Click here to watch a video of my modesty fireside!
As you read the words of ancient prophets trying to describe clothing in the latter days you can sense that they must have been baffled by what they saw. Isaiah talks about the daughters of Zion walking with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, tinkling ornaments about their feet, changeable suits of apparel, mantles, wimples and crisping pins. (Isaiah 3:16-22) Whether they had the words to describe what they saw or not, it is clear that they have concerns about our modesty.
A discussion about modesty most frequently brings up discussions about necklines up to here and hemlines down to there. If it were a standardized principle it would be easy to nail down exactly what constitutes a modest wardrobe, however, the discussion is made difficult because of the conditional nature of modesty. What is modest to wear to the swimming pool is not the same as what is modest to wear to the office. Even through time our ideas of modesty have changed. Our pioneer ancestors would probably consider attire currently appropriate for our sister missionaries immodest. The conditional and changing nature of this principle strongly hints to us that the principle of modesty is so much bigger than what we have or don’t have covered. In fact, when clothing is described in the scriptures, coverage is never specifically identified except in talking about armor (or lack thereof) in battle. Descriptions of clothing are usually included to describe attitudes and behaviors, or to portray symbolism. When our understanding of modesty grows to encompass these ideas, it becomes clear that modesty is more than just an outwardly physical commandment, but an inward, spiritual, commandment with outward physical manifestations.
Sometimes we talk about modesty the same why we talk about a cough. A cough can be a symptom of many different, and greater, illnesses. However, since a cough is something we can see, feel, and quantify we treat the cough as if it is the actual illness and mask it with a cough syrup hoping the rest will just take care of itself. When our discussions on modesty are focused solely on our young women, and are only discussions on what to cover, we are socially taking a modesty “cough syrup” and hoping the deeper problem goes away. We must learn to distinguish between learning to control modesty, meaning learning to cover up appropriately, and changing our nature so we no longer have a desire to be immodest. Satan is satisfied when we merely control our outward behavior because that means he has prevented us from seeking the inward transformation that comes with becoming more like Christ. All of us, regardless of age and gender, can benefit from learning more about the deeper principles involved with modesty.
To truly understand modesty we need to be able to answer three major questions about modesty:
- Why is modesty important?
- What does it really mean to be modest?
- Why does Satan work so hard to deceive and distract us when it comes to modesty?
Why is modesty important?
The idea that clothing carries power and authority is set forth by ancient scripture. Adam and Eve were given robes or garments when they left the Garden of Eden symbolizing the protection of the Atonement of Jesus Christ would need in the fallen world they were about to enter. Joseph was given a colorful coat by his father Israel, which is understood to be a garment of the priesthood. The Law of Moses was specific in the symbolic clothing the High Priest was to wear. At the time of Christ, true prophets were distinguished by wearing sheep’s clothing, which brings more meaning to the warning to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Accounts of visits by heavenly messengers in all dispensations include descriptions of their clothing.
The amount of scriptural space dedicated to clothing indicate that there is power in what we wear. Today we are inundated with clothing options, and most of what we wear does not have a symbolic nature, however, that does not mean we should not overlook the importance of clothing. For every righteous and eternal doctrine or principle, Satan comes up with countless imitations and copies. We have become so flooded with copies of true and righteous clothing that we have become used to them, and we fail to recognize the importance of how we choose to dress ourselves.
What does it really mean to be modest?
True modesty encompasses a balance of a modest physical body and a modest spirit. Modesty is not just how we dress, but why we choose to dress that way. Our outward physical appearance will change naturally as our inward commitment and understanding of the principle grows.
We are immodest when we place an overemphasis on our physical appearance, whether we are appropriately covered or not, telling God that our desire to look a certain way is more important to us than He is. Essentially, immodesty is prideful.
Why we are wearing the clothing we choose is far more important than the actual clothing we wear for “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) If we are wearing our clothing with a proud attitude about the brand, appearance, style or even the cost (whether high or low) of the clothing we are dressing immodestly.
In the eighth year of the reign of the judges in the Book of Mormon the people were also struggling with pride and immodesty. Alma tells us that “because of their exceeding riches, their fine-twined linen. . . were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.” (Alma 4:6) Their attitudes were something the leaders of the church were very concerned about and “they were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among the people. For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world, and they began to be scornful one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.” (Alma 4:7-8)
It is important to note that their concern was not because of the cost of the apparel, but due to the prideful attitude about the apparel. It is also of note that Alma’s concerns had nothing to do with what we consider modesty to be, what is covered and what is not. His concern was that they were placing such a strong emphasis on their physical appearance that they were persecuting those who didn’t feel the same way. They were so proud that it even exceeded “the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God” and “the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” (Alma 4:9-10)
Has our emphases on clothing ever made others feel uncomfortable? Has our emphases on physical appearance ever hindered the work of the missionaries? Have our attitudes prevented us from reaching out to others, prevented us from being friends with someone? These attitudes can temptations manifest anytime we encounter someone who dresses differently than we do, both looking down and looking up.
These attitudes, among others, were such a concern for Alma that he gave up the judgment seat so that he “might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.” (Alma 4:19)
Only the gaining and bearing of pure testimony will combat immodesty, not just the learning and teaching of how to cover up. Being truly modest requires humility. It means we allow Heavenly Father to guide us to become our best eternal selves. As our humbleness increases, our physical manifestations of modesty will align with the guidelines set forth by our prophets and apostles. It means dressing in a way that reflects who we are as individuals, who we represent, and what our values are. Some may argue that if modesty is an inward commitment, aligning ourselves with the guidelines given to us for our outward manifestation is not necessary. However, often a lack of outward manifestation represents a lack of an inward commitment. We are to take care of our physical appearance, but not be prideful about it. We may look differently than others around us, but becoming more of an individual is necessary to our eternal growth.
Why does Satan work so hard to deceive and distract us when it comes to modesty?
The scriptures foretell eternal glory for those obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, and within those descriptions of that glory are descriptions about our clothing. Jesus Christ, himself, tells us:
“And again, verily, verily I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else.”
(Doctrine and Covenants 29:12)
We have examples in the scriptures of the righteous yearning for such righteous adornment. Nephi expresses such a desire when he says “O Lord, will thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” (2 Nephi 4:33) A plea echoed in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple:
“That our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings.”
(Doctrine and Covenants 109:76)
Isaiah looks forward to his eternal glory by saying:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”
Of course Satan, in his eternal desire to hinder or stop our eternal progress, would love to stop us from putting on those robes of righteousness. One of the best ways he can do that is to detach any symbolism and meaning to the clothes we wear, flood us with counterfeit options, and then teach us to attach our personal worth to our appearance. Please note, that attaching our worth to our physical appearance is not the only deception, we are also deceived when we find ourselves leaning in the complete opposite direction and remove all accountability of our physical body and only value the mind. What if we are so attached to our clothing that we aren’t willing to give up our “trendy” clothes for the robes of righteousness? What if we are so used to ignoring our physical appearance that we do not think ourselves worthy to wear the majesty of the robes of righteousness?
Satan works hard to prevent us from attaching any eternal and righteous meaning to our clothing and appearance. He wants to concentrate so deeply on the beauty of man that we do not learn to value and recognize eternal beauty. If we are continually deceived by his bombardment of continually more outrageous clothing he may even be able to prevent us from recognizing our Savior, Jesus Christ, when He comes again. “And it shall be said: Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? And he shall say: I am he who spake in righteousness, mighty to save. And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat.” (D&C 133:46-48)
More commonly, and more subtly, what if Satan can prevent us from seeing the worth and power of our temple garment by reducing it to the job of a modesty measuring stick, and preventing us from looking further to see the eternal and glorious power and protection of the garment?
We cannot let Satan deceive us into inappropriately prioritizing modesty in our lives. We need to learn to look beyond the deceptions to find to gain a testimony of the broder principle of modesty. When we have the inward commitment and when we are confident we are doing God’s will for us we have His divine power backing us up. With that confidence, what you wear enhances the light of Christ in our countenance. That light will shine so brightly that you will attract other people as an invitation to discover more about what brings you such joy. Our own confidence in Jesus Christ is our greatest missionary tool, but it must begin from the inside out.