"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 13, 2013
A Greco-Roman Bridesmaid Dress
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


A dear non-Mormon friend has asked me to be a bridesmaid in her summer wedding. They have chosen to go with a mythology theme, and are planning to have the bridal party attired to evoke the image of Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. The designs I've seen are lovely ... but they're all sleeveless and sometimes even strapless.

Is there a gentle way to suggest bridesmaids’ gowns with more shoulder coverage?


A theme? Why does a wedding need a theme? Other than love, commitment, family, and marriage?

And costumes! Why does a wedding need costumes?

And as the point of a wedding is to pledge fidelity, a Greco-Roman gods and goddesses theme — whose celibacy-related failures are literally legendary — seems an ominous choice.

But those are the bride’s problem. Not yours.

What you need to do is clearly but tactfully tell your friend that you need to wear a dress that has sleeves, is at least knee-length, and that is not too low in the front or the back.

I think you are absolutely right to do this.

Modesty is not disposable for special occasions — even for the wedding of a friend who doesn’t understand why you can’t just dress like everyone else. It is an important manifestation of who you are, how you see yourself, and how seriously you take your commitment to God. It is a way of showing that you always remember that you have been asked to be different.

And rest assured that it is perfectly reasonable of you to request a modest gown. It’s not like you are objecting to a color or a flower or something trivial that has no moral implications. Nor are you asking your friend to completely re-think her wedding plans (although ditching that awful theme would be a blessing to everyone).

Further, some day you will be the Beehive leader. And your Beehives will unearth a picture of you in that dress. And if it is not modest, they will say, “Sister Vander Hopper! What are you wearing? That dress doesn’t even have sleeves!” And they will either lose a little respect for you or learn that modesty does not apply to formal occasions. Neither of these outcomes is desirable. The Beehives need to know that modesty is always important!

There are two important factors in this conversation. First, time. You need to talk to her as soon as possible, before anything is chosen. Find a time to talk when she is not harried or especially busy or overwhelmed.

The second factor is preparation. You need to make known your requirements in a way that is clear and unyielding, but also that is neither demanding nor self-righteous. So before you talk to your friend, think carefully about what you will say — even practice saying it. Try to anticipate your friend’s questions and reactions.

Because it is always best to start a tricky conversation on a positive note, you should start by asking about her. How is she? Did that problem get worked out? How are the wedding plans going? Show a sincere interest in her, and say how excited you are to be a part of her wedding.

Then say, earnestly: “I wanted to ask you about the bridesmaid dresses. I didn’t see any on your list that I could wear. I need something with sleeves (indicate a sleeve on your arm) that’s not too low in the front or back, and that comes down at least to my knees. Have you seen anything like that that would work with your theme?”

If she asks why you need such a dress, have a simple explanation prepared. You might say, “It’s how I dress for religious reasons. Adults in our church typically follow those dress standards as a way of showing devotion.” Or, “It’s something that is important to me, from a religious point of view. It’s something I have committed to do.”

What you don’t want to do is launch into an exhaustive explanation of modesty that makes you sound like you think you are the chosen one among the heathen. Nor do you want to complain like you have to dress that way because your church (or your mother) makes you.

As there is no rule that bridesmaids must wear identical outfits, your friend might tell you to pick something that coordinates with the rest of the wedding décor. She might even have anticipated your concerns after years of knowing you, and have already formulated a plan just for you. A true friend would never insist you wear something that makes you feel morally uncomfortable.

But what if she does not react graciously? You should prepare yourself for this, even if you think it is unlikely.

Consider how you will respond if she asks why you can’t wear a strapless dress “just this once.” (You’d say, “Oh, Carol, I just couldn’t do that. It’s very important to me to dress the way I do.”)

Or if she mutters that you are just one more person who won’t go along with her plans. (Stare at her in surprise.)

Or if she says you’ll look out of place with all the other bridesmaids and strongly implies that you should just attend the wedding as a regular guest. (If she really wants you out of the wedding party after she’s thought things over for a week or two, withdraw sadly. And you don’t have to attend the wedding.)

She might just need some time to adjust her plans or to think about what she wants to do. You should be understanding and patient. Do not get angry or speak hastily. Be prepared to readily forgive her if you are hurt or offended by her response.

You can even tell her you are sorry she feels that way. But don’t apologize for your request. Modesty is not a pain, or an inconvenience, or an eyesore. It is a way of showing your commitment to God.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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