Modest is Hottest: The Evolution of Mormon Fashion


By: Carly Walker //

I’m in an LA thrift store awkwardly standing on one foot in an attempt to put on a shoe when I hear it. “Now you just look Mormon,” a girl snickers to her friend.

Oh no. Oh no she didn’t.

I whip my hair back just in time to see the girl’s wrinkled nose staring at a piece of clothing. My thoughts are confirmed.

Oh yes. Oh yes she did.

She used the word Mormon to describe a dress so homely, it could only pass as chic at a retirement home on a casual Friday.

I laugh (too forced, with too much nose flare) and limp defeated on one heel away from the giggling duo.


Looking back, I wish I would have revealed my Mormon status. In my brain I would have said something clever while flaunting my pencil skirt. However since my curves and my jokes wouldn’t do justice, I wrote this post to explain to women and men everywhere why Mormon women don’t wear gunny sacs and pioneer dresses, but do believe in covering up.

The Beginning

In the beginning, me and other teeny bop Mormons struggled a little bit with fashion.

And by a little bit, I mean a lot.

Our religion believes in being modest and covering up from shoulders to thighs (for good reasons that I will explain in a moment). At a young age, this was hard to understand. Especially for me. I had already secured my spot as a social outcast from the minute I sprouted baby giraffe legs (reference photo above) in Junior High to the time I slipped in a puddle of fry sauce in front of the whole school during High School. I wanted to fit in and the whole modesty idea wasn’t helping. Covering up and competing with flawless skin and mini skirts for male attention was a struggle. The smell of fry sauce may have also been a deterrent.

I wasn’t the only one. Our Mormon ways of compensating with fashion fads in order to be a part of the crowd had the opposite effect and may have given us the “homely” reputation we have now. See chart below.

Note: Since launching this post last year, I realized the importance of protecting the identities of girls featured on this chart (some of the photos were given to me to use for the post, but others were found in a Google search). I can admit mistakes. I can also use photoshop. Solution: cat heads. 
Modest is hottest

Public Apology

AHH shocking I know. And trust me. We are sorry for what we did. But here’s the happy ending. When me and other Mormon girls my age grew up, we slowly learned the reasons why we dress the way we do. We stopped caring about looking like everybody else. We realized we were too different. Instead of trying to be something we obviously weren’t, we started to dress the way we wanted to, coined the term “modest is hottest,” and then rocked it like a boss.

Soon other brands unknowingly played into our style needs and we started mixing and matching and creating looks like these.

Long shirts
Onesies (one-piece swimsuit)
Long skirts
Vintage dresses (Mormons are obsessed with family history and genealogy. Making us the ultimate hipsters.)
So now that you know how Mormons cover up,  let’s talk about why:

Reasons I Cover My Rock-Solid Abs

There are a lot of reasons why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advises women to dress the way they do. Here are some of my personal beliefs in a cliff notes version, and if you would like the Church’s official statement you can click here.

  • We believe that the human body is amazing and it’s our way of respecting it.
  • We believe in abstinence until marriage. Modesty helps with that.
  • We believe in a God who loves us for who we are and not what we wear.
  • We believe there is a beauty that comes from being loving, charitable, kind, smart, healthy, and happy. Modesty helps us focus more on those qualities.
  • We believe in keeping God’s commandments. The way we dress is one of the commandments we choose to keep, even if it’s not always the most fashionable.

Gordon B. Hinckley, a former President of the LDS Church, summed it up best when he said the following:

“I do not hesitate to say that you can be attractive without being immodest. You can be refreshing and buoyant and beautiful in your dress and in your behavior. Your appeal to others will come of your personality, which is the sum of your individual characteristics.”

I may have struggled a bit through high school. I was never the smooth skin in spaghetti straps that caught guy’s attention. But as much as I didn’t love being left out then, I am personally glad that I was.

When high school faded, I realized that I didn’t need drooling men or Vogue magazine to make me feel good. I already felt beautiful and smart in my own sweater-covered skin. I learned how to succeed in life without affirmation from media that in many ways is leading women to believe they have to look like sex objects or underfed zombies to be appealing.

More importantly, I learned that it’s okay to be different and to represent what you believe (whatever it is that you believe.) And that confidence is worth at least half of the blackmail photos of my teen years that will haunt me moving forward.

Credits: I may or may not have creepily taken pics from friends’ Instagrams. Follow these babes here: Header image= Laurenlong shirt = Ashly, long skirt = Lex, onesie = Marlee, vintage dress = Heidi.


Add yours
  1. 2
    Julia Olsen

    I laughed because I can totally identify with you. I appreciate what you’ve said, your sense of humor, and the truthfulness of the LDS belief in being modest. I’m totally bookmarking this and saving it for a Young Women lesson. Hope that’s ok. Modest is hottest!!!

  2. 4
    Megan McAdams

    This is not only witty and beautifully written, but also cool that you’ve shared a little about what we believe. You’re cool!

  3. 5

    I stumbled across this page randomly, and am so glad I did! A couple of days ago I read an article about modesty from some of these “Mormon feminists”… and there was a totally different spirit there. I like your article much better 🙂

  4. 9
    Michele Junior

    I am so thrilled that my daughter shared your sight with me. I’ll look forward to your darling, inspirational, and entertaining blogs. Thanks again!

  5. 10

    I noticed you sited the positive examples above…I hope you also asked permission from the pictures of the negative examples. One of them is my sister. If you didn’t get her direct permission, I ask you to please at least black out the eyes of these girls. Its basic internet courtesy (not to mention the copywrite infringement you may have inflicted). I’d ask her this directly, but she’s out serving her mission right now and can’t take her time to look at these kinds of things. Anyway, that picture is not representative of her style or ability to be modest and fashionable. I’d hate for the girls in her ward to look at this in a YW meeting and see her face as a bad example…

    • 11

      Hi A,

      I noticed your comment on WP this morning about the Modest is Hottest article on Can you specify which photo it is? All of the larger photos were approved by the girls featured, and most of the smaller photos on the graph were submitted by my friends and their roommates in Utah.

      Let me know! I am happy to blur her face if need be, especially if there was a miscommunication as far as photo credits.


  6. 12

    I was totally with you until you said “There are a lot of reasons why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advises women to dress the way they do.” Two problems: Modesty isn’t all about dress, and it isn’t all about women.

    But eventually it will be, I suppose, at least culturally, since no one really seems to hear the full message.

    • 13

      Ok, I agree with you, however, men don’t seem to have as big of a problem covering up. Yes, that baggy pants thing is ridiculous. But that is the only thing I see with guys.
      Also, the whole point of this post was about girls. My hunch is that a much larger percent of the readers are girls. So that is the audience, therefore that’s what you write.

      Modesty when the church talks about it is talking about dress. Read the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet and you will see. Yes, we shouldn’t be advertising ourselves or be conceited, but I think a lot of those actions can be eliminated when you dress modestly. There are reasons the church says what it does. The pamphlet helps a lot with any confusion. So if anyone else agrees with @mejaka, please realize what this post is intended to do and who it was intended for. Then if you have any questions about what else the church says about modesty, please look at the pamphlet.

  7. 14

    This is very interesting. I am not Mormon, but you sound delightful. I will tell you that although it may not be anything you need, and I understand your frustration, the fashion industry is like any other. It provides jobs, it gives people a way to use their creativity, and it brings plenty of joy to people, myself included. So lets not throw stones at each other. Its not necessary. In the long run its probably easier to be modest, and less concerned with appearance if you DON’t have rules, but simply the inclination. Fashion is usually about exaggeration, and conviction..its not about showing cleavage or hiding it. OK, lets let that go…
    very interesting and healthy outlook on life. Actually i always wondered if there ever were Mormons involved in fashion…now i think i know the answer. its pretty much impossible.

    • 15

      Thanks for your comment, Martine! Actually, there are a few Mormons who have done quite well in the fashion world. Jon Moe is a very well known fashion photographer, you can see his work here:

      As far as the blog world goes, many Mormon women have pretty famous fashion blogs. Here are a few:

      Also there was a Mormon on Project Runway a few years ago and I am blanking on his name! I’m sure this is not even close to a comprehensive list, just people off the top of my head. Dressing modestly while staying in style can be a struggle, but not one you can’t pull off 🙂

      Thanks again for saying hello!

    • 16
      Carly Walker

      Hi Martine,

      Thanks for your comments. I have edited my post to make it seem a little less like I was throwing stones at the Fashion industry. I agree with you that many designers and artists in the industry have a lot to offer and we could work hand in hand. I’m so sorry it came off the wrong way. It’s my obsession with fashion that made me want to write this post to show girls that you should find ways to creatively express who you are. And not be ashamed to be true to yourself in the way you dress. Whether it’s cheetah pants, hot pink lipstick, or in my case…really long skirts. (;

      Thanks for your insight!


  8. 17

    I do have to say that retro swimsuits, highrise jeans/slcks, and below the knee skirts are all works of fashion genius….who knows, maybe you guys did bring it to all of us, for which I thank you. My winter uniform these days is below the knee pencil/trumpet skirt with ankle booties and turtlenecks or slouch sweater…would actually fit with your framework. Although crop tops are still essential to me….perhaps you are improving fashion for all of us! theres not much to like about a micro mini, really. So…thank you.

  9. 18

    Carly’s not saying that modesty is about clothing or women only, thats just what this article happens to be about
    lets just celebrate it for the great article that is is! As a stake YW pres. I will definately be sharing this!
    Thanks Carly,
    AWESOME article

  10. 19

    Just to bring it to peoples attention I don’t think Jon Moe is a very good representative for Mormon fashion/ beliefs. His business (if you look at whats really on his site) certainly ventures into territory that is not, and far from, in line with our beliefs. I’m a bit saddened that I saw some of his photo’s and even more so because its Sunday today.

    Besides that example though this is a great article that introduces those not of our faith to what our general beliefs and decisions are when it comes to fashion. Being a guy myself, I would add for those that may be interested, that we hold the same beliefs and standards that women have in our church.

    Things like this article tend to focus mainly on women rather than guys simply because of the world we live in. Advertising for instance tends to take on the “sex sells” mentality and portrays women and young girls in all kinds of ways; the same is true for men, but in comparison not on such a massive scale. Because of this trend our church (and many others) have exerted effort (like this article) in helping girls who desire to uphold certain standards find that help and strength. Again the same is true for men, just a different scale.

  11. 20

    THANK YOU for not saying that we cover up so that young men don’t get dirty thoughts. Every time someone says that at church I think, “Since when did we start blaming someone elses ‘sins’ on another person?” That is akin to blaming the television for dirty thoughts because it portrayed sexual images. Please. Brothers and sisters. We dress modestly because we have respect for ourselves, not because the young women are giving dirty thoughts to the young men. The young men get those on their own.

    • 21

      “And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, While it’s true that men are responsible for where their thoughts go and where they linger, we women are responsible for where we attempt to lead them. If you encourage someone to drink alcohol and they do it, you aren’t responsible for the choice they made, but you will have to answer for whether you tried to help them to obey the commandments, or hindered them, with your actions.

      • 22

        I would respectfully disagree with both you and Elder Oaks. If a woman were to use her immodesty in a way to flirt with someone and consciously try and get someone to think indecently, that’s one thing (and comparable to your drinking example), but the simple act of dressing up doesn’t force someone’s thoughts unless they allow it. As a man, I have much more self-discipline than to think something improper anytime a woman wears something “less modest”.

        • 23

          Darling Benjamin, Far be it from me to tell a man he is wrong. It’s not your job to disagree with Elder Oaks or me with you. It our job to see how it fits to serve our souls. There’s a lot lot more than thoughts going on in this world. We can welcome this counsel as part of our armour because like it or not you may inadvertently see something that you wish had never been exposed to. After month of trying to erase it from your brain….You might have appreciated >>promoting <<this Elders Counsel then. Wisdom is not convenient but it sure smoothes our path. Sweeping even good advice under a rug makes our path unpleasant. love to you and your family to Benjamin..excuse the darling I went all zsa zsa …glad you are enjoying your strength in the face of immodesty. Keep up the great work. Our wise Elders are letting us know that hosts of heaven are not immodest. Other hosts are though, just not heavenly ones.

  12. 26

    Thanks for posting this, fashion has been a struggle for us Mormons and it’s really hard to find appropriate shirts in the summer and to find higher neckline shirts. It is so hard and some people just give up searching for ideas to make things appropriate that they just wear whatever they find. But modesty is so important and we have to keep it up, and think about our values we are living up to. We all know the values, and say them every Sunday so why ignore our promises to God? We shall live up to those values and represent with modesty and confidence!

  13. 29

    Fashion is struggle for everyone and not just those who are members of the church of Jesus Christ of the latter day saints. A lot of people feel the same way.There have been many women in history who were very modest. Times have changed and women need to dress nice but learn to lady like too. I try to be and i’m not the best at it but since i’m married I can tell you that men don’t like immodesty in women but that it doesn’t take a lot for them not to notice not just in our dress but our actions as well. I believe modesty helps your self esteem. their are women who fully cloth themselves all down the ankles that’s their choice. where to you draw the line. I do think that fashion should do it for everyone that buys clothes. We all buy why not make clothes modest too look nice. I love going to Gormans because it’s fashion and style and if somethings to low i put a shirt under and I look great. God gave us bodies and how we use them or abuse them we will be judged and i hope i find favor in gods eyes.

  14. 32

    Agree with the guy above. Modest is by no means the hottest. Sorry for the blunt reality but let’s face it, a mini skirt versus Capri’s or skirt with leggings isn’t even close on the sexiness scale. But it is the bestest. Lol. Stay classy.

  15. 33
    Ali Lewis

    I will never forget when you slipped in the fry sauce. EVER. you were my hero the way you championed the situation. Great Article and someday I will reference this to my young girl. I’m printing it off 🙂

  16. 34

    Modest is NOT necessarily hottest and bare shoulders or a deep cut back can be extremely elegant on a slinky evening gown or party dress.

    The LDS church only has approximately 6.5 million members in the US, with only a 30% activity rate.
    Why,then, would any female be interested in following a sister-wife fashion style?

    In my opinion, fashion emphasis should always be on good style for a person’s particular body shape rather than measuring ‘modesty’ by centimeters.

    Most of us recognize quality work and style when we see it.

    • 35

      I feel like you didn’t read the article. It clearly explains WHY Mormons dress the way they do. They don’t do it for fashion or styles reasons; they do it because they love God more than “fitting in”. Its cool that there are things in style that fit their standards.

  17. 36
    Alan Au

    I grew up in the fashion business, mainly men’s but I did work in women’s fashion as a personal shopper and stylist for a major dept store. The most interesting thing about modesty is that in EVERYTHING else outside of women’s wear, SEXY is modest. A good portion of men’s wear, home decor, home appliances, electronics, vehicles. It’s minimalist in most design by hiding its features. PC vs MAC. MAC is sexy, its sleek, covered, modest. Same with high end fridges, dishwashers, flat screens, cars etc.. Everything that is SEXY has its best features covered, hidden, etc. EXCEPT for how society defines women’s wear. A young woman in my ward 13 years ago wrote a great talk about fashion and titled is “Modest is Hottest”. It made me think. Modesty is sexy and should be. Modesty should be SEXY in women’s wear like everything else in this world described as sexy. Thank you for continuing the charge.

  18. 37

    I don’t get the whole ‘modesty’ thing…. It’s all cultural. There is no good reason not to bare skin – other than cultural norms…. There are tribes where women only wear skirts – it’s no big deal, because breasts are looked at as tools for feeding children. There’s nothing wrong with nudity and the human body. It’s only sexualized by god culture and individuals within it.

  19. 38
    Cait Pevensie

    Your post (along with a few of those making comments) would seem to indicate that dressing modestly tis a singularly Mormon mark of distinction or that Mormons came up with the idea of the Biblical basis for its value. From this I can only surmise that you must come from a Mormon-dominated subculture and are entirely unaware that Mormons did not invent the concept. (But that is another topic for another day.)
    Coming from a very large Mormon family—each member having been through the temple and considering themselves “active” —I have been able to observe Mormon fashion quite closely. I have a number of young nieces (ages 15-35) who still, on occasion, wear t shirts under tanks and plunging necklines, as well as sweaters over formal sleeveless evening attire. More still manage to show at least a little cleavage. All, however, manage to hike their skirts to lengths that would have had me thrown out of BYU , and frequently their clothes are so tight—combined with breast and other enhancement surgeries which prevail in the Utah culture—that the result is a look that can be described as wholly…..immodest. No one seems to mind—even for photos outside the temple. Marie Osmond herself frequently wears outfits that could cause one to blush.
    The passion of these young women for doing their hair and makeup and wardrobe and then posting the results on Facebook (selfies and otherwise) has reached pathological levels. While Mormons are busy pointing out their superior form of sartorial modesty (distinguished most notably by their desire to hide their shoulders), they seem to have seriously neglected teaching the virtue of humility to their young.

  20. 39

    “We believe in a God who loves us for who we are and not what we wear.”

    Yet if a Mormon girl wears a dress that doesn’t completely cover her kneecaps and the very edges of her shoulders, she’s judged an immoral skank and shunned by the good Latter-Day Saints around her. It seems measuring modesty by hemlines is sending the opposite message than it intended . . .

    • 40

      Oh meg,
      Ive seen lots of knee caps at church, and never once have a felt that person, (who may even have been me) was judged as a skank or immoral, or judged in any way actually.
      I thunk more what the author might have meant by God doesnt care what wear, (atleast this has been my experience) is He does care if it meets the latest style trend, if it has a name brand label of some kind, or of it came from a second hand bin.
      He does ofcourse care how we feel about ourselves, whether or not we respect ourselves and Him and the body he gave us, and how and for what purposes we are using that body.

  21. 41

    I agree with Cait; especially with the way Marie Osmond dresses. She is an embarrassment. She tries so hard to dress like a 20 year old and it does not help with the plastic surgery, including tattooed eyeliner and such. We need someone who can be an example to the younger women for instance…Debbie Osmond?

  22. 43

    I wanna see an article on how Mormon MEN should dress modestly! I think that too often we forget that modesty in dress applies to men as well as women. But great article either way 🙂

  23. 46

    The problem with describing Mormons covering up as being dressing modestly… is that it implies that girls and women not covered up are ‘immodest’. When it’s hot outside? I have enough self worth to wear a nice cool tank top and shorts. When I wear a v-neck or low cut dress, I have no guilt or shame because I haven’t spent a lifetime worrying what men think about my body. How creepy is it that Mormon men of the past (and present) have decided how women ought to be and dress. I’m empowered as I can wear whatever I want and still feel classy, respected, beautiful.

  24. 47

    SO. Just so you’re aware – the reason you have all the sudden received a flood of comments on this is because you were linked to I only know this because I do marketing for a company called ‘FancySlips’, and in the same forum post they felt the need to not only talk about your website, but also to bash on how ‘awful’ FancySlips are. (This is where ‘Cait’s comment came from, as well.) Not only are they being snarky, but exactly what they make fun of the LDS church for. Their website is just to sit there and bash on all things LDS.

    News Flash: I am NOT mormon/LDS. I found the site because we had traffic from and wanted to see why we were getting it from that source. Again, I’m not LDS, however not only do I wear FancySlips, we sell them to a wide variety of people. (Mormon as well as not Mormon.) It’s not just to ‘cover up our unsightly legs’ or anything like that. It’s also to extend our skirt so when you bend over, not everyone has to see everything you have! I am a mom and have a little girl. I’ve had multiple occasions where she has lifted my skirt to reveal everything underneath it. Having a FancySlip underneath it has saved my skin multiple times. The fact that they felt the need to harp on LDS being covered or not showing skin was ridiculous to me. It’s their belief- why do you care? That’s fine if it’s not ‘Sexy’ to you – it makes them feel comfortable and they like it. I don’t understand how people feel the need to act this way. Your blog posting was adorable and funny. Keep it up.

  25. 49
    Don Garrett

    wow. the fact that so many folks responded with comments like; “I know that girl in the sleeveless … , she is now serving a mission … ” and so on, makes me want to ask the writers of this article … hm, judge much?

    • 50

      If you go back and reread the post, she doesn’t a single time treat any of the girls dressed in more fashionable clothes as being less in any way. She merely presents, “This is the fashion, and this is how Mormon girls try to make the fashion work for them while maintaining modest standards.” She doesn’t talk about seeing girls at church not following those standards. She talks about how style has evolved in her experience from awkward attempts to convert fashion to fit her standards to finding the fashions that already do that.

      In other words, I read absolutely no judgment anywhere in her post. She takes a very kind approach to modesty and tries to explain to someone who isn’t Mormon why they have those standards to begin with. I see no shame in that at all.

  26. 51

    If you are doing it right, sexy isnt modest. And the opposite is absolutely true. There is no room for sex in modesty. And hottness. Class, chic, style, beauty…yeah, those belong.

  27. 53
    Thomas Ballantyne

    Okay… I had to laugh at the mormon adaptation to trending styles. Seen this so many times. Take something revealing and then add layers under it. So layers equals hotter. Is that line a pun then? Still love the line, “Modest is hottest.”

  28. 55

    Can I just say you are awesome? This is such an amazing article! Can’t wait to share it with my YW on Sunday. Thanks for your great example.

  29. 57

    I’m not Mormon, so I don’t know why or how I got here (I’ll look through my history) but I disagree. I’m Christian and I was allowed to wear everything up there except Daisy dukes and bikinis and I’m modest. But the part I disagree with is modest is hottest. Modesty isn’t supposed to be hot. That’s the point. I’m not hot. I don’t want to be. I want to be as beautiful as I can be from the inside out. It’s obviously a-ok if you disagree but you probably will cause I’m not Mormon. P.S. I already have a Mormon aunt praying to try to get me in heaven *rolls eyes* , so please don’t. Thank you! 🙂

    • 58

      Hi Hilly!

      I actually think your comment is very true and I am glad you brought it up. The Mormon culture has coined the phrase ‘modest is hottest’ and it may be overused to the point of losing its meaning. I don’t think wearing a sweater or long shorts makes anyone hotter, but I do think focusing less on what you wear and more on what you do and who you are as a person gives you confidence that in and of itself is beautiful. I wish I would have explained that better in my post. Cheers!


  30. 60

    You posted this ages ago and I just found it during a little random Google searching, but I’d still like to comment. I really enjoyed your article and it allowed me to learn a little bit more about Mormon fashion and modesty. However, it irked me a bit when you said, “I learned how to succeed in life without affirmation from media that in many ways is leading women to believe they have to look like sex objects or underfed zombies to be appealing.” I understand the point you’re trying to make, but the way you said it makes it seem like women who don’t dress modestly don’t learn that. I dress modestly for the most part because that’s my personal style and what I feel comfortable in, but I also sometimes wear short shorts and tank tops, and occasionally show cleavage. however, I wear that because I want to. Not because I feel like I have to; as if I don’t, I won’t be sexy or hot or whatever. I’m quite an intelligent woman and I have ambitious dreams. My one goal in life isn’t to attract some dude who won’t see past my looks so I forever walk around dressed scantily. I don’t believe in being a sex object and attracting men with my body. I didn’t learn those things through modest fashion. I learned it from my mother. So while I agree with your thought, I just wanted to make the point that modesty/Mormonism isn’t the only place that women can learn those values, and for a bit, it seemed as if that was your tone. :/

  31. 64

    i have to say that is the best article I’ve read. i love that you have found a way to be “Modest” yet fashionable..and inspiring young girls to be the same way. its such a beautiful thing that you are doing. keep it up!!

  32. 65

    Wonderful article! That is the kind of info that are supposed to be shared across the net. Disgrace on the seek engines for now not positioning this submit higher! Come on over and visit my website . Thanks =)|

  33. 67

    When it gets down to it, modesty has a lot more to do with someone’s attitude towards the sacred. A woman could show a shoulder and still be modest. Unless that is that you consider a shoulder as being so thrilling to look at that no man should view one before marriage. I think the men and women back in the olden times covered their arms all the way down to their wrists. I’m ok with this, but it would not be considered normal today.

  34. 68
    Mormon Vocab | NORMONS

    […] Mint Ice Cream shake in San Francisco.  The table next to us had two couples, very happy-smiley, modestly dressed couples.  We looked for standard Mormon signs but didn’t want to ask outright to see if they […]

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