"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
June 19, 2014
Short Skirts at Church
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

I moved to a new ward recently, and many of the young women wear short skirts to church. I don’t mean an inch or two above the knee. I mean short skirts that don’t even reach halfway to their knees. I have Primary-age daughters and it bothers me to see these teenagers in clothes that don’t remotely meet Church standards.

Is it crazy that this bothers me? Should I say something to someone about it?

Answer:

I don’t think you’re crazy. Still, I don’t think you should allow yourself to be bothered by other people’s clothing, even if it is objectively inappropriate for church meetings. And super short skirts do not belong in any place of worship, whether or not they are tolerated and their wearers welcomed in the spirit of charity.

However, I don’t think saying something to someone is the right approach to your problem. Your problem is not how you will alert someone to the issue of inappropriate church dress that sets a bad example for younger children. Your problem is how you will teach your own daughters about modesty despite these bad examples. You also need to know how you should react when you encounter inappropriate dress (of any kind) at church.

Say What? To Whom?

The problem with your idea of saying something to someone is all the details. To whom, exactly, would you say something? And how do you expect them to reply? And do about it?

For example, you could approach the bishop or the Young Women leaders. They would listen respectfully, and may even validate your concerns. But I can almost promise you that they have already noticed the problem (just like they would notice if half the Deacons quorum got tattoos) and are already working on it. So expressing your concern to them would not actually be helpful.

You should not approach the young women’s parents. No matter how much you disapprove, and no matter how convinced you are that you would not allow your daughters to wear such clothing, their parenting decisions are none of your business. You don’t know what is happening in their homes, and it is not your place to criticize them or their daughters.

Nor is it a good idea to approach other ward members to see if they agree with you or what they think could be done. You must always be careful not to gossip, and criticizing a young woman’s skirt to other ward members is gossip.

I do think you might talk to the Primary president, the activity days leader and your daughters’ Primary teachers. These sisters (and perhaps a brother teacher) may appreciate knowing that modesty is a particular topic of concern to you as they prepare instruction and activities for the Primary.

Teach Your Daughters the Doctrine

It is, of course, your responsibility to teach your family about modesty. First, I suggest you teach your daughters the actual doctrine of modesty, that men and women should dress and behave modestly to show respect for their bodies and commitment to God. The Church’s Youth website has useful references and resources on this topic.

But don’t tell your daughters, for example, that modesty is just for girls, or that girls are supposed to be modest in order to prevent boys from having impure thoughts, or that they should dress modestly so people don’t think ill of them.

There is some validity to the latter two of those ideas that would be silly to deny. But you should focus on the real, motivating doctrine, which is our desire to show respect and love for God.

Second, it is your responsibility to set your family’s rules about modesty. You must teach your children that your family follows the rules no matter what the rest of the ward, school, dance class, sports team or extended family is doing.

You must teach that there are no special occasions where modesty is not required. In fact, it is best if your children expect, from a young age, to look and dress differently from their peers.

It can be hard to wear clothes and styles that are different from what is popular. So be compassionate and supportive if your children feel uncomfortable being different. Help them adapt popular styles in a way that is modest. This may be hard for you if you are not interested in clothes or fashion, but stretch your imagination, try your best and ask your stylish sister-in-law for help.

Third, point out positive role models in your ward and community. There are certainly people around you who are modest and cute, and you want your girls to see and focus on the good around them. Do not point out negative examples of immodest clothing, especially at church. It would not be right to teach your children by criticizing others.

Fourth, set a good example. Your daughters know the standards, and they know if you are not following them. They will not take you seriously if you don’t practice what you preach.

What to Do at Church

First, you should ignore the short skirts you see at church. Treat their wearers as kindly as you would treat anyone else. It is rude to comment on a person’s physical appearance unless you have something overwhelmingly positive to say. If you have something negative to say, you should keep it to yourself.

Therefore, you should pretend that you do not notice inappropriate clothing. Or frumpy dresses, unflattering haircuts, stained ties, scuffed shoes and expanding waistlines.

This is church, after all. We are there to learn charity and to show love for others whether or not we approve of their physical appearance. Indeed, if a young person deliberately wears inappropriate clothing to church in order to set himself apart from the rest of the congregation, that young person should be shown extra love and care.

Second, compliment the young women who wear modest clothes. “That’s a great dress, Lacey,” you might say with a smile. “I love the color.” Everyone likes a sincere compliment. And a compliment can reinforce to the young woman that she showed good judgment when she chose her clothes for church.

Further, if short skirts are the norm in your ward, the young women who don’t wear them may be feeling awkward about their clothes. Compliments from adult women in the ward will buoy these young women and support them.

Third, give people a break. Remember that you don’t know the whole story and that you are not the modesty police.

You don’t know where the short skirt came from or who paid for it. Perhaps Aunt Sylvia is visiting from Australia and brought the skirt as a gift. Perhaps the young woman put it on, showed it to Aunt Sylvia, and her parents didn’t know how to tell her to take it off before church without embarrassing their guest.

You don’t know how this young woman’s parents feel about modesty. Perhaps they disagree with the whole antiquated notion. Perhaps they don’t believe a short skirt (or a strapless dress or a bikini) is a big deal. Perhaps they think modesty is something you do after you are married.

You don’t know what’s going on in their home. Perhaps they battle their daughter every day over modesty, and the outfit she wore to church today was a compromise. Or perhaps the family is having other problems, and the daughter’s clothing is not even in the top fifty of their most pressing issues.

You also don’t know how much the young woman has grown in the last month. The skirt may have looked fine three weeks ago, and her mother may have only noticed — with horror — its much-reduced length as they walked into sacrament meeting.

Finally, you never know how hard it was to persuade that young woman to attend church today, or with what reservations she came. Clucking and tut-tutting at her outfit will not encourage her to return next week, and it will reinforce any feelings she may have of not fitting in or being unfairly judged. So be kind to her — and her parents. Smile and say you are glad to see her.

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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