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As part of my calling, I have recently been visiting various wards in our stake. Because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a number of people in a church setting. Among the various observations I have made while worshiping among these Saints, one has stood out to me as being rather bothersome. This is the issue of Sunday attire, and fashion in general.
As a member of a singles ward in recent years, I had grown used to the Sunday fashion show. Hoping to impress members of the opposite sex, many would go to great lengths to put together an attention-grabbing outfit, get their hair to sit just right, apply the right amount of makeup, etc. While understandable, it still bothered me to see girls who had obviously spent a good portion of their morning getting ready for church.
I’ve been intrigued, however, to visit the various wards in my stake and observe (married) women putting just as much effort—if not more—into their appearance. In the ward I visited today, I noticed several women to whom this applies—women who were not only distracting in their appearance, but dare I say, detracting from the spirit.
Please understand that I am not being sexist in any way by calling out the women as the main culprits of this fashion frenzy. This is simply how things are—women, on average, spend far more money on clothing, and far more time in getting ready for the day. This is not to say that men are not as culpable—many are—but the bulk of the problem no doubt lies with the women.
To back my case, I now make an appeal to higher authority than my own. I intend to show, through the following quotes and scriptures, that such attitudes towards and implementations of fashion are unbecoming of a true Latter-day Saint.
I start with an address given by Elder Holland in the October 2005 General Conference. In this (as always) masterful discourse, Holland speaks directly to the young women (and by corollary, church members as a whole) about the issue of fashion:
I make a special appeal regarding how young women might dress for Church services and Sabbath worship. We used to speak of “best dress” or “Sunday dress,” and maybe we should do so again. In any case, from ancient times to modern we have always been invited to present our best selves inside and out when entering the house of the Lord—and a dedicated LDS chapel is a “house of the Lord.” Our clothing or footwear need never be expensive, indeed should not be expensive, but neither should it appear that we are on our way to the beach. When we come to worship the God and Father of us all and to partake of the sacrament symbolizing the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we should be as comely and respectful, as dignified and appropriate as we can be. We should be recognizable in appearance as well as in behavior that we truly are disciples of Christ, that in a spirit of worship we are meek and lowly of heart, that we truly desire the Savior’s Spirit to be with us always. (Jeffrey R. Holland, via Quoty, emphasis added)
Here, Elder Holland makes a case for simple dress, urging those who come to worship at the house of the Lord to dress as would a respectful follower of Christ. Perhaps I am too judgmental in saying that a few of the outfits I’ve seen lately were definitely expensive and falling short of the mark of being comely and dignified.
Another lesson that is continually taught the Saints is the pattern of our needing to flee Babylon, whether physically or spiritually. God has commanded us to come out of Babylon and touch not the unclean things therein. Those who continually adopt the ever-changing fashions of the world, desirous to “fit in” or feel accepted, apparently do not heed such counsel.
Brother Brigham, forceful in his words as always, discussed this subject in an address given in the Tabernacle in 1870. Noting the desire to follow fashion trends, he commented:
To me a desire to follow the ever-varying fashions of the world manifests a great weakness of mind in either gentleman or lady. We are too apt to follow the foolish fashions of the world; and if means were plentiful, I do not think that there are many families among the Latter-day Saints but what would be up to the highest and latest fashions of the day. Perhaps there are a great many that would not follow these fashions had they ever so much means. But too many of this people follow after the foolish, giddy, vain fashions of the world. If any persons want proof of this they need only look over this congregation, and view the bonnets, hats or headdresses of our fashionable ladies. Do they wear bonnets that will screen their faces from the sun, or shelter their heads from the rain? Oh, no, it is not fashionable. Well what do they wear? Just such as the wicked would wear. (Brigham Young, via Quoty)
The reader will note the correlation Young makes between wealth (means) and fashion. Indeed, this is a connection that permeates the Book of Mormon. One example illustrates the propensity with which the wealthy class adorns themselves in expensive attire:
And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Jacob 2:13)
Not only is it demonstrated that the rich love dressing up, but we also read that pride accompanies this desire, while humility leads to a more plain attire:
And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands; (D&C 42:40, c.f. Alma 1:6, 32; 4:6; 5:53; 31:28; 4 Nephi 1:24; Mormon 8:36)
Pondering these scriptures, I am led to wonder if I am not seeing a similar thing in my own stake. Some of the people in our stake boundaries are very affluent. It is not uncommon to see a family own a large home, two or more cars (often large trucks, expensive SUVs, vans, or sports cars), a boat, other recreational vehicles, and a host of other creature comforts. I only mention this to illustrate the financial status of some in my stake. Thus, if the association holds true, it is these people that are more prone to wear costly apparel and follow the fashion trends of society.
This is not to say, of course, that being wealthy automatically leads to pride and fashion fever. Having agency, such persons can shun the trend and pursue a life of humility and modesty. I am aware of several cases where this has occurred. However, scriptural precedent shows that the affluent are more likely to follow the fads of fashion and take on the “slow stain” of the world. Later in his talk, Elder Holland discussed the modern-day examples of such historically repetitious attitudes:
In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” as Lehi saw, because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough. (Jeffrey R. Holland, via Quoty)
Pres. Young continued in his address by demonstrating the dichotomy that this pursuit of worldliness creates:
I wish to say to you, and you may read it in the Bible if you wish, that he who has the love of the world within him hath not the love of the Father. They who love the things of this world are destitute of the love of the Gospel of the Son of God. This is my Scripture: They who long and lust after the fashions of the world are destitute of the Spirit of God. Every person of experience will testify that this is the truth. (Brigham Young, via Quoty)
These are bold words, but it is important to look at the underlying principle. By placing the desires of our heart in Babylon (by following her trends, adorning ourselves similarly, and assuming her lifestyle) we are choosing to love the things of this world over the things of God. No man, as we know, can serve two masters. It is as Elder Holland said: true disciples of Christ must be recognized in appearance as such. Try to imagine sister missionaries dressed to the nines, adorned with makeup and jewelry, and hair perfected down to the last strand. Would they, in walking down the street, be recognized as emissaries of the Savior?
Perhaps we underestimate how our spirits are affected by the way we dress. Just as we are counseled to avoid sloppy and disrespectful clothing, so too are we taught to dress appropriately and cleanly, in line with our titles as children of God: future kings and queens. The link between our apparel and our attitude is exemplified in the following quote:
There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking. (Virginia Woolf, via Quoty)
It would do well, as always, to analyze how our example, the Savior, lived this doctrine:
I think it is significant to note that when the Savior appeared after his resurrection, he was simply attired. “They saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe” (3 Ne. 11:8). Here was the Master of Creation! He could have worn anything he desired, but he chose a plain, white robe.
This teaches me an important lesson. Just as we can be too casual in our clothing, we can also be too pompous. The Savior’s presence brought dignity and honor to the situation. He didn’t need to impress anyone by what he wore.
In the temple, this also holds true. Each person dresses in white. It is the right clothing for the spiritual climate. It adds to the sacred beauty of the setting. And it reminds us that there is no social status before our Father. What distinguishes our souls is their righteousness, and to be clothed in righteousness is what matters most of all. (John H. Groberg, “Right for the Climate,” New Era, Mar 1992, 4)
Being both distracting and detracting, it is evident that the excessive fashions and trends of the world have no place in church, nor among the Saints at all. As costly apparel is one of the signs of pride (whether we would like to admit it or not), we would all do well to examine our wardrobes and make alterations as necessary.
As a final thought, I have wondered if it is only to humble ourselves that we are commanded to dress neatly and plainly. Perhaps there are several other reasons, but one significant reason has stood out to me in my studies. The idea is presented in the following verse:
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)
Note the characteristics of the persons here described. They gave generously, assisted the poor and needy, and dressed neat and comely (sans costly apparel). It seems that by abstaining from fashionable items and wearing less expensive outfits, the Saints have more money with which to assist those who are less fortunate. Such an idea was proposed by Brigham Young in the same talk cited above:
This reform in fashion and extravagance in dress is needed. God has a purpose in it, and so have his servants. What is it? If the Lord has given me means and I spend it needlessly, in rings for my fingers, and jewelry for adornment, I deprive the Priesthood of that which they ought to have to gather the poor, to preach the Gospel, to build temples and to feed the hungry in our midst. I deprive a people, who will by and by inherit the earth, of so many blessings. Every yard of ribbon that I buy that is needless, every flounce, and every gewgaw that is purchased for my family needlessly, robs the Church of God of just so much. But it seems as though the people do not think of these things; they do not lay them to heart. Our wives and daughters seem to forget that they have responsibilities resting upon them in these respects. The conduct of a great many of them indicates a care for nothing but, “How much can I get? Can I get everything I want? I wish I could see something new, I want to pattern after it!” This manifests the spirit of the world, and a foolish, vain disposition.
Thus, having spent their money (or increased their debt) on another pair of shoes, a new outfit, or some additional jewelry, the individual is less able to use such funds to acquire food, shelter, and other basic items for those who are in want. By this physical manifestation of our pride, then, we put ourselves in a compromising position where we not only find it difficult to fulfill the command to aid the poor, but more easily justify our inability to do so. Thus, sin begets sin.
It is apparent, therefore, that Latter-day Saints should not seek to follow every fashion trend of our day. As a purposefully peculiar people, we are commanded to flee from every worldly sin, and in all ways represent our Savior—in action, word, deed, and dress.
It is my hope that instead of spending a great deal of time physically getting ready for church, we take more time to spiritually prepare. And I hope, despite the always alluring and ever changing fashion trends of the day, that our dress—like our words and actions—might make us recognizable, as Elder Holland said, as disciples of Christ.