Earlier this year, the British BBC reported on an unexpected but growing fashion trend: modest clothing. While reporters found many different ideas about what constituted modest clothing, there was agreement that the trend is being fueled by younger Muslim women who do not want to compromise either their faith or their sense of self-expression through what they wear.
But modest fashion, with dress hemlines below the knee and higher necklines, is also important to many other people. Among these are members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons), a Christian religious group that began in the USA in the 19th century. There are approximately 15 million Mormons around the world today, with over half living in the US. “Our bodies are sacred, so we need to clothe it appropriately,” one American Mormon told me. “We dress modestly in order to not call attention to ourselves. This means not exposing our bodies, so no see-through or sheer clothing, but also not wearing loud colours. I think it boils down to showing respect for myself and my body.”
Both Mormon men and women should dress modestly, she said. “In an everyday situation you probably won’t be able to spot an LDS member. Maybe at the beach, because men would wear longer swim trunks, and women would be in a one piece bathing suits—no bikinis.” Clothing worn to Sunday church services is mostly a personal “matter of taste,” she continued. “I have a long red dress. It’s modest, but I don’t wear it to church because it’s loud.”
Mormons who are initiated and make additional spiritual commitments also go to a temple. The clothing worn to temple must be all white, which symbolizes purity. Women wear white dresses with long sleeves, which are either mid-calf or ankle length, and white shoes. Men wear white suits and ties and white shoes. Larger temples may rent out this clothing, which is considered sacred, or believers can buy the clothes at LDS clothing centres.
Other clothing that is considered sacred is special underwear. Called ‘garments’, these are available at LDS clothing centres only for Mormons who have made certain personal commitments. “Garments remind us of the spiritual promises we have made. They’re sacred. The only time you don’t wear them is in the shower, or swimming, or when you are being intimate.” Garments are always white—except in the case of Mormon military personnel. The LDS and the US military have agreed that Mormon service members can wear camouflage garments.
While I was allowed to photograph the modest clothing for sale at a LDS clothing centre in Utah, I was not allowed to photograph the sacred garments.
Shelley Anderson, 8th October 2017