Fads and Faith


The original idea for this article is taken from Karen S. Christensen’s master’s thesis at Utah State University.
A test-yourself quiz for girls

Before you decide how wise a shopper you are, let’s look at what three presidents and prophets of the Church had to say about dress, adornment, fashion, and modesty.

This is how Brigham Young, second president of the Church, felt about dress:

“The daughters of Israel should understand what fashions they should have, without borrowing from the impure and unrighteous.

“Create your own fashions, and make your clothing to please yourselves, independent of outside influences; and make your hats and bonnets to shade you. …

“I am ashamed to see the tight clothes—to see the shape of the ladies. …

“If I were a lady and had a piece of cloth to make me a dress, I would cut it so as to cover my person handsomely and neatly; and whether it was cut according to the fashion or not, custom would soon make it beautiful. …

“The Lord instructs us in a revelation, to let our clothing be plain: ‘Let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands.’ [D&C 42:40.] He never said to us, ‘Do not make a silk or satin ribbon, or fine broadcloth,’ but he has said to us, ‘Make the articles of clothing that you wear:’ if we do not, we shall find by and by that we shall not be able to get them. …

“On the other hand I will say, ladies, if we ask you to make your dresses a little shorter, do not be extravagant and cut them so short that we can see the tops of your stockings. Bring them down to the tops of your shoes, and have them so that you can walk and clear the dust, and do not expose your persons. Have your dresses neat and comely, and conduct yourselves, in the strictest sense of the word, in chastity.” (Discourses of Brigham Young [Deseret Book Co., 1941], pp. 214–16.)

The following is a letter pertaining to a resolution that was published by various Church organizations under the direction of the sixth president of the Church, Joseph F. Smith:

“The first part of the resolution applies to our sisters who have been through the Temple. These sisters have received special instructions from those in authority; therefore they know their duty in regard to the proper wearing of their clothes.

“The last clause of the resolution applies to those of our girls and women who have not been through the Temple, many of whom feel that they are under no restrictions in the matter of dress. They thoughtlessly follow the ‘fads’ of fashion. Many of them wear sleeveless gowns and such extremely low-cut bodices and short skirts at evening parties as to bring the blush of embarrassment to the cheek of the truly modest man. While the custom of wearing such gowns may be thought proper in some circles, it is unfitting that the daughters of the Latter-day Saints should be thus attired.

“An evening dress may be beautiful and becoming to the wearer and yet be free from objectionable features. The dress should be made to cover the shoulder and upper arm; the round or V neck should not be extreme and the skirt not immodestly short. Very sheer material, while beautiful in itself, is not in good taste unless worn with underclothing which properly covers the body.

“Inappropriate street and afternoon costumes [are] frequently worn. Extremely short skirts and blouses with low-cut V’s are manifestations of poor taste and indicate a lack of modesty on the part of the wearer.” Blouses made of georgette crepe or other transparent materials are not considered in good form by the best authorities on dress unless worn with a suitable underslip.

“The desired result in these matters will be difficult to accomplish without the co-operation of the dress-maker and home seamstress who have much influence in determining the styles to be worn in any community. Their assistance should therefore be sought in bringing about these necessary improvements.

“It is surprising that many young women adopt extreme methods of dressing, under the mistaken impression that such will add to their attractiveness. Good men the world over admire the decently dressed girl or woman. At the officer’s meeting of the Y.L.M.I.A. June Conference, 1916, President Joseph F. Smith made the following statement: ‘I do not think there is a decent man in this city nor in the world who would not give his decision unqualifiedly in favor of the lady who modestly and neatly dressed in apparel designed to shield rather than to expose herself to public gaze, as against those who go about the streets half clad. I give that as my belief. I judge men by myself, to some extent, at least.’

“Thinking men and women everywhere are giving the matter of dress serious consideration. Ideals of true modesty are being revived. At a recent gathering of women in New York City, dress was one of the principal topics treated. Among others, these sentiments were expressed: ‘Are you—a woman—willing to go before your Maker and be judged in the clothes you have on? Do the fathomless V of your blouse, and that little girl skirt, most important symbol in the shorthand fashions of the hour, express your character? Do the gown and the hat you wear at this moment indicate your thoughtful intelligence? ****Good women should have fashions of their own. [We] don’t believe in appearing dowdy or queer, but [we] do insist that a woman’s clothes should express her character—not her lack of it.’

“Latter-day Saint women should be leaders in the movement. Officers, especially, should set the example. Upon each officer and teacher rests an individual responsibility to manifest her willingness to dress according to proper ideals. Each one should ask herself: Am I measuring up, in this respect, to the highest standards of modesty and to my professions as a member of the Church of Christ?”

The standards established by President David O. McKay and his counselors were outlined in a pamphlet entitled For the Strength of Youth:

“It is difficult to make an overall statement concerning modest standards of dress, because modesty cannot be determined by inches or fit since that which looks modest on one person may not be so on another.

“Whether youth are at school, attending a sacrament or other church meeting, dance, athletic, or sports-camp activity, at home or away, church standards require young men and women to be appropriately dressed. Modesty is a protection for the youth of the Church and is one of the Lord’s ways to help them live clean, wholesome lives.

“Girls should dress to enhance their natural beauty and femininity. Clothes should be comfortable and attractive without calling attention to a person’s body; for example, skirts should be of modest length, and they should not be too tight fitting. Dresses should not be cut extremely low at the top. Strapless dresses and spaghetti straps are not acceptable either on sun dresses or evening dresses. Few girls or women ever look well in backless or strapless dresses. Such styles often make the figure look ungainly and large, or they show bony structures of the body.

“When at home working in the yard, hiking, traveling to the mountains, camping or participating in active sports, girls or women may appropriately wear slacks. However, they should not be too tight. Pedal pushers, knee-knockers, bermudas, capris, or any pants which reach just above the knees are acceptable. Of course, those who have been through the temple are expected to wear clothing of appropriate style. … Any apparel that suggests a house robe should not be worn in public but only in one’s home or apartment. Tight-fitting sweaters and figure-hugging clothes of any kind are not appropriate LDS dress.

“Any bathing suit which immodestly exposes the body, such as bikinis or those with bare midriffs, etc., should not be worn. Swim suits are fashioned for a particular purpose and should not be worn as casual dress for summer, but should be worn only for swimming. While traveling to and from the beach or swimming pools, young men and women should be fully dressed, or at least their swimming suits should be covered with outer clothing.”

Modes of dress have undergone many changes during the span of about 130 years covered by these addresses. Though dress lengths have changed over the years, the spirit of what the prophets have said remains the same. Our bodies are the temples of God. They are sacred and beautiful and not to be exposed to all the world to become common and ordinary. In like manner, the dress you save for special occasions, if you wore it every day, would soon lose that special something. Why do you save your money for a bike or a car when you could be spending it on malts and records? Why work so hard to learn to play the piano when you could be at the movies? Why is it that cherries aren’t always in season, and why isn’t it always spring? Doesn’t the car mean a lot more if you’ve worked and saved for it? Aren’t you glad when you sit at the piano and can proficiently play one of Liszt’s piano concertos? Aren’t you glad that you didn’t play away your time when you were young? Wouldn’t you soon tire of cherries if you were made to eat them every day? And without the cold of winter, how much would spring mean? The body, too, will receive no more veneration than the sole of a shoe unless it is kept till its season. The Lord has helped you understand this to aid you in keeping clean and pure for that one with whom you are to become as one for this time and for eternity.

This statement on women’s and girls’ dress was recently approved by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve:

“… We have always counseled our members to be modest in their dress, maintaining such standards in connection therewith as would not be embarrassing to themselves and to their relatives, friends, and associates.

“We have advised our people that when going to the temple they should not wear slacks or miniskirts, nor otherwise dress immodestly. We have not, however, felt it wise or necessary to give instructions on this subject relative to attendance at our church meetings, although we do feel that on such occasions they should have in mind that they are in the house of the Lord and should conduct themselves accordingly.”

You don’t need to be told how many inches or what kind of swimming suit. You aren’t a good servant if you must be commanded in all these things. Catch the spirit of this thing yourself by reasoning and by asking the Lord. And in the spirit of it, don’t strain at gnats so that a one-inch variable in your hemline (or in that of others) mentally binds you to heaven or hell. And certainly don’t give up your wardrobe just because you didn’t score a point on our game. Use your creativity to remodel the old clothes and to fashion new ones.

“And whether it was cut according to the fashion or not, custom would soon make it beautiful.”

Latch on to the modest midi or the maxi, if they are attractive on you. Make yourself as attractive as possible, but remember that your clothes reflect your values, outlook, and personality.

As a fashion coordinator at a store in California a couple of years ago, I received varied responses to my hemline. Many cheered its length; mothers pointed it out to their young daughters; others asked why I didn’t raise it. Being involved in fashion, I merely explained that the “in” thing was “doing your own thing.” I fashioned much of what I wore, which was often rather different from the norm, but it expressed my personality, and I was, therefore, very comfortable with it.

As a member of Christ’s church, do you desire clothing that diverts attention from spiritual values? Are your clothes diverting the attention of others? Are clothes the biggest thing in your life? Do you spend all your time making them or all your money buying them?

And now that you’ve spent all your money on new clothes, consider this: The Nephites, ninety years before the coming of Christ, gave of their substance to the poor and the sick, “and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.” (Alma 1:27.)

And the Lord did greatly prosper them, but in eight years “the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twilled linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.” (Alma 4:6.) Then they began to despise others and to turn their backs on the needy.

For such reasons Paul counsels “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel … not with … gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” (1 Tim. 2:9–10.) This remains while “the fashions of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. 7:31.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Peggy Hawkins

[illustrations] Let’s go on a shopping spree! Buy anything you like. Go ahead—have fun. (Choose one in each pair.)