Teach the truth about modesty
A style of our own
By Judith Rasband
Church News contributor
Published: Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007
Many teens believe dress and grooming are a safe way to express independence. Experts say, however, young people should be taught they cannot NOT communicate.
"But they don't want to hear it," comes the cry.
That's to be expected. Many teens are pushing for independence and fighting to fit in. They mistakenly believe dress and grooming are "safe" ways to express their independence, defiance, even rebellion in the face of authority figures. They see themselves as being somehow "brave" in their defiance. Some adults are clinging to fading youth or still caught up in defiance of their own.
1.Teach that we realize dress and grooming are highly personal, emotional, even controversial topics. Clothing functions much like a second skin. We are naturally sensitive to any assumed attack on it. It's been a problem for generations, as each older generation cautions the younger generation about decline in standards. In reality, we have been in decline for decades — easily since the 1920s. The point now is how low are we going to sink? (See Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1926.)
2.Teach that we are God's masterworks. Last among the creations, He created man and woman — in HIS own image. He gave us this intimately personal aspect of Himself. It's because of Him we are even alive (and look as good as we do). We owe God our thanks, respect and allegiance to His commandments, including a modest attitude, manner, dress and grooming. (See Genesis 1:26-27.)
3.Teach that it was God who clothed us in the first place. With coats of skins, He made clothing an integral part of our appearance or image. He expects us to stay dressed — modestly dressed — as a protection to us and in a manner functional for our environment, in harmony with our culture, roles and goals. Immodesty is disappointing, disrespectful, and disobedient to God. (See Genesis 3:21; see also "To Clothe A Temple," by John S. Tanner, Ensign, August 1992.)
4.Teach that all things are spiritual — even our dress and grooming. For every child of God, image is a matter of spiritual consequence — both earthly and eternal. Yielding to Satan's temptation to appear worldly in the name of fashion or defiance, we risk becoming worldly in our thoughts, words and behaviors. While what we wear won't get us into heaven, it may certainly keep us out! (See Doctrine and Covenants 29:34-35; see also "The Sanctity of the Body," by Susan W. Tanner, Ensign, November 2005.)
5.Teach that God expects us to take care of our body and our clothes. We take care of our cars, our toys and our scrapbooks. Our body and clothing deserve a moderate portion of our time, attention and investment. We can liken ourselves to the structure, furnishings, and care of our holy chapels and temples. Everything about them is orderly, clean and beautiful both inside and out, without going to extreme. Our body, with its clothing and grooming, are intended to house our holy spirit. They become as a temple and part of our earthly stewardship. We should never degrade or defile our bodies with immodest choices. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Doctrine and Covenants 42:32, 104:11-13 and 136:27.)
6.Teach that our clothing and grooming affect each of us at all ages — whether we want to admit it or not. They affect the way we think, the way we feel, the way we speak, the way we act or behave, and then the way others react or respond to us. Most of the world focuses on the first impression we make on others. In reality, the first impression and influence is on us — the wearer. We need to pay attention. A conscious awareness and understanding of image impact is essential as it influences ourselves and our communication and interaction with others. (See "Be Loyal to the Royal Within You," a talk by President Harold B. Lee, BYU, Sept. 11,1973.)
7.Teach that we are living in a time of image ignorance and arrogance. Much of what used to be taught in the home and school about dress and grooming is now absent. We now have people taking pride in not taking care of themselves, and pridefully ridiculing those who do. The glory of God is intelligence. We are smart to develop image intelligence — to gain light and knowledge even about dress and grooming. This knowledge allows us to better choose among the many fashion options available to us according to our needs, values, personality, roles and goals — rather than what is simply right or wrong, easy, trendy, cool, edgy or sexy. This is a finer discrimination. There is no honor, glory or virtue in choosing to remain ignorant or arrogant about dress and grooming — about self presentation. It is only when we are modest in thought, word and deed, free of pride and arrogance, that the mighty change in our countenance occurs. (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19; Isaiah 41:29, 44:17.)
8.Teach that we are living in a time of mass casualization and deconstruction in manners, morals, speech, literature, music, home furnishing, clothing, grooming and more. Today's casual, provocative and trash fashion trend was not driven by serious and talented designers and manufacturers. It was driven first by consumers involved in the casual Friday movement, now eroded to include everyone, everyday and everywhere. It was pushed by hip-hop, pop fashion designers who are in the process of undoing what was done beautifully, harmoniously in decades past. We need to think objectively and decide what to adopt, adapt or avoid before feeling pressured by advertising and our peers. (See Nephi 28:20-21; see also "Modesty Is More Than Covering Bodies," by Judith Rasband, Church News, July 14, 2007; and "The Semiotics of Extraordinary Dress: A Structural Analysis of Hip Hop Style" by Marcia A. Morgado, ITAA Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, Volume 25: Number 2, April 2007.)
9.Teach that we cannot NOT communicate. Even from a distance and long before we speak, we communicate much about ourselves. Our dress and grooming create a silent language made up of semiotic symbols, cues or clues that speak loud and clear. It is true that, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." When we have a choice, however, it's what's on the inside that determines how we dress and groom the outside, thus reflecting the condition of our heart and mind. Even then, it's not only what we wear, but how we wear it that communicates our degree of modesty. (See "Be Loyal to the Royal Within You," a talk by President Harold B. Lee, BYU, Sept. 11, 1973.)
10.Teach that the communicators in dress and grooming are the elements of design — the style lines and shapes, colors, textures and patterns present in the design of the clothing. We often hear or read, "Watch out for the message or statements our clothes are sending," yet few people really recognize what's doing the talking. Just as in graphic design, there is meaning in clothing design — the type and direction of a line, the size of a shape, the lightness or darkness of a color, the softness or stiffness of a texture, and the motif in a pattern. Our selection and combination of these elements goes a long way toward explaining us. (See Visual Design in Dress, by Marion L. Davis, Prentice-Hall, 1996.)
11.Teach that attention always goes to the point of contrast— contrast in style lines and shapes, colors, textures and patterns. For example, body bareness and tight-fitting clothes attract and provoke undue attention to the contrasting contours of the body. Underwear of a contrasting color showing through clothing, showing above low-riding pants, or hanging below a shirt draws undue attention to the underwear. Neon-bright-colored cartoon characters on a tie worn by one who serves the sacrament distracts attention from the sacrament itself. We need to stand ourselves in front of a large mirror and assess where attention is drawn to. We need to ask ourselves, "Is that our intent?" When the appearance is immodest, attention goes immediately and automatically to the point of immodesty. When viewing a modest, harmonious appearance, the mind's eye takes in the whole composition—the person within the clothes, "an outward manifestation of an inner knowledge and commitment." (See "Arise and Shine Forth," a talk by Elaine S. Dalton, Women's Conference address, April 30, 2004.)
12.Teach that clothing and grooming set the boundaries or limits for social interaction or involvement with others — in the home, school, church, community, as well as in the workplace. The impression may be unique or traditional, true or false. It may work for us or against us, often without us being aware, influencing or affecting the achievement of our goals. The point is, we are responsible to a significant degree for how people treat us, based on how we choose to present ourselves. When our clothing or manner of dress contradicts who we say we are, others are often confused and may treat us in ways we don't expect or appreciate. (See The Social Psychology of Clothing," by Susan B. Keiser, Fairchild Publications, 1997.)
13.Teach that in dressing to look like a stereotypical "Hottie" or "cool and edgy," we can expect to be seen and treated as such. If lacking or refusing responsibility for our own immodesty, we become part of the many social and moral problems associated with immodesty. Truth is, if we do not wish to be seen or treated as a stereotype, we are smart not to wear the symbols or cues of a stereotype. (See "Pornography," by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 2005, p 87; see also "Expanding the Definition of Provocative Dress," by Annette Lynch, ITAA Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, Volume 25: Number 2 April 2007.)
14.Teach that it is one thing to dress in stained, faded, torn, or frayed clothing because it's what we HAVE to wear, and quite another if it's because it's what we CHOOSE to wear. The word "casual" is defined as "careless, without thought." When careless, thoughtless, irreverent, disheveled, slovenly or provocative appearance is deliberate, the choice is truly a matter of arrogance, defiance, rebellion and the need for repentance. (See "Outward Expressions of the Inner Self," a talk by Cecil O. Samuelson, BYU Devotional Address, Jan. 13, 2004.)
15.Teach that we don't have to dress like everyone else to fit in. At the same time, teach that everybody else doesn't have to dress like us for us to be nice to them. Yes, research supports the fact that we tend to be more comfortable and associate with others who dress like we do. This has to do with our own insecurities. The sooner we recognize we don't have to dress like everyone else, the sooner we recognize we don't have to behave like everyone else. While we need to stand and walk tall — strong in our commitment to a modest style of our own — we also need to accept and be nice to others who reflect diversity in dress and grooming. (See "FYI: For Your Info, I Just Don't Fit In," New Era, June 1997, p. 34.)
16.Teach that fashion fads and trends are the result of calculated efforts to intimidate us into spending our money, as if wearing the latest trend were socially crucial. Many trends are so ill-conceived that by adopting them we become what is commonly termed "fashion victims," thus putting ourselves at some disadvantage. Parents, by encouraging disorderly spiked hair, sloppy or provocative dress, unwittingly put our children at risk. Contrary to the pop trend, jeans do not go with everything or everywhere harmoniously. The coarseness of the utilitarian fabric and rivets are in direct contrast, clashing with refined fabrics and occasions. While denim works in harmony with casual weekday occasions, sports and Saturday chores, more refined fabrics work best on Sunday and for going to the temple, communicating reverence and respect for the Lord, for the Lord's house, and for the occasion. (See "A Sense of the Sacred," a talk by D. Todd Christofferson, Fireside for Young Adults, Nov. 7, 2004.)
17.Teach that we can manage our wardrobe wisely and still have fun with fashion. As we take away immodest options in dress and grooming, there are plenty of excellent options to fill the void. Like interior design and sculpture, dress and grooming are creative art forms. Only in the art of dress, we are the artist and part of the composition as we put together an outfit or style our hair. As Latter-day Saints, we can stand strong with a style of our own. If the dress or grooming trend is immodest in looks or attitude, we can learn to say, "No. That's not my style." (See "A Style of Our Own," a talk given by President Spencer W. Kimball, BYU, Feb. 13, 1951.)
18.Teach the use of our clothing and grooming aids as a resource in provident living — tools we can rely on to help us meet our needs and achieve our worthy goals, both earthly and eternal. Teach to periodically evaluate our clothing, discovering what works for us, what doesn't, and why. Teach to rely on simple basic and timeless classic clothing styles, muted wardrobe neutral colors and all-season fabrics, with some modest trends in style, color and fabrics. Teach good clothing care to increase the wear-life and therefore the value of this resource. Teach smart shopping skills with generally planned purchases to acquire the best quality at the price we can afford. With this knowledge we will be better able to dress and groom ourselves with comfort, style and ease, able to forget about ourselves and get on with life — in the service of our Lord and God.
19.Teach that the time is now for God's covenant people to raise the bar and stand for higher standards in dress and grooming — time to stand and walk tall as an influence for good and having the knowledge and courage to appear neatly groomed, attractively and modestly dressed, in harmony with eternal values. This is a challenge, living in the world but not being of the world. Without apology or shame, we need to look like we're on the Lord's side. Image integrity is simply a matter of looking like who we say we are. (See Doctrine and Covenants 115:5 and "Teaching Modesty," a talk by Judith Rasband at Families Under Fire, BYU, Oct. 4, 2005.)
20.Teach by example. As adults, we, too, must practice image management more consciously and effectively in our daily lives, by evaluating and controlling the effects of our dress and grooming on ourselves and others, and on the achievement of our goals. We need to talk freely about our efforts to appear modest and create harmony in our appearance, in ways consistent as a follower of Christ. We must remind even ourselves that "when Christ comes again, the members of His Church must look and act like members of His Church are supposed to look and act. We must be doing His work and we must be living His teachings. He must recognize us quickly and easily as truly being His disciples." (See "Terror, Triumph, and a Wedding Feast," a talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, CES Fireside for Young Adults, Sept. 12, 2004.)
• Judith Rasband is a wife, mother, grandmother, and director of the Conselle Institute of Image Management.