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Sabbath Revival: Modest About Modesty

By Sandra Clark

Still thinking about bodies and how we address them at church and within the context of a faith-filled life, I offer you another piece from the past, Modest about Modesty, from emerita, Courtney Clark Kendrick. 


When I moved into this ward I had a neighbor tell me that she thought I’d be the next Young Women’s President.

“No way, “ I countered, “I don’t dress modestly enough.”

To which she replied, “Then it’s about time you start.”

A year later, that calling came and I thought I’d feel a massive spiritual attack to clean out my closet in preparation for a more reserved collection. Conversely, I have felt somewhat of an undertaking to redefine LDS fashion. And right now I am using big words so that you will think I am intelligent—and–undoubtedly right. But truth be told, this is a lonely calling in life. I get a lot of “What in Lucifer’s House are you wearing child?”

Ahh the fine art of dressing up for church. I’d like to think that I give it my full attention (it’s a spiritual gift really.) Before I head out the door, I look in the mirror and ask “Is this lovely or is this sexy?” Because to me, that is the all-important difference. (But what do you do with those of us who feel that nothing is lovelier than feeling sexy? There, I said it.)

I had a remarkable experience at the World Wide Leadership Training a couple weeks ago. There was much to learn and insight given. But I will never forget the beautiful woman in the front row of Elder Holland’s “class” who wore knee high black boots, tights, a short plaid skirt topped off with a black turtleneck. In all my life I had never seen someone from Church HQ in such a semi-hip outfit. It was as though the clouds had departed and the sun shone through “There is room in this church for me and my knee highs boots!” I warmly proclaimed in my head.

I’d like to think that there is also room in this church for pencil skirts, and converted kimono dresses matched with high heels. Ultra-feminine. I mean, if you are going to be a woman, why not go all-out? As someone who was raised in the heart of Mormondom, I have seen enough women hiding underneath floral tents, once claimed as dresses from the Dress Barn. When did modesty mean clothing lines of subtle deviations from men’s clothing wear? Where in the handbook does it recommend jumpers?

How far do we go with modesty? Can we go too far? I mean some of us are one step away from wearing hijab. And part of me would like to teach the youth of the ward that feminine doesn’t need to be hiding all the time. Like my mother always said “A little cleavage never hurt anybody.” (Please don’t tell my mother I just quoted her, she’ll kill me.)

Furthermore, don’t we believe that women’s body, though absolutely sacred, is also virtuous and of good report? Where is the marriage between celebrating a figure and using it for disadvantageous plots?

And most importantly does “one pair of modest earrings” dangle? How far?


About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

6 thoughts on “Sabbath Revival: Modest About Modesty”

  1. I love this article so much. I've been a CA resident for nearly 20 years and have been in wards where any attire is acceptable with almost no judgement. CA is highly diverse unlike "mormondom" (where I was born and raised and I was a total misfit due to my unconventional upbringing) and for the most part I felt like we are simply happy to have members and YW show up to church regardless of what they're wearing (my last ward had only 25% activity so maybe we were glad anyone came to church). I've always wondered if there is a fine line between projecting sex-appeal and being down right sexy at church… To differentiate between the two IMO:
    sex-appeal = feminine and fitted with a touch of sophisticated glam, which may be perceived as "lovely"
    sexy = skin tight, perhaps revealing, paired with ultra high and possibly overtly strappy heels, which may be perceived as jaw dropping
    Growing up, when my mom went to church, which wasn't often because we were inactive, she was dressed sexy (she was single) and let's just say she didn't have any female friends at church…
    I kind of enjoy every extreme on display at the church fashion show and want everyone to feel like they belong no matter what they're wearing… I hope we all attend church to ultimately find peace, feel the spirit, to grow, to be charitable and serve outside our comfort zones, to focus, search for and find deeper meaning in our beliefs and life, to be a friend and make friends, and raise our children in the gospel……. and to take turns winning the weekly fashion show contest… 😉

  2. I've been living in Brazil for several years and have found that many of the young women grow up in a culture that celebrates sexy more than lovely. One of the women in the church here told me that it is a challenge to teach modesty because many of the women say they need to dress in a very provocative way in order to compete with other women who may go after their husbands. Infidelity here is rampant. But I've witnessed in the Church here something remarkable. I've watched the culture of immodesty and infidelity change in some very beautiful ways as the Gospel has taught both men and women the principle of modesty and virtue as only the Gospel can. When we first visited a branch here the YW room at Church had photos (mostly selfies) of many of the girls on the wall in scantly clad clothing and in sexy poses. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, it doesn't exactly look like the YW room in my former Utah ward. As the branch focused on teaching about the Savior and the miracle of His love and as they helped the YW begin to sense their Divine worth and potential as a daughter of God a marvelous thing happened. Their dress went from sexy to lovely. No one was shamed and no one was made to feel out of place. But the principles of virtue and modesty were taught to both YM and YW in powerful ways.
    I've also thought about a ward I was in in Utah where many of the young moms who had temple marriages were really into looking sexy. It seemed like it was almost a competition to show that they could be moms and wives and still be considered "hot". I won't go into detail about what they wore or didn't wear but I'll just say it didn't seem to invite the Spirit as it seemed meant to draw attention to themselves and their sexuality rather than just enhancing their beauty. I'm so not proposing we need to look frumpy. I often wear pencil skirts and heels to Church. But I do think as women we should ask ourselves before we go out of the door what it is we want people to feel when they are around us. If deep inside we want our neighbor's husband to notice how good we look then maybe we need to rethink our wardrobe choice. I remember one of my teenaged sons saying that he loved to go to EFY because he could relax because he knew the girls would be dressed modestly. He said he didn't have to work so hard to make sure he wasn't looking in the wrong place. He said that he felt like that was one reason everyone could feel the Spirit so strongly there because they could move beyond the focus on sexuality and get to know one another as friends.
    I joined the Church as a teenager and I am so grateful for the loving members in Virginia who were patient with me and my mini skirts. (It was the sixties!) So I know we should never shame any one at any age for what they wear to Church, but I also believe that as we teach by the Spirit and always in love, as the Savior did, we all can be raised to a more holy standard.

  3. I love the lovely or sexy paradigm. When my nieces were very young, my sister told me that she had realized that she would need to be careful to model a version of modesty that could be appealing for her daughters. If she were to try to talk to them about covering themselves and demonstrate it in a way that denied her own femininity and beauty, they might conclude that the only way to be attractive is to be immodest and sexy. It sounds to me like you are just right for The Young Women.

    I'm also afraid that for some women in the church, what they call modesty is really more about a dysfunctional relationship with their God-given body. It makes me deeply sad to see women hiding their bodies because they feel they do not deserve to be seen. And very occasionally they then use what they consider to be the principle of modesty as a cudgel against women who carry and clothe their bodies with confidence. It is such an awful cycle.

  4. I had a neighbor who was obsessed with looking sexy, so she didn't wear her garments. She also complained that the creepy guy across the street would stare at her when she was sunbathing in the front yard in her bikini. I tried and failed to explain to her that everyone can see what she's putting on display, not just her husband.

    I really dislike going to church and seeing women and young ladies dressed provocatively. You can dress stylishly and still cover your thighs, and cleavage has no place during the 3-hr-block. Especially on a 13-year-old.

  5. This post was infuriating and devoid of understanding our purpose on this earth. Modesty is more than the clothes you wear. It is how you conduct yourself, clothing being only one part of this. If you are asking lovely or sexy, then you are already lying to yourself. If you want to know one of the many reasons the Lord commands us to be modest attend a support meeting for spouses of sex addicts. Your inappropriate outfits do affect people, people who cry every Sunday morning before church because they want to take the sacrament, but know that in order to do so they have to endure the Mrs. Skank pageant. They have to watch Brother so and so stare at Sister so and so as she totters by on her stripper heels, but he is the sinner, right? She is innocent, right? Wrong. You don't dress that way unless you want sexual attention from those who are not your spouse. Two sinners and a roomful of broken women who you wouldn't know are broken because even though they cry, they put a smile in for church and they are always lovely inside And out without showing off their assets. The trauma of sexual sin is more painful than can ever be expressed and supposed sisters in Christ could at least stop pretending to care about one another as they purposefully dress provocatively. You women are no friends.


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