I wrote about the more unfortunate part of my recent business trip to Hawaii here. While in Hawaii I always take time to get in the water, and was able to surf early before work and then in the evening after work. I spend a fair amount of time walking about Waikiki, on the beach and the streets around the beach. There are people in all manner of dress (or undress depending on your point of view).

While walking back to my hotel after an evening surf session, I saw a couple of young women walking ahead of me. From my distance, it appeared they were completely naked, as seen from the back, from the waist down. It was only upon closer inspection (done purely for the purpose of this post!) that one could notice that they did indeed have a small string type bottom. As they walked along, they were passed by an elderly couple that one could guess by their dress were from Kansas, or any of those flat states in the middle. Kansas couple did not turn or do a double take. It appeared to be perfectly normal for the throngs of people (throngs of thongs?) walking on the street for these women to be dressed like this. They weren’t the only ones. For further research on this post, I noticed lots of the younger women coming from the beach were dressed like this. And it did not cause a scene.

Of course context is everything here, and they were on the sidewalk adjacent to the beach. But for some reason I don’t think these same young women dressed like that would have been left to themselves if they had been at the Provo Rec Center Pool.

So how much of what we are taught as God given rules of modesty [1] are really from God? Is God a Victorian, who dictated the mores that seem to permeate the LDS Church today? Or is God a Swede and is OK with an Elders Quorum party ending up in a hot tub, everybody naked?

Is our Western Culture’s conservative view of dress something innate from God, or something learned? Adam and Eve did not noticed they were naked until Satan told them, so for them it was learned. Watching my little grandkids run naked around the house with mothers chasing them, it is obviously that “modestly” is a learned trait.

Who is to say what is appropriate dress? Should God, or the people that think they speak for God be the arbitrators of dress? Or should culture and society decide what is proper? If God is the decider of appropriate dress, then it would be unchanging. Yet if a wife of an current apostle were to get in a time machine and end up at a general conference in Brigham Young’s time, she would be deemed immodestly dressed. Her arms and legs below the knee would be showing, implying she was not wearing her garments, and she would be a scandal. I think Elder Holland said it best when in a March 2021 YSA broadcast, used his hands to explain where the world is—with regard to morality and marriage—and where the Church is. He then moves his hands to show the world progresses (getting more liberal), then the church follows, just lagging behind. He then says the “quite part out loud” when he realizes his church hand is where the world hand used to be (40 years ago), and says “and before long you look up and we are perilously close to where we never thought to be before”, and yet his hand is exactly where the world was at the start of his little hand show. The look on his face when he realizes he has painted himself into a corner is priceless. Yet this is exactly what the Church has done over the last 200 years with regard to dress and other social mores. (watch the video here to see this for yourselves)

Is there a happy medium where we can acknowledge God’s hand in dictating our dress, yet admit that it is driven in part by the current culture? Or is God’s dress standard destine to be 20-30 years behind the world’s for any given culture, and that, in fact is the purpose of the standard, just to be different?

[1] I’m using the Church’s definition of modesty. I know that modesty means so much more than how it is used exclusively in Church lingo to imply “proper clothing”.

Image by Remco de Vries from Pixabay