Timeless standards transcend the boundaries of culture and context.

I recently posted on the observation that the standards in the 1965 For the Strength of Youth are somewhat silly and dated, not really timeless, when compared to today’s.  A comment was made that the themes (if not the specific standards) are consistent throughout the decades.  I went back through the pamphlets from the 1960s and contrasted it to what is taught today to see what common themes emerge.

At first, it was difficult to see them because the earlier pamphlet is so steeped in cultural norms of the 1960s.

Casual vs. Dressy 

There’s an element of “appropriate” for the occasion, but anything considered too casual is definitely decried in the 1960s standards. In the current church, it seems we still have this tendency (we dress up more than others when we go to church and dances and at BYU), but it has come down quite a bit (denim and jersey knit skirts at church, sandals). There are those who really want to cling to the “dressy = better” thinking, though (e.g. requiring nylons, banning flip flops or open toed sandals). Likewise, the BYU clean-shaven look seems to be motivated by this theme as does the encouragement of some stakes to wear suit jackets to pass the sacrament.  Examples of this focus from the earlier 1965 pamphlet:

  • “When at home working in the yard, hiking, traveling in the mountains, camping, or participating in active sports, girls or women may appropriately wear slacks.”
  • “Young men should always dress appropriately for the place and the occasion.  For special school or church dances, they should wear a suit with dress shirt and tie, but never tennis shoes or “T” shirts.  Sports jackets or dressy sweaters are appropriate apparel for the more casual dances.”
  • “Pants for young women are not desirable attire for shopping, at school, in the library, in cafeterias or restaurants.”
Girls are right.

This was an interesting one. We really don’t hear much gender essentialism in dress guidelines any more like we did in the 1960s. Dress is more unisexual now (all people commonly wear jeans, tee shirts, sweaters).  However, there is plenty of gender essentialism talk in the church still.  It is mostly implied rather than stated now.

  • “Girls should always try to look feminine in their dress.  They should not dress like boys or try to give a masculine appearance.  Dress often determines their actions.”

Body Shaming

I was actually a bit shocked by the comment about women looking ungainly or bony in backless evening gowns. It reminded me of a friend who used to point out women who were wearing bikinis and say how ugly it made them so that this daughters would not want to wear them. I questioned this parenting tactic for several reasons: 1) his daughters would have to see he was wrong about the “ugliness” – many of the women were stunners, 2) it contributes to believing that female bodies are inherently ugly and must be covered up (that’s not the right reason to cover up), and 3) it was very judgmental and mean toward these women who were not doing anything wrong, and it encourages his kids to treat others poorly based on how they are dressed or their lack of adherence to Mormon standards even when they are not Mormons.

  • “Few girls or women ever look well in a backless or strapless dresses.  Such styles often make the figure look ungainly and large, or they show the bony structures of the body.”
  • “A “real lady” does not go out in public, to the market, or to shops with her hair in curlers.”
Golly, the holy ghost is about to go to bed!

The good dancing part seems to be about cultivating talents related to courtship, another theme we still hear but in a much different way. The type of dancing they are encouraging (clever footwork) is also more structured and partner-focused vs. the individualized free form dance styles that have since become more popular. That could easily be a metaphor for dating.

  • “The dance should not be a grotesque contortion of the body such as shoulder or hip shaking or excessive body jerking.”
  • “Members of the church should be good dancers.”
  • “Extreme body movement should be avoided, and emphasis should be placed more on styling and clever footwork.”

Modesty Focus

The guidelines in the 1965 pamphlet are less directly about modesty than we hear today, IMO. But that’s partly because these older guidelines were more scattered in focus.  As we’ve de-emphasized things like gender essentialism and dressiness, we’ve instead pushed ever stricter standards of modesty in terms of how much skin is covered, particularly for females.

We’ve gone from requiring structured dancing when the world moved toward free form dancing to upholding more structured boy-girl dating as society prefers hook ups and hanging out.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

In general, these standards have gotten more reasonable, not less, but the written focus has shifted toward modesty and away from dressiness.  Likewise, the standards have expanded to cover spiritual topics in far more depth, another big improvement.

  • Does this look at the themes of the older standards help explain why we tend to prefer dressier clothes rather than casual?
  • Do you think the body shaming is less of a concern now that it is no longer in the written standards or is it still part of the culture?
  • Do you think these themes are timeless or that they are relics of the past?  Why do you think as you do?
  • Is our focus on structured courtship better than the societal trend to “hang out”?  Why do you think as you do?