Where does modesty start? The personal concept and definition of modesty begins in our self perception. If you have ever seen how new members of the Church dress and act and then look at them 10 years down the road, you have probably noticed that there is a big difference in what they now consider appropriate dress. Even though the Church does have guidelines, when new members come to Church their personal perception of what is modest is sometimes vastly different from even the basic Church guidelines. The longer they have been in the Church, and the more they understand their relationship with God, the more their views on dress and grooming and personal behavior change. It is a continuum. There is no one definition that fits all, no one ultimate reality for modesty that everyone is striving for. Modesty is born out of our personal understanding and relationship with our Heavenly Father.
What are the rules? I have included much of the text from “For the Strength of Youth” in another article on this site called Church Clothes or How to t’ Dress Fer Meet’n. Once you have read the long quote, just close out the tab to return to this article. The main paragraph for do’s and don’ts is this:
Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior.
Origins of Mormon Modesty In some worldviews the body is considered equivalent to a prison of sin, we are trapped in this dirty vessel of corruption that is bent on leading our souls to hell. If you look at the talks at the end of this article, you will find abundant scriptural links and references that will show you that the Lord designed everything in this world to delight the senses and gladden our hearts. In Mormon theology one of our greatest limitations and the main thing holding us back from being able to progress to be like our Father in Heaven was the lack of a body like His. Mortality is our opportunity to take a body out for a spin to see if we can master the new combination of spirit and body, which is the soul. We’ve never had to control both before.
The body is designed to have its own wants and needs, and its own set of circumstances. Unlike a spirit the body can get sick, injured, crippled, heal itself, and die. What we experience as a mortal while in the flesh also changes who we are in the spirit. Now that we are enmeshed with a physical body, whatever happens to one part of us happens to the other as well. If we become physically addicted, we become spiritually addicted as well. As we advance spiritually it shows in our bodies as well, generally in the face or countenance.
So what does this have to do with modesty? I’ll tell you. How we dress influences how we act. How we dress influences who we hang around with, and who we attract to hang with us. How we dress is a demonstration of reverence or lack thereof. And before you argue too loudly with that last comment, think of this, what would your opinion be of a person who came to your wedding in a bathing suit? Would you consider it appropriate or respectful? Most would not.
The point is this, if we are treating our bodies as a sacred gift from God, understanding that how we dress affects how we deal with others and how they deal with us, and especially when we go to church or on dates, etc. then we are bound to dress differently than someone who really does not care about anyone else’s opinion or how their clothes might affect someone else’s thoughts.
When we teach our youth how to dress we are doing so with the goal in mind for them to go to God’s temple to be married for time and for all eternity in God’s House, with His Priesthood authority. This is sacred stuff. When we go through the temple we are given clothing that we promise to wear for the rest of our lives. This clothing takes the place of the commercial under clothing that people normally wear. By design this clothing is very modest and respectful. We teach our youth to dress modestly from the beginning so when they make their temple commitments they will not have to change how they dress afterward, because they will already be dressing modestly enough to be able to incorporate the new under garments without having to change their wardrobe. It is all based on a sacred respect for covenants made with God.
Punishments and benefits There is no punishment for not dressing modestly, unless you consider people objectifying you, leering at you, and lusting after you to be a punishment. The benefits are these, you have greater self respect, you are a wholesome influence on those around you, you feel better about yourself, and you are free to think of better things than whether something is showing, hanging out, or about to fall into view. All very distracting to both the person and the viewer. Trust me, modesty has its benefits.
A note for men Lest anyone assume that modesty is strictly a female issue, men, there should be no difference in attitude between men and women. Men have a tendency to just be sloppy and careless about how they groom and dress. We need to be equally aware that our bodies are temples and as such should be kept clean, free of graffiti, shaved, and all articles of clothing free of holes and placed where the garment was designed to be placed. There are many young men who have taken to wearing their pants halfway down or even below their buttocks, either with or without underwear. The new styles of swim wear are being cut so low that unless you are into personal shaving you can’t even wear the swimsuit without getting arrested for indecent exposure. So even men are beginning to have to spend more time looking for modest and respectful clothing these days. Even when a guy buys a pair of board shorts to wear, thinking they are modest, they often forget that when we sit in a slovenly manner, with our feet on the furniture, we are often providing prime viewing opportunities that go straight up the leg to whatever we do or do not have on under our shorts. So we need to watch how we sit as well as what we wear in order to truly be modest.
A word of encouragement The Lord has promised us that our reason for existing is to have a fullness of joy, the kind of joy he has. That fullness can only come with a body. Our bodies need to be tamed and disciplined, but are still a source of great comfort and joy to us. But the Lord expects us to always do things within the limits and boundaries he has set for us. It is only within those limits that the real joy, the lasting joy is to be found. As we gain greater experience with being modest in dress and behavior, we discover personal blessings that cannot be had by any other means. You have to experience it for yourself.