“Young Women Are Models of Modesty,” Ensign, Jan. 2003, 75–77
On Saturday, 12 October 2002, 33 young women from 14 stakes in southern California fixed their hair, put on makeup, and stepped into formal gowns. But they didn’t have dates waiting to take them to dances—they were getting ready to model their dresses for more than 900 people gathered for a special fashion show. The theme? Modesty.
“I think modesty strikes a sympathetic chord across religious lines,” observes Karen Baker, an organizer of the event and a member of the Mission Lake Ward, Santa Margarita California Stake. “All the seats were filled, we had people standing in the back, and there were requests for twice as many tickets as were available.”
In recent years, Latter-day Saints in several states have met with clothing retailers about expanding their line of modest clothes. Sister Baker, who serves as assistant director of public affairs for her stake, had attended a “modest” fashion show organized by Latter-day Saints and retailer Nordstrom in Upland, California, early last year. In May 2002 when she and her 17-year-old daughter couldn’t find any modest formal dresses for a school dance, she decided it was time to talk to the fashion industry. By June, she and the Nordstrom store in her area had a date set for “A Class Act”—a fashion show of modest formal gowns.
“Generally our events are organized at least a year and a half in advance, but we were fortunate to have the budget, time, and resources to make it happen,” says Kim Cimino, store manager for the South Coast Plaza Nordstrom. “This is truly a rare occurrence.”
Sister Baker concurs. “How could I just go into one of the biggest retailers in one of the biggest malls in the United States and have them put up thousands of dollars for a fashion show? I can’t say enough how the Lord’s hand has been in this whole thing.”
From June to October, a “fashion board” composed of Sister Baker; Carol Starr, also an organizer of the fashion show and a public affairs specialist in the Santa Margarita stake; stake Young Women leaders; and young women selected because of their modest dress standards worked together with Nordstrom to find appropriate dresses for the show.
“They were very passionate about finding a solution for their daughters,” remembers Ms. Cimino. “They went so far as to bring us framed photos from the walls of their homes showing how they had modified their daughters’ previous formal dresses to be more modest.”
But the “Mormon moms,” as they became known, found they weren’t the only ones passionate about modesty. Another large Christian church in the area sent an e-mail to its members, encouraging them to call Nordstrom and voice their support. The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article about the show and the modesty-conscious Latter-day Saints who made it happen. And a local paper ran a poll about the fashion show and discovered that 96 percent of their readers were in favor of more modest dress standards.
“Ninety-six percent!” effuses Sister Baker. “In southern California! We were astounded. Who would have thought fashion would show us how many common values we hold with our neighbors?”
Steven Bangerter, first counselor in the Santa Margarita stake presidency, is equally enthusiastic. “What a remarkable accomplishment in this culture where modesty is ridiculed as a thing of the past,” he says. “There is a silent majority thirsting for someone to boldly step forward toward a reasonable level of self-respect and higher ideals.”
These ideals are also on the minds of Church leaders. In September, just two weeks before the show, Sister Kathleen H. Hughes, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, made a call for modesty during the general Relief Society meeting.
“Modesty is a battle worth fighting because it so often affects more serious moral issues,” Sister Hughes said. “Now, this doesn’t mean that we have to demand that our daughters and sons are covered from neck to ankle, but it does mean that we help them dress in a way that shows they are children of God” (“Blessing Our Families through Our Covenants,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 106–7).
After the flurry and excitement of the fashion show, one of the models-for-a-day reflects on the broader impact of the event. “A lot of girls had been struggling with standards,” says Mandi Young of the Los Alamitos Ward, Long Beach California East Stake. “It was an awesome way to get girls to say, ‘Wow, I can be modest and look cute!’ I think they saw that they’re not alone.”
Now that the fashion show is over, the “Mormon moms” are considering what to do next in the cause of modesty. They have met with their stake presidency, suggesting ideas about videos, Web sites, and television shows. Their advice to others is to simply do something.
“I would encourage people everywhere—across the country, internationally—to go to stores and promote the sale of modest clothes,” says Sister Baker. “I’ve been remembering President Spencer W. Kimball’s motto: Do it! If something occurs to you, if you feel directed by the Spirit, even if it seems impossible, take little steps and the Lord will show you the way.”