“The first test of a truly great man is his humility” [John Ruskin Modern Painters]
Coco Chanel, creator of the Chanel brand and the only fashion designer on the list of “The 100 Most Influential People of the 20th century”, once famously stated, “Modesty is the Highest Elegance.”
Oh, Coco. Why aren’t these words on billboards all over the planet, in this confusing world of 2022? We could really use your classic and timeless wisdom right about now. Come to think of it, “classic” and “timeless” are also words that remind me of your imitable style.
Do you love fun clothes? If so, me too! I love so many points on the sliding scale of wearables. I love refined elegance. But I’m also a huge fan of oversized slouchy sweatshirts, sweatpants, and snuggly slippers. Remember how choosing clothing and getting dressed was such a treat when we were say, three years old? I still feel that way. The textures, the colors, the comfort of clothing…it’s just fun!
So you can imagine that after (the spirit of truth hit me like a truck and) I got baptized a Latter-Day Saint at age 19, I squinted my eyes a little at the modesty part of my new spiritual career.
What in the heavens were the heavens wanting me to do? I mean I already had many dressing issues “covered.” Why did I need an
upgrade? I had to do a lot of souls (and closet) searching on this one. Here are five things I have learned over the years about modesty:
- Modesty isn’t one-stop shopping.
It’s not just about clothes.
It’s tied to all the life challenges.
This only took me a big
minute decade to figure out. Modesty is applicable nearly everywhere. Think of modest: language, decor, behavior, grooming, a show of status. Modesty and moderation both spring from the Latin word “mod” which means kind, and measured. It turns out that modesty is about kindness (more on this ahead) and it really is about being measured- intelligently, holding back a bit. When employed intentionally and creatively with clothing, modesty can also express simplicity, which can naturally evoke elegance. As Coco Chanel also said, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” Yes. When I think of refinement, I think of simplification, and when I think of a modest, simplified, refined wardrobe, I think of elegance. Elegance and modesty can be best friends. As one author and stylist has written: “Elegance and modesty work together to create beauty. Beauty is pleasing, graceful, and lovely. It is what happens when the inside matches the outside and both are good.”
Drilling down to its essence, modesty is about not drawing undue attention to ourselves, through clothing choices or otherwise. Modesty doesn’t mean “If you’ve got it, flaunt it. “ It means “If you’ve got it, you don’t need to flaunt it.”
Here is an example of someone ‘flaunting’ less than he certainly could. Warren Buffett (worth 114. 4 billion dollars and counting) still lives in the Nebraska house he bought in 1958 for $31,500. OK, that is crazy amazingly modest. It’s true that he also bought other houses, but he likes living in the modest one in Omaha, in a house that was probably great for raising his three children. He could be shining a very expensive floodlight on his wild wealth, but he took a far more modest approach.
Similarly, if someone has a “billion dollar set of abs/body” and doesn’t flaunt that publicly, what do we inwardly note about this restraint? It engenders deep respect, doesn’t it? Somewhere, in all of us, we know a lot more about what is right than we sometimes even tell ourselves. But when we see someone doing what is right, there is a silent, spiritual “tip of the hat.” I have tipped my own hat many times to a number of outfits worn by Kate Middleton and Princess Diana. I deeply respect their generally respectful command of fashion.
- Modesty is deeply connected to humility.
It’s been said that the way we dress is a reflection of who we are on the inside. Are we humble?
It’s been said that “Modesty is humility in dress…it displays a desire to serve others…” I love that. Who doesn’t ultimately want to be humble and serve others? But let’s buckle up buttercups, for the bolder rest of the quote: “Immodesty is an expression of arrogance and an absence of humility, because it is only concerned with drawing attention to oneself.”
Yikes. If that statement was running for office it wouldn’t likely get a lot of votes, huh? On the other (on my hopefully modestly ringed) hand, this passionate statement is a good reminder to be careful. We can avoid “fashion pride.”
Temptations to be prideful are all around us. As we sail through this mortal journey, pride temptations just try to grab us, like barnacles seem to grab hold of a ship. We are constantly trying to prevent and remove these barnacles. Modesty can prevent pride barnacles because modesty fuels humility, and vice versa. This is one of the superpowers of modesty-engendering humility.
And humility delivers tremendous life payoff! For example, studies have shown that humble people deal better with stress. They also experience higher levels of physical and mental well-being. They exhibit greater generosity, helpfulness, and gratitude. All of these qualities contribute to better connections with others.
Further, modesty doesn’t just hold hands with humility. Together they can create unity. And unity, of course, encourages more peace on earth. Can we button/zip all this up by saying that modesty and humility can save the world?! Maybe not yet, but modesty and humility can help to save our individual worlds, right now. The Savior said that “the kingdom of God is within.” We build a kingdom by filling it with authentically beautiful things.
Modesty and humility are authentically beautiful things.
- Modesty helps us fulfill our need to be connected with others.
Researcher Brene Brown has said that “we are all hard-wired for connection (to others)”.
When these connections are healthy, they are catalysts for joy.
We are all dualities of the physical body and eternal spirit. Our bodies are the wrapping paper for our spirits-the most authentic and truest parts of ourselves. So, if we want to connect to others with true authenticity, we need to connect at the spirit or spiritual level.
Our spirits can only accomplish this deep connection if we are focused on the entirety of one another, not just the physical aspects.
For example, imagine that you meet a little child for the first time. This child enters your home and yells for the entire duration of the visit. This child is actually an adorable, precious spirit. But you don’t really get to experience the preciousness because it’s hard to get past the yelling. The yelling makes you feel things. The enthusiasm of the yelling may get your curious attention. But it’s hard to get to know the child at a deeper level.
Similarly, immodest clothing can act as a dominant “voice.” Ironically, it’s harder to “see” the entirety of a person when we literally see so much of their physical aspects. It’s like these aspects are yelling, which makes it hard to hear the still small “voice” of their possibly stunningly gorgeous spirit.
There is no higher beauty than a stunningly gorgeous spirit.
Further, let’s say someone is looking for a life partner, and “leading with the physical” because he or she values the physical aspects of their duality more highly than the spiritual aspects. Then they find that life partner. What’s next? If they have valued physical beauty over spiritual beauty, what happens as they normally age, gain a few pounds, etc.? Would this not create great anxiety? On the other hand, if they have led with their spiritual beauty, then aging isn’t as big of a concern.
Unlike our physical aspects, our spiritual aspects can become even more beautiful over our time spent on earth. What our partner “saw” within us at 20 will still be “visible” at 90.
Inner beauty is the most real, the most lasting thing about us on earth. You can discern it with your spiritual intuition. You can feel it.
Spiritual beauty can also show up in our countenances, adding physical beauty as well. This is because spiritual beauty is infused with actual light. I feel a commercial tagline coming on: ‘For that authentic, lit from within glow, choose a style that brings the light’!”
When we neglect the cultivation of spiritual beauty, the result is naturally the opposite-increased spiritual darkness. This also shows up, sooner or later, in our countenances. Think of the mean queen in Snow White. Her features were in the realm of classic beauty, but the light was sucked right out of that woman. No moisturizer can fix that.
When we seek the spirit through modest choices in all areas of our lives, we can have the spirit come and dwell with us in abundance. This is a gift beyond compare.
As Orson Pratt explained “The gift of the Holy Ghost…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops the beauty in person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”
All of these gifts of the spirit lead to connection with others because the spirit is the greatest, most authentic, purest people connector the world has ever known. Making intentional, intelligent, modest clothing choices helps deliver spiritual versions of UPS truckloads of gifts of the spirit to our doors.
4. Consciously choosing modesty can increase self-esteem.
There are lots of voices out there sharing lots of ideas for increasing self-esteem. But the scriptures, when we flip that word “scripture” around, contain ultimate “sure scripts.” For example, in D&C 125 we read: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”
There is a feminine of self-esteem in our world. Interestingly, at the same time, there is also a famine of virtue engendering, spirit complementing, self-esteem raising clothing. Hmmm…Further, we sometimes see a famine of clothing comfort. Modesty can help.
For example, contrast an elegant Kate Middleton, confidently shaking hands outside in a crowd, with a sea of female prom attendees pulling and tugging at dresses all night because the dresses just can’t keep them feeling covered. Comfort levels vary widely in these scenarios, don’t they? Modesty high-fives virtue for the comfort win.
Virtue is worth going after because virtue is actually a clean, spiritual, power source. Virtue can heal (see also: the story in the New Testament who was healed by the Savior when a woman touched the hem of His garment. He asked “Who touched me? For I perceive that virtue hath gone out of me?”) When virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly, our confidence really can wax strong, even in the presence of God.
And who wouldn’t want so much confidence that even the presence of God wouldn’t feel intimidating? This level of authentic, confidence can’t be bought in a store. It can’t be found in a bottle. It can’t even be found by thinking positive thoughts. But it can be found through virtue. Virtue is found through connecting with God, and gently, imperfectly (with lots of grace and self-forgiveness) trying to move in the direction of what He has asked us to do.
God has asked us to be modest. He has asked us to “stand in holy places.” He has asked us to care for our “mobile holy places”, our very own bodies, which He has told us are actually temples. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you…?”
We know how temples are treated: with great, consistent, loving and reverent care. Can we offer the same to our earthly temples-our bodies? Can we honor them with exercise, healthy foods, lots of water, and lovely, modest clothing? Don’t our bodies deserve the same kind of love, care, but also respect that we give our geographical temples? Yes.
When our bodies are cared for, and our thoughts are garnished with virtue, self-esteem naturally increases.
5. Modesty is about God
At its core, modesty is far more about God than it is about us. This last one gets me right in the “soul-ar plexus.” Maybe in the deepest part of us, what we really want is for God to one day say those immortal words “Well done, my good and faithful servant”
As author Cindy Currin has said “Our most important reason for dressing modestly is because we love God. We want to give Him glory. Paul wrote that we are to dress as women who profess godliness. He was saying that we are not to live like those who don’t know God. Our words, actions, and clothing are to match our profession of faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we claim to know Christ, the Scripture tells us our wardrobe should support our claim. We are not free to live, act, nor dress in any way we please, for we are not our own. We have a new Master. As ambassadors of Christ we represent Him!”
She goes on to ask us to ask ourselves some really hard, but honest questions, and then she admonishes us:
“Why do you wear the things you do? Whose attention and approval are you seeking? Whose glory are you really concerned with? Does the way you dress reflect God’s glory or dim His glory? Think about your clothing and what it announces about you. (Ask)… Does this garment draw attention to my body and detract from the light of Christ in me? Will this in any way contradict my profession of faith in Christ? Would I be embarrassed for Christ to see me in this? Will this bring glory to God?…. Let’s dress in a way that reflects His glory rather than dims it. Let’s be adorned as unto Him because we are on a mission; and He is worthy to be glorified in everything, even the way we dress.”
We love God, and God has asked us to love one another. Making thoughtful and intelligent choices about clothing is a way to love others, to show them kindness. Choosing clothing that honors our bodily temples sets a great example for others. This is a way of loving them. It helps them to focus more on the entirety of a person which includes their beautiful spirits. This is a way of loving them. Modest clothing indicates compassion, as it doesn’t seek to compete. This is another way of being kind to God’s children.
When we left pre-mortality, we knew we wanted to come to earth to learn how to become more like our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. They had it all figured out. We wanted to come and figure it out, without having them with us in person. We were sent to walk by faith. We are on earth to learn from our own experiences the differences between good and evil, between right and wrong, and between good, better and best.
We are now in this process! We are learning to choose God over the world. We want His approval.
We may want the approval of our Heavenly Mother as well.
Our mother in heaven, the wife of our Father in heaven, is pure and feminine, kind and good. She is thoughtful, patient, and beautiful inside and out. She is brilliant and compassionate beyond mortal understanding. She is humble and meek*, in the best way.
In short, she is modest. Modesty is a part of her power package. Modesty reigns in regality within her. One day I will see her again, and I will bow before our queen. I can only imagine how she will look at me. I deeply hope that she looks at me with acceptance, for trying, very imperfectly, to honor the body and spirit she sent me here to honor.
The genius of modesty is that it is about so much more than clothing. It’s about keeping commitments to follow our Savior and to return home to our Heavenly parents, better, wiser, stronger, and far more beautiful because we will be filled with the most glorious, stunningly gorgeous, comforting light we can not even yet imagine.
It’s all ahead.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1Corinthians 2:9)
“For whosoever, exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11)