Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Modest Is Always In Style

By: Joy Saunders Lundberg

At last I was sixteen years old and ready to date. The prom was coming up, and I just had to go! But no one else seemed to notice. I kept waiting to be asked and praying that my dream guy would be the one. Well, he was the one . . . for someone else! So my prayer changed to a simple, “Please help somebody ask me . . . anybody!” I wasn’t actually feeling quite that desperate, but almost. About a week before the prom my prayer was answered, and someone finally asked me to go with him. He wasn’t my dream guy, but he was a nice guy, and I was as excited as a cheerleader just winning the tryouts.

I lived on a farm, and to get home from school I had to ride a bus and then walk another half mile. That day I jumped off the bus and ran that half mile as fast as I could. I could hardly wait to tell my mother about my date. I burst into the kitchen where she was working and shouted, “Mom, I got a date to the prom!” She was really happy for me. My tongue shifted into high gear as I raced on with all the exciting details.

Then I realized something. “Oh, no! Mom, I’ve got a real problem. I don’t have a thing to wear!” My mother is a great mom with lots of talents, but taking a piece of material and turning it into a beautiful formal isn’t one of them. And the only job I had was working at home with all the family responsibilities, so I had no way to earn the money to buy myself a dress. I knew I would be asking for money from parents who had little, and I was worried. My dad was a struggling farmer with nine kids. I had asked for things before, and many times the reply had been, “We’d love to, honey, but we just don’t have the money.” Have you ever experienced that? If you have, then you’ll understand how I felt.

Mom said, “I’ll talk to Daddy and see what we can do.” Later that day Dad came to me and said, “This is really important to you, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, Daddy. For this purpose I was born.”

He got the picture. “Mom’s going to take you shopping tomorrow.” I threw my arms around his neck and was absolutely certain I had the best dad in the whole world.

So the next day, there Mom and I were, in the middle of a dress shop, surrounded by the latest styles in formal evening wear. Do you know what the latest style was in the fifties? Strapless! Do you know who the prophet was then? David O. McKay, and he had said the very words to us that today’s prophet has said to you: “Be modest.” And my parents were ultimate, top-of-the-line believers in whatever the prophet said. “Be modest” was ringing in my ears as we looked around. Nothing but strapless. As I stood looking at all those strapless evening gowns hanging there, I thought, “How do they hang there?” Think about it.

In the next dress shop, the same thing—not even an ugly gown that covered the shoulders. The third dress shop was the same story. I was completely discouraged. Moreover, I suddenly realized something. If every formal in the stores was strapless, then every girl at the prom would be wearing a strapless dress! At that very moment Satan started up his little song and dance routine on my shoulder. You know how it goes: “Ya wanna be ‘in,’ . . . ya gotta be ‘in.’ ” And I thought, “Yeah, I want to be ‘in.’ ” That was when I saw it . . . this beautiful, peach-colored evening gown that was so stunning it drew me to it like a magnet.

“Oh, Mom. Look! It’s my color,” I said. “Well, I think it’s my color. How about if I try this one on, just to see if I really do look good in this color?” She consented, “But only to see if it’s your color.”

In the dressing room I slipped it on, zipped it up, and looked in the mirror. You should have seen what I saw looking back at me . . . this gorgeous woman! You wouldn’t believe what that dress did for me. I had to have it! I went out to show my mother and said, “Mom, we have looked everywhere, and there just isn’t anything but strapless. So, . . . well, . . . I think we’re just forced into this purchase.”

With a wry smile she replied, “No, we’re not. But it is beautiful, and it does come up nice and high. How about if we get some matching material and I make a little covering for your shoulders. Then it would be modest.” Knowing there was no other way, I agreed. Soon, we were on our way home with my gorgeous gown and the unwanted extra material.

The next day, before Mom had a chance even to begin making the covering for my shoulders, the phone rang. It was my married brother, Lee, who was living four hundred miles away, attending Brigham Young University. “Guess what?” he said to my mom. “You are now a grandma!” The first grandchild in our family had just been born. My mother was so excited and so needed that in a matter of hours she was on a bus headed to Provo, Utah. In her haste, she forgot all about making the covering for my shoulders. And so did I!

The night of the prom arrived, and Mom was still gone. I spent hours getting ready. My hair was exquisite, and my dress was absolutely celestial. (Whoops! Wrong word.) It was absolutely, stunningly, revealingly . . . strapless. I felt like a beautiful barbie doll, except of course, they didn’t exist then. I was so excited.

Fifteen minutes before my date was to arrive, I walked into the living room. Oh, oh. There was my dad! He took one look at me and said, “Where did you get that dress?”

With piety and feigned innocence I replied, “Mother bought it for me.”

“Mother would never buy that without a plan. What was the plan?”

“Oh, there was a plan, Daddy. Mother was going to make a covering for my shoulders so I would be modest, but she had to leave, and . . . oh, Daddy . . . I’m just sick about it, but I don’t have any choice. I have to go this way.”

With a look that penetrated into the center of my soul but offering no reprimand, he simply said, “Get the material . . . and scissors, and a needle, and thread. Quickly!”

I obeyed. As I searched for these items, all I could think of was how I had never seen my daddy sew anything. I was worried.

Without a word, he took the material, held it up, looked at it, laid it on the table, and folded it several times until it was a strip about six inches wide. He brought one end over to the top of my dress and carefully stitched it in place, using little tiny stitches—not the kind you can pull and . . . zip, they’re out. No. These were there for the night. Then he wrapped the material around the back and brought the other end forward to the top of my dress on the other side, cut off the excess, and stitched it in place. And I was modest! As he finished, I thought, “Tonight is the night I die.”

With a smile he said, “You look pretty.”

Unconvinced, I went to my room to look in the mirror and check out the damage. To my surprise, it didn’t look too bad. Not great, but not bad. The ruffles hid the stitches, thank goodness. Just then there was a knock at the door. It was my date, and off we went to the dance.

As we danced around the floor that night, surrounded by all those bare shoulders, something happened to me. Nobody else knew it happened, but I knew, because it happened inside of me. You see, I began to realize how much my parents really loved me. They loved me enough to insist that I obey the prophet and dress modestly. And I have to confess it felt good.

I don’t think anything bad would have happened to me that night if I had gone to the prom with bare shoulders, but the scary part is, I might have really enjoyed being “of the world.” After compromising in this area, I might have found it easier to do other things contrary to gospel teachings and, step by step, have been led away from the most important blessing that can come to any of us—temple marriage.

Modesty is an important principle in helping us live to be worthy of the great blessings our Heavenly Father has promised the obedient. In the booklet For the Strength of Youth our Church leaders have said: “Servants of God have always counseled his children to dress modestly to show respect for him and for themselves. Because the way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act, you should dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you. However, if you wear an immodest bathing suit because it’s ‘the style,’ it sends a message that you are using your body to get attention and approval, and that modesty is not important.”

It goes on to explain what is not modest. “Immodest clothing includes short shorts, tight pants, and other revealing attire. Young women should refrain from wearing off-the-shoulder, low-cut, or revealing clothes. Young men should similarly maintain modesty in their dress. All should avoid tight fitting or revealing clothes and extremes in clothing and appearance” (p. 8).

Are you thinking, “Hey, nobody’s going to tell me what I can wear. I’m going to be in style!” Maybe, for example, you just bought a new spandex outfit (talk about “tight fitting!”). When tight clothing such as that is worn, it distinctly reveals the private parts of your body and attracts attention to those parts. Regarding such clothing, my own husband, a bishop in one of the BYU wards, said: “Girls and guys apparently don’t realize what effect this has on the opposite sex. There is no question that immodest clothing encourages immoral thoughts, which so often lead to immoral actions.” No wonder our Church leaders have told us not to wear such attire.

Maybe you’re thinking about how much this outfit cost you. It wasn’t cheap. You may say, “No way am I going to throw away a forty-dollar outfit.” Let me try to help you put it into perspective. God is the Father of your spirit, and he is the one who gave you this opportunity to have a body. He loves you more than you could ever comprehend. You are his child. Don’t give him that stay-out-of-my-life look. He wants you to have the greatest joy possible . . . remember? Everything he reveals to the prophet and inspires you to do will lead you to that happiness. You can’t argue with that kind of love. Forty dollars is nothing compared to a chance to return that love and obey him.

One young mother I know shared an experience she had when she was a teenager. An understanding that she was a daughter of God and the knowledge that she enjoyed a “noble birthright” were important principles in her personal value system. She said that as a young person she had tried very hard to live the teachings of the gospel and had generally felt she was doing a pretty good job of it. She told me about attending a spiritually enriching youth conference and then said: “I began examining my life to see what I needed to change. I knew I lived the law of chastity, observed the Word of Wisdom, was an honest person, and was trying to improve in other areas of my life. The only thing I really questioned was my swimsuit. It wasn’t as modest as it should have been. I liked it, but I decided wearing it wasn’t worth the risk of losing all I’d worked so hard to achieve spiritually. So I threw it away.”

Are you a young person who has a testimony and who claims to be true to the Savior but who insists it is okay to wear revealing swimsuits or other immodest clothing? Please take a minute right now and think about your clothes. Both guys and girls. I mean really examine them. Put them on and then stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself if your Heavenly Father would approve. If you have any question, please remember the saying so often used by our Church leaders: “If in doubt, don’t do it.” Have the courage to get rid of anything in your life, including clothing, that doesn’t accurately reflect what you are trying to be and that isn’t in harmony with Church teachings.

That reminds me of a time when my daughter came home after school and discovered a box of hand-me-down clothes some friends had sent us. The girls in that family were older than my daughter, and they had thoughtfully sent boxes of clothes before. Our daughter loved the designer fashions they would discard because they had grown out of them. This time she saw a swimsuit in the box. She needed a new one. With delight she held up the skimpy piece of fabric and said, “Mom. Look, a swimming suit!” I said, “Where is it?”

Indignantly she retorted, “It’s right here, and I like it.” I didn’t want her to like it. There were things about it that just weren’t modest. But I didn’t want to be the bad guy who says, “No! You can’t have it!” I hate saying no to my kids. I know, you think parents stay up nights just thinking of ways to say no. Well, we don’t. It’s much more fun to say yes, because you seem to like us so much more when we do.

Just then I had an ingenious idea, so good it had to have come from the Holy Ghost. I knew what to tell my daughter, and it wasn’t no.

“Honey,” I said, “this modesty business is not my idea. I go along with it, but it’s not my idea.” Then, pointing upward, I said, “It’s his. Heavenly Father’s the one who told the prophet to tell us to be modest. Not me. So if you have a problem with that, maybe you should talk it over with him.” Then I suggested she go to her room, shut the door, put on the swimming suit, and kneel down and ask Heavenly Father if it was okay to wear.

With slightly more arrogance and confidence than usual, she said, “I’ll do it!”

As soon as her door shut I began to pray. Oh, how I wanted her to make a right choice. Ten minutes later she came out, tossed the swimsuit to me and, somewhat humbled, said, “Give it to Deseret Industries.”

I don’t know what happened in her room, but whatever it was she came away knowing that she shouldn’t wear that suit.

Do you know you can do that? If you have any question about a certain teaching of the Church, you too can kneel down and ask your Heavenly Father what’s right for you. Pay attention to how you feel, because he generally answers through your feelings. You may have a feeling of peace, sometimes even a strong, burning feeling, if it’s right. Or, you may be left with a “stupor of thought” as mentioned in Section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants. That feeling of uncertainty is a signal—”If in doubt, don’t do it.”

A multitude of young men in the Church would be relieved if all the young women in the Church would take greater care to dress modestly. I was speaking about modesty at an informal fireside recently when a group of young men started to laugh. I asked, “Want to share what’s funny?” One of the young men consented. “Girls just don’t get it,” he said. “A girl came into church this morning wearing a low-cut dress. Well . . . she stooped over to pick up something, and you wouldn’t believe the show we got!” They all laughed again. “We’ve been laughing ever since.” Then he got serious. “How are we supposed to keep our minds on the sacrament with that kind of show going on?”

I don’t condone laughing at girls, but neither do I condone dressing in a way that invites laughter or in a way that drives the Spirit away. We all have a responsibility, not only to ourselves but to others, to invite the Spirit, not drive it away.

That reminds me of an experience I had several years ago. It was the late sixties, the first miniskirt era, and I had a calling to work with the young women. A seventeen-year-old young man who was not LDS had come to live with us for a time. He was a fine young man, and we hoped to be able to share the gospel with him. A few days after he moved in, he came home from school somewhat discouraged. I asked him what was wrong and was surprised when he replied, “I don’t think there’s a virgin left in the world.” He had lost all confidence in the girls he associated with at school.

I thought this was the perfect chance to introduce him to the gospel. I said, “I know where there’s a whole church full of them.” His curiosity was aroused. I told him about MIA, which was scheduled to be held that very night, and invited him to come. The invitation was too good to refuse, and he accepted.

He stood in the foyer of the meetinghouse, watching the girls as they came through the door. We leaders had been working with these girls, trying very hard to persuade them to dress modestly, but most of them were caught up in the latest styles, and many came to MIA wearing their short skirts.

On the way home after the meeting, he said, “I thought you said these girls were virgins.” I immediately responded, “They are! I know these girls, and I feel confident to say they live the law of chastity.”

He looked right at me and asked, “Then why don’t they dress like it?”

Wow, what a lesson for these young women! More and more I am discovering why the apostle Paul said, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

When one of my returned-missionary nephews was visiting me one day, I asked him about a girl he had been dating. He said, “Oh, we’re not dating any more.” Though they hadn’t dated long, I had the impression he had been quite interested in her. She had seemed to be a good LDS girl. I asked what happened.

“I was starting to fall for her,” he said, “and . . . well . . . to tell you the truth, she started wearing clothes that were a little too revealing. I don’t mean to sound stuffy, but, honestly, I began to feel uncomfortable. Not because she wasn’t pretty to look at, but because I didn’t like what it made me think about. I’ve been trying all my life to be morally clean, and . . . well, I just couldn’t chance it, so I broke it off.” A few years later he dated and eventually married a lovely young woman who knew how to dress fashionably and modestly. It was a beautiful temple wedding that both had lived worthy to have.

In addition to dressing modestly ourselves, we ought to take care not to encourage immodest dress in others. What kind of message does it send when young men whistle and make catcalls at girls in revealing clothing? An insecure girl may be confused and decide to wear inappropriate clothing just to attract attention. Wise up, young men. Don’t let your response be as irresponsible as her poor choice of clothing.

Young women also need to be aware of how ridiculous they appear when they wear revealing outfits. While they may not be able to ignore an immodestly dressed woman, young men are generally embarrassed by such displays. A young woman who wears immodest clothing also runs the risk of being misjudged and labeled as something she doesn’t intend. And revealing clothing promotes lascivious thoughts that can ultimately lead to immorality. Young men and young women both need to stop playing on the enemy’s team. It’s too risky.

Something that happened in 1985 reflected favorably on the stand the Church takes on modesty. Danny Ainge and Greg Kite, former BYU basketball players, both ended up playing for the Boston Celtics in the NBA. As a birthday prank in “honor” of Bill Walton’s thirty-third birthday, someone hired a female stripper to disrobe in front of the big center and his teammates. A newspaper report noted: “Mormon pro basketball players Danny Ainge and Greg Kite may not be burning up the court with their play but they came through the other day when it counted. . . . Teammates Ainge and Kite, both Mormons, refused to watch” (Latter-Day Sentinel, 14 Dec. 1985, p. 4).

I firmly believe that how we respond to the immodesty of others has everything to do with how we value our own modesty. We cannot be double-minded. We are either for the Lord or against him on this issue. There is no middle ground. I do not believe we can look upon another’s immodesty, find pleasure in it—even encourage it with complimentary responses—and be in the Lord’s good graces. If he says it’s not appropriate and if we are on the Lord’s side, we must respond as Greg and Danny did and refuse to watch.

At times some young men and young women may unwittingly behave immodestly. For instance, a young woman may be wearing a modest skirt or pants, but if she sits carelessly, with her legs apart, those sitting across from her may get quite a view. That is embarrassing for her and for those who may observe her. Care enough about yourself to be aware of how you’re sitting or bending and of what your posture may reveal or suggest. One professional counselor has observed, “Immodest positioning of the body can easily be taken as a signal that says, ‘My body’s available.’ “

Attention you might draw to yourself by dressing immodestly is temporary and shallow. On the other hand, there’s something wonderful about the way people respond to you when you dress and behave modestly. People are then free to focus on the real you—your fun personality, your smile, your conversation, your testimony, and all the other elements that make you interesting, unique, and beautiful. Wouldn’t you rather be noticed for such reasons instead of for a willingness to expose your body inappropriately?

I remember one afternoon when I was walking along a beach in California, feeling dismayed at the lack of modesty. Then I noticed a group of young people playing volleyball. In the midst of several boys on one team was a pretty girl who was modestly dressed in tee shirt and shorts. She was laughing and having a great time, as were the boys on her team. She was obviously self-confident and popular. (I could tell the boys liked her by the way they responded to her.) Her modest outfit didn’t put her at any disadvantage I could see. In fact, the more scantily clad girls on the beach were not enjoying anywhere near the attention this girl was getting.

One bishop told me that he had been working with a young woman who had morally transgressed and who was trying with all her heart and might to repent. He was impressed with her sincere desire to make her repentance complete. He said he had observed, before her confession, that her clothes were not always as modest as they should have been. Without mentioning that to her, he met and prayed with her regularly, helping her find ways to strengthen her testimony of the Savior. He said, “I watched her, and as her testimony grew, something interesting happened to her wardrobe. The stronger she became spiritually, the more modest her wardrobe became.” His observation was a witness that those who seek the Spirit regard their bodies as sacred and dress in harmony with that Spirit.

As I observe the fashions of the day, I realize that you don’t live in the era of the strapless evening gown, as I did. Instead, you live in the era of the gownless evening strap. But you’ll make it. I know you can, because President Ezra Taft Benson said: “It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fulness of times. . . . You are ‘youth of the noble birthright’ ” (“To the Young Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 81).

With all my heart I hope you will remember who you are and why you came to earth. I pray that you will prove to your Heavenly Father how much you love him by actions that are in harmony with his teachings. Remember, he loves you. He loves you so much he even gave his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to sacrifice all, just for you. One way you can show your gratitude and love for him is to honor the body he has given you by dressing and behaving modestly. Remember, though fashions may change, modesty is always in style.

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