Last year, the New Era received a letter from six enthusiastic young Latter-day Saints expressing concern about current fashions and trends toward immodest dress in the world today. We interviewed four of these young ladies and would like to share some of their thoughts and feelings with you. Those we talked to were Elizabeth Atkinson from Reston, Virginia; Peggy Gardner from Gridley, California; Marie Manes from Boulder, Colorado; and Becki Reynolds from Corte Madera, California.
New Era: Why did you feel such concern about immodest dress styles and fashions that you wrote to the New Era?
Marie: In trying to make ourselves look our best we found that the major source of information on makeup, fashions, grooming, etc., is found in magazines that promote standards which are contrary to the standards of the Church.
Peggy: In fact, everywhere you look the principles of modesty seem to be ignored. Television shows, books, and movies, as well as fashions in the stores, contribute to the idea that modesty is no longer important. Because this philosophy is becoming more and more common, we feel it is important for Church members to share their ideas, common problems, and solutions with each other.
New Era: Do you feel that current fashion trends are influencing members of the Church?
Becki: Yes, I think so because the more exposure you have to anything, the more acceptable it usually becomes. I know that when I was in Mutual, short dresses were the style. Since everybody else seemed to be wearing them, I didn’t really notice that mine were actually too short, too. But when I came to BYU and had to lengthen a lot of my skirts, I realized that I had unconsciously lowered my dress standards to fit those around me. Now when I go home it is a big cultural shock, especially to see even some Mormons wearing halter tops and sundresses.
Elizabeth: I think that when you are in a situation where almost everyone else is less modest than you are, some forms of questionable attire seem to become more acceptable. For example, it becomes a temptation to wear sundresses when that is all you see in the stores and all your friends seem to be wearing them. Likewise, two-piece bathing suits or tank tops might not seem so bad compared to some of the other styles around. Yet these are the borderline questions that most of us have to face and come to grips with.
New Era: Suppose, then, that a sister or friend is considering wearing a sundress or two-piece bathing suit and has asked your opinion. What would you tell her?
Marie: I think I would try to explain that once you make a decision to wear something that is below your standards, your standards are already changing. Satan is using every means he can to influence us, and if he can make us think that a few questionable things are all right, and in fact, desirable, he is making progress.
Becki: I think, too, that I would ask her to think of the effect it will have on others. You never know who may be using you as a model in their own lives. Someone else may feel that if you wear a certain style, then it is okay for her. I feel that if you begin to let down your standards just a little, then those who look up to you, especially younger kids, may decide that modesty is not really so important after all.
Elizabeth: I had an experience last summer that I think of when considering this question. I was in North Carolina shopping in a department store when a very pretty young lady came in dressed in a halter top and skimpy shorts. I didn’t think too much about it until I saw a young man looking at her in a very interested manner. It made me realize that although we may rationalize immodest dress by telling ourselves that we have clean minds and after all it is summer and we want to be fashionable, this won’t keep others from getting the wrong impression.
Peggy: That brings to mind an experience I had with my brother. He surprised me one day by saying, “You’re my sister, and if I ever see you dress the way some of the girls do, I’ll tell you, because I don’t want guys to look at you the way they look at some girls.” It really had an effect on me because I want to do the things that will make him proud of me. He expects me to dress modestly.
New Era: Would you summarize for us how you define modesty?
Marie: I feel that modesty is more than just what you wear. It includes your attitude and state of mind. How you think about yourself determines how you act, how you dress, and how you treat other people.
Peggy: I agree. You can be dressed in a dressy dress, nice shoes, and have your hair all done up, but if you’re using bad language, or being unkind or crude, it won’t really matter. Your actions have got to be congruent with your appearance.
New Era: Can you give an example of someone you feel has exemplified this?
Peggy: My Laurel adviser! She was the kind of person who made me think, “Oh, if I could just be like her!” She and her children and her husband seemed to have a glow around them, an atmosphere of love. One of the things she taught us in class was that “if you can have a constant feeling of love in your home, you have a greater power to do good, and you can teach your children righteous principles more easily.”
Marie: The Relief Society president in my ward at BYU is a great example of this, too. We all look up to her. Her personality just shines; her clothing is fashionable and fits her personality well; and she is never immodest.
Becki: I’ve noticed that those who are called to leadership positions in the Church and are most effective seem to radiate something that makes others want to be with them. If they were dressing or behaving immodestly, I don’t think they could be nearly as effective in their relationships with others, or in their leadership positions either.
New Era: Still, some people have said that it doesn’t matter how a person dresses as long as he is a good person inside. Does this change your perception of modesty at all?
Marie: I think we have to consider the effect that appearance has on others. In a clothing class I took we discussed the effect that dress has on behavior and even success. Whether or not you are successful in life depends not just on how well your personality comes across but also on how well others perceive you, what they see when they look at you. Although we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the first time we meet someone, that is what we usually do.
Elizabeth: When I was studying theater, one of the principles we were taught was that we could develop the character we were portraying by dressing accordingly. I found that by dressing in the costume of a particular character it was easier to “become” that character. Perhaps it’s because of that drama training, but I feel that people do act out the part of the clothes they are wearing. For example, although there may be exceptions, I feel that in most cases if you dress a little suggestively or grubby, after a while you will begin to act that way.
New Era: How can you be sure that you are dressing modestly and at the same time attractively?
Elizabeth: It really helps young women to learn to sew. Some see this as a chore, yet it opens a world of opportunities. For example, you can find patterns for modest swimwear, choose fabric you like, and make a nice suit much easier than you can find one in the stores. Also, sewing is creative and it costs less.
Marie: I feel it’s important to be objective about how clothes look on you and how they make you feel when you are wearing them. It’s easy when we look in the mirror to see what we want to look like instead of what we really do look like. I think we have to be honest with ourselves.
Peggy: Speaking of mirrors, another suggestion I have is to buy a full-length mirror so you can see the total effect. This is a guaranteed way to notice drooping slips, too-tight-fitting slacks, and seams that are splitting open.
Elizabeth: It’s also important to remember that what is modest on one person may not be on someone else. Likewise, what is appropriate dress on one occasion may be inappropriate at other times. For example, blue jeans are terrific for picnics and other casual activities but shouldn’t be worn in the chapel and certain other places.
Becki: Something else that helps is to plan out what a well-organized wardrobe would consist of for your particular situation and then inventory your present wardrobe to determine strengths and weaknesses. Then, as you are able, fill in the gaps by altering present clothing; adding blouses, shirts, or scarves to create a new or better look; and purchasing only those clothes that will add positively to what you already have.
New Era: Is there anything we, as Latter-day Saints, can do to influence others in a positive manner?
Elizabeth: I feel that the most important thing is to offer the example. The divine teaching method used by the Savior was that he lived what he taught. If we are setting the example, we are opening the door for others and they can pick up on it if they want.
Marie: It’s surprising how easily others will be influenced by a positive example. At my high school graduation some of my friends were trying to talk me into going to a party where there would be a lot of drinking. I told them, “No, I’ve made a commitment in my life,” and explained to them why I wouldn’t go. Afterwards, their response surprised me. They said, “You know, you’re right; let’s do something else instead.”
Through this experience I learned that it is important that we don’t give the impression to others that we think we are better than they are, but that we convey to them instead, “We accept you as you are, even though we don’t agree with everything you do. We love and respect you and would like you to love and respect us also.”
Peggy: I try to remember that I have the power to influence others either positively or negatively every day of my life. If we let our standards down even once, that may be the only contact someone outside the Church will ever have with a Church member. Just that one experience could give him a totally wrong picture of our beliefs. You never know who may be watching and gaining their impressions of Mormons from you alone.
Elizabeth: That’s an exciting concept to me because of an experience I had last year. I was attending a college where I was the only Mormon. My roommate knew me both before and after I became active in the Church and had even investigated the Church once herself. During this time I was trying very hard to live the way I was supposed to, and so I stayed home a lot of times when my friends were out at parties, R-rated movies, etc. My roommate never said very much to me about the Church or the way I had changed my life, but when I left that school and came to BYU, I received a letter from her. She told me how much she had appreciated the example I had set and that she hadn’t realized the friend I had been to her because of it. But the best part of all is that she also decided to reinvestigate the Church.
New Era: You have given us some good reasons why modesty is an important principle. But would you tell us now why it is important to you personally?
Peggy: One of the reasons it is important for me is because of the marriage and family I hope to have. I feel that if we really want to be married in the temple, we must prepare now to be worthy of a righteous mate to accompany us there. Likewise, if we really care about those we date, we will want to dress modestly to help them live the proper standards.
Becki: Someone once said that a mother seldom passes down principles to her children that are different from her own. I want to teach my children correct, eternal principles, and I won’t be able to do this if I don’t live them myself.
Elizabeth: I feel that modesty is a beautiful part of the heavenly plan. When I shop, I try to keep in mind that my heritage is one of divinity, and I would never want to displease my Heavenly Father by anything I might wear.
Becki: We also have another heritage to honor, that of our earthly parents and ancestors. I feel we have a responsibility to be respectful of their names and live in a way they would be proud of.
Marie: I think that, overall, the real joy in life is in becoming all that you can become, by living life always on the highest and most beautiful levels possible. Though it isn’t easy, it is the way that we may become beautiful ourselves.
Editor’s note: We welcome your comments and ideas on this subject for possible use in a future article.