I love rules. I’m satisfied when I ask a question and get a firm “yes” or “no.” I had a mini panic attack when I walked into my first day of class and my professor announced that there was no rubric for the course. Then I panicked again on the last day when he announced we would be grading ourselves based on the progress we thought we made.
Because I love rules, the modesty lesson was one of my least favorites as a young woman. My leaders always handled it gracefully, never making anyone feel bad or uncomfortable, but there were so many gray areas I couldn’t wrap my mind around.
I would look around my young women’s class and see faithful, beautiful daughters of God who all had different definitions of “modesty.” Some wore shorter shorts during the week and some wore shorts that went past their knees. But we were all faithful Latter-day Saints and the amount of leg coverage didn’t seem to make a difference in our growing testimonies.
The rules behind modesty are vague and ultimately up to individual discretion. We are blessed to have loving Church leaders to guide us in the right direction, and it’s important to listen to their counsel on the topic.
“Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit.”
The modesty section in True to the Faith opens with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
When trying to decide whether a piece of clothing is modest, True to the Faith suggests asking yourself if you would be comfortable wearing it in the Lord’s presence. It also says, “Your clothing expresses who you are. It sends messages about you, and it influences the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you can invite the companionship of the Spirit and exercise a good influence on those around you.”
Refrain from judging others.
Because everyone practices modesty a little differently, it’s important to keep others’ feelings in mind and refrain from judging. In the October 2014 Ensign, Carol F. McConkie wrote, “Remember that even as we teach and exemplify modesty, we never condemn those who choose short skirts or ‘rainbow hair and the many splendored rings.’ Always we exemplify compassion and Christlike love for the individual while we remain loyal to the standards the Lord has set.”
I love that she says we should always be Christlike and compassionate to our brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing or what they look like. God loves them with a perfect love, and we should always show respect and love for one another.
“Modesty is a gospel principle.”
In the August 2008 Liahona magazine, Elder Robert D. Hales wrote about how modesty isn’t just a cultural tradition in the Church—it’s a gospel principle. “In fact,” he wrote, “modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us.”
Elder Hales also listed some clothing items to avoid. He classified “immodest” clothing as “short shorts, miniskirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire.” He continued, “Men and women—including young men and young women—should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low cut in the front or back or revealing in any other manner.”
He also mentioned how we should avoid extremes when it comes to style and make sure we look neat and clean. He wrote, “Our clothing is more than just covering for our bodies; it reflects who we are and what we want to be, both here in mortality and in the eternities that will follow.”
We have moral agency.
In his 2005 general conference address, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared beautiful insights on modesty and wrote about our personal agency as Latter-day Saints.
After giving words of encouragement to stay true to gospel standards, he said, “The Church will never deny your moral agency regarding what you should wear and exactly how you should look. But the Church will always declare standards and will always teach principles. . . . In the gospel of Jesus Christ, modesty in appearance is always in fashion. Our standards are not socially negotiable.”
Elder Holland advised young women and men to choose their clothing as they would choose their friends. “Choose that which improves you and would give you confidence standing in the presence of God (see D&C 121:45.) Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing."
Our bodies are sacred.
The topics section of lds.org emphasizes the importance of modesty and the sacredness of the human body. It says, “Prophets have always counseled us to dress modestly. This counsel is founded on the truth that the human body is God’s sacred creation. We must respect our bodies as a gift from God. Through our dress and appearance, we can show the Lord that we know how precious our bodies are.”
“Never lower your standards of dress.”
For the Strength of Youth pamphlet addresses modesty in a straightforward way. It classifies immodest clothing as “any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner.” It adds, “Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him.”
I remember someone telling me that if I put my arms to my sides and my shorts met my fingertips, they were modest. I was thrilled to have a more specific guideline than “avoid short shorts.” However, modesty can’t be measured like that. It’s important to ask ourselves whether we would be comfortable in the Lord’s presence and if the answer is “no,” change something.
For the Strength of Youth also emphasizes that the Lord’s standards don’t change, and neither should our standard of modesty:
“Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God.”