessing. We prepare a treasured child to be baptized in white baptismal clothing. And on one of life’s crowning days, we may be privileged to watch a loved daughter or son make eternal covenants in beautiful temple robes. On each of these special days, we recognize that the way our children dress adds to the reverence and sacred significance of gospel ordinances.
But we may not realize that the way our children dress on ordinary days also has great significance. Indeed, our children’s everyday dress can either bring them closer to or take them farther from the ordinances and blessings of the gospel. How can we help our children dress in ways that will lead them from the sacred moment of a blessing or a baptism to the sacred covenants of the house of the Lord?
Today more than ever before, our children need clear guidance in dressing modestly. In many modern societies, standards of modesty and even decency in dress have all but vanished. Styles that once might have been seen only in a cocktail lounge or an inappropriate magazine are now being marketed to children—and at younger and younger ages. So waiting until our children approach their teens to teach them about modesty is waiting too long.
The task of countering the world’s standards can be daunting—especially when children grow older and want to fit in with their peers. But by starting in their earliest years, we can give our children a firm foundation for dressing modestly throughout their lives. What key concepts will put this foundation in place? Consider the following gospel truths and how understanding them will affect the clothing choices we make:
I am a child of God. He gave me the sacred gift of my body for a specific purpose—to do His work.
God wants me to dress modestly. Dressing modestly reflects my divine origin and purpose.
Dressing modestly helps me focus on God’s purpose for me, and it helps others treat me with respect.
One mother reinforced these points in a family home evening lesson. She began by showing a picture of the Salt Lake Temple and one of a gambling casino. The family discussed how architects strive to harmonize form and function as they design buildings. They noticed how the towering spires of the Salt Lake Temple lead the eye upward toward the heavens, inviting reverence and awe. “I explained that the temple’s outer dignity and grandeur accurately reflect the sacred purpose of the building—to lead us toward God,” the mother says.
Then the family discussed how the casino’s exterior reflects the purpose of that building. “We could see how the gaudiness of that building indicates excess. It beckons people to seek worldly pleasures,” this mother continues. The family talked about how building materials, colors, and design all contribute to the overall purpose of a building.
“When I held up pictures of a person in modest clothing and one in immodest clothing, our children immediately made the connection that clothing can reflect the purpose of a person,” she explains. The family could see that immodest clothing draws attention to the body of the person wearing it. They could also see that modest clothing allows the spirit of the person wearing it to radiate. “We ended by discussing how the way we dress can either contribute to or detract from our divine purpose as children of God,” she concludes. “I challenged our family to make sure that the way we dress accurately reflects who we really are and what we are about.”
Lessons alone are not the most effective way to teach modesty. Here are some ways we can create a family culture that supports our children in dressing modestly:
Set a family standard by always dressing appropriately yourself. If you have been to the temple, wear clothing that completely covers the garment. Even if you have not yet been to the temple, wear clothing that is appropriate to wear once you have.
Eliminate from your home any entertainment that dulls children’s sense of what is appropriate and what isn’t. Every visual medium—movies, computer games, television shows, music videos—carries a message about clothing. If a child’s favorite pop star dresses provocatively, a young child may want to copy him or her and may begin to think these styles are not so bad.
If you cannot find appropriate clothing, sew or have someone else sew for your children if possible.
Write to or visit stores to let them know that you want wholesome styles for your children.
Even when you or your children are participating in athletics, your clothing can be modest and tasteful as well as appropriate for the activity. If your child is required to wear an immodest uniform or costume for a school or an extracurricular activity, work with the coach, teacher, or principal to find a more appropriate style. You may even need to help your child consider giving up an activity that requires inappropriate dress.
Don’t buy clothing that looks unwholesome or “borderline” simply to help children fit in with or be popular with peers. Help them feel comfortable with looking different by explaining that this kind of “differentness” is one way they can affirm their faith and be a light to others.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) encouraged us to create a culture of modesty different from the one that may exist outside of our homes: “We can create a style of our own. … We must be different. We need not do anything we do not wish to do. We can create our own style and standards. We can influence the patterns among our own people, and we can also help to develop proper community patterns.”1
The Church’s basic guidelines on what not to wear are contained in 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. 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. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. All should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. …
“… If you are not sure what is appropriate, ask your parents or leaders for help.”2
Of course, modesty goes beyond the exact length or style of a clothing item. A crude logo can make even a sweatshirt immodest. Modesty involves both the motives and attitude of the wearer. Those who flaunt their bodies or use them to get attention do not look modest, regardless of what they wear. A wholesome look and modest attitude reflect the following understanding:
“Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.
“… When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.
“Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient.”3
Before children leave for school or any other activity, they typically spend at least a few moments looking in the mirror to make sure their appearance is in order. Questions such as the following can help focus a child’s thoughts beyond looking stylish toward looking attractive in a wholesome, modest way:
Does my clothing draw attention to my body or to my beliefs? Do I look provocative or wholesome?
Am I dressing for success in a worldly way or dressing for the respect I deserve as a child of God?
Does my clothing accurately reflect my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of His Church?
When President Brigham Young (1801–77) became concerned that his own daughters were becoming too worldly, he said, “I am weary of the manner in which our [young] women seek to outdo each other in all the foolish fashions of the world.” Then he asked them to “retrench,” to remove worldliness from their dress and behavior: “I desire them to retrench from their extravagance in dress. … Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful. Not to make yourselves unhappy, but to live so that you may be truly happy in this life and the life to come.”4
As we help our children resist the immodest fashions of our time, we will also be helping them “improve in everything that is good and beautiful.” We will be helping them enjoy the Spirit more abundantly in their lives as they stay on a path that leads them toward the blessings of the temple and of eternal life.
“Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. … How truly beautiful is a well-groomed young woman who is clean in body and mind. She is a daughter of God in whom her Eternal Father can take pride. How handsome is a young man who is well groomed. He is a son of God, deemed worthy of holding the holy priesthood of God.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Liahona, Apr. 2001, 37)
“You have heard the phrase ‘Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear your words.’ Our actions indeed speak volumes about us. We need to stand tall in following the counsel of the prophets to attire ourselves modestly. … Mothers, you can be our examples and conscience in this important matter. But remember, young people can detect hypocrisy as easily as they can smell the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread. Parents, counsel your sons and daughters and then join with them in standing tall against immodesty.”
Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop (“Standing Tall,” Liahona, Jan. 2002, 76)
“I wonder sometimes if we as mothers are the ones who make our children feel the pressure to be popular and accepted. Educating our desires so our standards are the Lord’s standards sends a clear message that in the Lord’s kingdom there are no double standards. … These scrutinizing young people notice. They notice how short your shorts are or if you had to tuck and pin to wear that blouse; they notice what you wear (or don’t wear) when you are working in your yard; they notice which line you are standing in at the movie theater.”
Sharon G. Larsen, former second counselor in the Young Women general presidency (“‘Fear Not: For They That Be with Us Are More,’” Liahona, Jan. 2002, 78)