The longer I write this column, the more I realize that I have no earthly idea which topics are going to push the buttons of Meridian readers. The discussion of honesty was dead in the water, but the topic of prom dresses is a whole nother can of worms. The wearing of formal attire to church on Sunday after the prom is apparently a big tradition through much of the United States, and feelings run strong on both sides of the issue.
Let’s see what our readers have to say:
I’m a YW leader, and the Young Women in my ward wear their prom dresses to church as well, but not once has it taken from my sacrament experience. If anything it has added to it. I’m just happy they are there, prom dress or not, sharing in that sacred ordinance.
Becoming hyper-focused on anything else but why we are there is defeating the whole point of the sacrament. Let’s not lose sight on what truly matters.
“Claritin Clear” in Utah
Love your signature, Claritin. It shows exactly how firm you are in your opinions. The Young Women in your ward are fortunate to have you as a leader. It’s always nice to be led by someone who has your back.
Having just done the whole prom experience, this is fresh in my mind!
Our ward (and most but not all of our stake) is in the “no prom dresses at church” camp. On the one hand, I can understand it. On the other, it seems disappointing and unfair. My daughter chose her gown carefully, and had a beautiful, very modest dress. It was not one that had to be “fixed” or worn with a shrug to make it modest. It had shoulders, a not-too-deep neckline, and set-in sleeves. It was also a floor-length column-style dress, rather than a full princess pouf of tulle. It was fitted, but not vulgar. And, though we stayed conservative, it was not cheap.
We don’t live in an area where she could shop in stores that carry modest dresses: we had to measure carefully, and then order it from afar. Her hair was styled by her mom, not at a salon. Her nails were discount-store-fakes, not a $50 manicure. She was beautiful, and definitely looked LDS amongst a sea of strapless formals and poofy mini-skirts.
I understand why girls would want to wear their dresses to church. Even kids who try to keep the prom costs down, still spend a lot of thought and time and money to prepare for their prom. The expensive dress gets worn only once. Almost all girls do not wear the same dress to two different dances, so it hangs in the closet. Why not get an extra day’s wear out of the dress before putting it away indefinitely? Yes, it is a chance to “show it.” Is that all bad?
Perhaps what is bad is if the girl wears it for the express intention to flaunt it and herself. I found as a YW leader several years ago, that it was a great lesson to my Beehives for them to see the Laurels wearing modest formal dresses. The Beehives wouldn’t have seen the dresses otherwise. What a great way to teach by example! It was especially effective since the “example” girls were right in our own ward, and were the ones the Beehives looked up to anyway.
I do not think that wearing their dress the next day implies in any way that they stayed out all night. My daughter came home before midnight and brought other kids with her, and they played games at our house until their curfews. I also don’t think they want to wear the dress as a badge of glory and flaunt it over the dateless girl that did not attend. Being considerate of others’ feelings is one thing and certainly commendable, but must we always bend over backwards for others?
In the more formal times of yesteryear, were not women told that Sunday best was exactly that ? the best they could afford?
My daughter would have loved to have worn the dress to church the next day. But, she abided by counsel, and decided to only wear her hairstyle and her wrist corsage. In her specific case, I don’t think her dress would have generated distraction at church, but other LDS girls’ dresses could have been too much. Honestly ? trying to navigate the aisles of the chapel around one of those dresses would be disaster. Plus, even with “sleeves” added to a dress, the actual necklines and sleevelines of some modified dresses still leave a lot of skin showing.
So where does a leader draw the line? It would be unfair for one girl to wear her dress, and another girl to be told “no.” I think leaders err on the side of caution and conservativism, and simply tell all girls that their expensive dresses are inappropriate. I’m thankful my daughter chose to obey the counsel without hardness in her heart, even though she didn’t necessarily agree with it.
As my daughter pointed out, what seems unfair is that young men are not told they can’t wear their tuxes to church. Or vest and tie, or tie and suspenders, or whatever was their outfit for the evening. The young men still come to church in their rented apparel (since they still have the stuff until they have to return it on Monday). What’s good for the gander is not for the goose.
We have seen attempts by leaders to try to make up for it, by having an activity that lets the girls wear their dresses. Our ward did a New Beginnings with the girls’ formal dresses representing the colors of the values. Our stake had a formal youth dance for the girls to wear their prom dresses. This backfired, however. In trying to accommodate girls that did not have a formal dress, they opened it to “Sunday best” attire. The result was that girls who actually had formal dresses chose not to wear them, and the girls that did wear floor-length dresses felt overdressed at an activity that was meant for those dresses to be worn.
What is the answer? Is there actual counsel from above the stake level on this subject? I look forward to your readers’ responses.
1st Time Prom Mom
You raise interesting questions, Prom Mom. I was intrigued that your stake has tried to come up with ways that the dresses can be worn a second time for some of the ward members to see (especially those impressionable Beehives!). If any of you know of a situation that has allowed the wearing of those dresses at another function with better success, I hope you’ll let us know.
In my ward growing up, it was a tradition to wear prom wear to church the next day. As a Young Woman, I always liked seeing the older girls wear their “church appropriate” prom dresses to church the day after the big dance ? no other kind ever showed up. I especially enjoyed seeing the priests at the sacrament table in their tuxedos. They looked so handsome.
We’ve been told to look our best for church, and a tuxedo the day after prom fit into that category nicely. To a young girl, it was a message of, “I can dress nicely for a big event, and church is where I should be, instead of sleeping in.
” It never once occurred to me that these youth might have stayed out all night.
I only attended one prom in high school. I felt a bit left out the year I did not attend, but it was because I hadn’t attended the dance. I not once begrudged those who had attended, and was glad they wore their clothing the next day.
When I finally attended prom, I gladly wore my homemade prom dress and corsage, and my date came in his tuxedo. Later, we attended his ward where I watched him bless the sacrament. Both of us had gone home after prom, as had all the others. Prom or not, we grew up in households with a curfew.
We have been told to dress appropriately for church, to treat it as a special event. Even those who come to church in non-church-appropriate clothing, we say, “Well, we’re glad they are here.” Why should we condemn those who are dressed appropriately, even if they are more formal than usual?
What is wrong with showing off something pretty or nice? Do we not do this every Sunday, when we try to decide what dress, or tie, we want to wear? Don’t we go to clothing stores and purchase items that we think are pretty or in which we think we look nice?
If we condemn the youth for dressing formally, should we also condemn the mothers of little girls who spend a great amount of time doing fancy updos in their hair? What about those who wear hats or special dresses for Easter? Does this detract from sacrament meeting, as well? Or how about ties for men and boys with cartoons or sports teams? Should we tell them they should go home and put on something we deem more appropriate for church?
In a society that is growing ever-casual in its dress, outlook and manners, we should rejoice in the youth that choose to wear lovely, appropriate clothing to church, even if it is more formal than we would like it to be. The attitudes described by the person bringing up the complaint are very judgmental, and we have been asked not to be that way.
Be grateful that the girls are dressed modestly ? when they are ? and that the young men look handsome. Don’t make such snap judgments that they youth have been out all night; if they come from responsible households, they weren’t. These youth have been hearing that they should look nice when they come to church; the night after prom, this is the nicest they can imagine looking.
Citizen of the World
Thanks for your input, Citizen. I especially liked your point that the tradition of wearing formal wear to church the day after the prom could inspire some prom-goers to come to church who would otherwise sleep in.
I have always enjoyed seeing the youth in their prom dresses and suits at church the day after.
It is a special time of year and a special event for them. I enjoy telling the youth that they look good and ask if they had a great time.
We have a whole lot of great young people and many of them go out of their way to make prom a good memory for their classmates.
Ed, I really like your idea of approaching the people wearing their formal attire and asking them if they had a great time. Young people like to be noticed ? at least, if it’s in a positive way. Next time I see a teenager in formal attire I’m going to follow your example.
Last week several girls showed up in their modest, adorable prom dresses to church. Several people asked me what I thought about it and I loved seeing those beautiful young girls and their beautiful dresses. It was fun to hear their moms tell about how they got the dress on sale, or grandma purchased it or what ever. My kids are grown and gone. What a treat it was to see them.
I do think they should be modest and appropriate for church and all of the girls in our ward had modest tops and sleeves, and the lengths were appropriate. Some of the dresses were so adorable, and it is nice that they can wear them a second time. (There were certainly no plumber’s cracks in our group of sweet girls.)
In our area girls can go without a date so everyone can go to prom, so that is not an issue.
Rupert 5th Ward, Idaho
You expanded on Ed Lewis’s practice of talking to the youth about their proms, Debrah, by mentioning that the mothers also have stories about seeking and finding that perfect prom dress. Here’s yet another way we can give people the opportunity of being the center of attention, for only a brief moment.
In our area, too, girls can go to prom without a date. Most of the girls go to prom because of that, and I often hear them discussing the search for a perfect dress when prom time rolls around.
Having the girls wear their prom dress on Sunday has many more positives than negatives. It serves as an incentive to choose a modest prom dress (one they would feel comfortable wearing to church). It gives the members an opportunity to compliment (thereby reinforce) the girls on their excellent (modest), choice.
If the girls attend public school, it is highly likely they are made fun of by their peers for making good choices. We, as members, need to encourage our youth and give them every opportunity to shine. I love seeing the girls in their prom attire. It gives us older sisters (whose daughters are grown or who may not have been blessed with a daughter of our own) an opportunity to share a moment of their happiness. I hope I never get so old and cranky that I cannot enjoy a teenage girl looking and feeling like a princess in her prom gown.
You’re right, Nostalgic. We have all too few “princess moments” in our lives as it is. In fact, I could use a few myself.
Instead of what do you thing about girls wearing prom dresses to church (which should be obvious to most people), maybe a better question would be how can we tactfully let girls, and especially older women, know that many of us feel very uncomfortable when they are dressed immodestly?
That’s a good question, Curious. I don’t have the courage to say anything because I don’t now how well it would be received. I know I was less than thrilled to have someone point out that she didn’t like the way I was dressed (I committed the cardinal sin of wearing dresses with flowers on them), so I’m a coward in this area. If anyone has any advice, we’re all ears.
Personally I don’t have a problem with prom dresses showing up at church as long as they are modest! With Facebook and other social media, all the girls in the ward pretty much know who went to prom, so I don’t see wearing the dress as “bragging.”
As far as “I never went home last night” goes, I seriously doubt that’s the rule.
(Perhaps it’s a very rare exception. I don’t believe that most young women would honestly show up for a 2:00 sacrament meeting still in a dress they wore the night before.)
“Look at me and tell me how pretty I am” ? I honestly don’t see anything wrong with that either. You’d be really hard pressed to find a woman anywhere who didn’t appreciate that someone took the time to notice that she fixed herself up. My college-age daughter struggles with this regularly. People in the ward barely notice her or acknowledge her unless she spends like an hour and a half to straighten her unruly hair and apply make-up. She has commented to me many times that she feels “invisible” and the only time that anyone even talks to her is when she is “made up.” Personally, I think that’s shallow, but the reality is that it is true that sometimes you’ve got to “step it up” to get noticed.
From what I understand, young men are discouraged from wearing their tuxedos while administering the sacrament. Is that where the sentiment is coming from that if the young men can’t wear the tux they rented for another day the young women shouldn’t be allowed to wear a pretty prom dress either? Perhaps if girls were not discouraged from wearing modest prom dresses to church they may be pickier about choosing their dresses in order to find one that would be appropriate to wear to a church meeting but still dressy enough for a prom.
While I’ve got the computer, I wondered if you’ve ever thought of addressing the problem of clothing that is too tight. Seriously, I don’t need to see your belly buttons, sisters (or for that matter, the indentation where your belly button is!). This isn’t a problem with the plus-sized crowd in our ward; it’s the young moms (many of whom are Young Women leaders). How exactly is wearing tight clothing following modesty guidelines in “For the Strength of Youth”?
Thanks for letting me vent!
Cathy from Utah
It’s sad, Cathy, that anyone should feel “invisible.” Your letter made me want to look for invisible people in our ward and show them a little love.
Because of your article’s title I took my time from being Ill to read your whole article. Prom dresses and tuxedos were the conversation at our dinner table last night. I stayed home from church, our 20-year-old daughter Harris went to the singles ward, and my husband Roger attended the ward we moved into in October.
Roger was astonished that there were YW and YM in their formal attire yesterday. So we all started commenting on prom dresses in general. Harris, the 20-year-old, said all modest prom dresses were ugly. Roger wondered why they would want to wear prom clothes to church. I made my comment that the kids had being wearing the formal attire the week before at church and they were modest but obviously wearing formals and tuxedos. It looked strange, but those dresses cost a lot of money.
We have never lived in a ward where anyone wore full-length formal dresses to church after prom. We also have never before now lived a ward who had a youth program of more than 100 children of the mutual age. It is just so amazing to see that many active children attending church, bearing their testimonies, and taking care of the sacrament. I think the ward is not perfect but good.
I could see no problems with teenage attitude (“I got to the prom and you didn’t) going on. The kids were more likely making the high cost of prom attire a little more worthwhile. Instead of spending all that money on dress that is worn once, they can wear the outfit two or three times. If they are in a choir they might be able wear those outfits a few more times. Maybe it is just some weird teenage tradition to make that prom feeling last.
Some of the YM said they went with a friend’s cousin. These young people were just having a good time and making the moment last. Wearing stupid clothes is OK.
I still hate floor-length dresses; I personally feel like a large floating barge when I wear one. As a teenager I wore long dresses and flip-flops to church in the 70’s, but my mom was just happy that I went to church.
Have you ever lived in a ward where a new member is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt? Some of the men try to wear a suit to church after a while; jeans are more normal-looking because suits that new members can afford are sometimes are old tuxedos or a bright strange color. My dad had a polyester dusty rose colored suit, but my mom was colorblind so maybe that is why mom thought that suit was great.
I do not think anyone should say out loud that someone at church is wearing unacceptable attire, because when we say personal things it might hurt their spirits. If they have no sense of style and bad taste we should care because we live by example. Right? If you have to bite your tongue, do it. Maybe when others look at me they hold their tongues also.
Mary Ellen Gilbert
Thanks for sharing your whole family’s comments on the subject of prom attire at church, Mary Ellen. It was neat to think of your family discussing the topic at the dinner table. I especially liked your last sentence. I’ve had people make negative comments about my own attire (the regrettable Flowered Dress Incident), and I wonder if they’d make the same comment if they knew how physically hard it is for me to get dressed and to church at all. We never know the struggles other people endure, so it’s wise to be careful when we judge them (or to refrain from judging them at all).
I haven’t seen any prom dresses in my ward but we do have a big problem with inappropriate dress. There are several sisters who think pants, jeans and leggings are fine to wear to sacrament meeting. One sister even comes barefoot! Rain or shine. We have been admonished not to say anything to her in fear that she will be offended. Well, I’m offended! It isn’t like she can’t afford shoes; she just chooses not to wear them.
A few years ago one of the brothers decided he could wear sandals to church. It was really hard to concentrate while he was passing the sacrament with his ugly toes exposed. The bishop must have finally talked to him because now he wears socks with his sandals. My opinion is that you should show respect for the Lord and His house by wearing your best clothes. If all you can afford is a shirt and tie, but no jacket, I’m fine with that. But the people I see every Sunday choose to dress this way and not out of necessity.
On Easter Sunday I visited a Catholic service with my daughter-in-law. Only one man was wearing a coat and tie (other than my husband). Most people came in jeans and t-shirts ? including the women. I think this is part of a very sad trend in our society and maybe it is time for people to start speaking out.
Thanks for your letter, Aghast. I appreciate your opinion. Read on for the views of someone who takes the opposite perspective:
Wow, I want to know what it is like to have so much time and energy on my hands that I can worry about what other people wear to church. How about we leave these issues up to our leaders and each do what we think it best?
This reminds me of something that happened to my sister. Her step-daughter is a member and she went to church with her on the day they were moving. Her church clothes accidentally got packed by the movers, so my sister wore her jeans and her t-shirt ? the only clothes she owned at the time. In the bathroom a visiting sister ripped into her for dressing inappropriately. Being my sister, the visitor got an earful with an explanation of why my sister was in jeans and that she was not even a member.
Why do we attach motivations to what people do even when we have no idea why they are doing it? How about working on loving the sisters and creating unity? If we believe there is a standard of dress, we can lead by example, not by coercion. This almost seems like an unrighteous dominion issue to me.
Moving to Zion
Motivations are everything, Moving. I know that workers in the Washington D.C. Temple are told not to comment on the attire of patrons, and just to welcome them happily no matter what they are wearing. Sometimes they are out-of-town visitors who learned on the spur of the moment they would be able to come to the temple, and show up with the best clothes they have with them. Others have other explanations. It’s not my business to judge. Once they get in their temple clothes they all look alike anyway.
The season of prom dresses has arrived. I am one who loves to see what the girls wore. I have been in YW leadership and was happy to see all of the fun and pretty dresses that each girl wore. We also had the young men come in their tuxes the next day.
I have no problem with the girls doing this. However, I have seen some dresses that maybe someone should have said, ”What about modesty?” But overall I don’t see this as an issue.
I love a good evening gown in the morning.
Kandy in Florida
“I love a good evening gown in the morning” ? what a great attitude, Kandy!
I think that this tradition falls under Elder Richard G. Scott’s counsel about giving up inappropriate cultural traditions. (https://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-26-34,00.html) An ostentatious fashion parade is not consistent with the sacred nature of sacrament meeting.
I was shocked the first time I observed this practice when I was a missionary in Arizona. I had, and continue to have, no idea why this would be viewed as appropriate. I was sitting behind an entire long pew of teenagers and it was really a distraction from the spirit of the meeting. Although modest dresses would be preferable, I have to say that many of the dresses did not meet that standard, particularly the dresses to which “sleeves” had been added, which were sheer, only a few inches wide and did little to distract from the lack of coverage on the front and back of the wearer. Is this only a tradition in the southern United States? I have never seen this happen where I am from.
Although some people could claim that their ward is a fashion parade already, this is an entirely different situation where the worldly tradition of going to prom is injected into an environment where it has no place.
This reminds of me of the groups of young women who used to come in the vistors’ center while I was serving there. Although the bride was usually dressed in a modest dress after her sealing, the LDS members of the bridal party were often much more sparsely dressed. The immodesty of the attendants was a complete distraction from the sacredness of the occasion and the spirit of the temple grounds.
We all have our agency, which extends to how we choose to dress, but there has to be occasions where the sacredness of an ordinance trumps the desire to flaunt one’s wardrobe. This is a valuable lesson for young women who will soon be expected to conform their dress to accommodate their temple covenants. In my opinion, conforming to those standards should start much sooner.
Bemused in Canada
I, too, have been amazed to see bridal parties hovering outside the temple, Bemused. Some of their dresses are interesting, to say the least. Of course, there are also enough brides’ dresses that are similarly interesting that the temple keeps dickeys and sleeves on hand for brides to put under their bridal gowns while they are in the temple.
Speaking of being “bemused,” I’m betting people in Arizona are bemused to learn that they are considered to be Southerners by Canadians. Pass the grits and collard greens!
My youngest daughter graduated from high school in 2004, and within a few days, she packed the car and headed down on the twelve-hour journey from Oregon to BYU Provo. Only the month before, she and her LDS classmates had worn their prom attire to church. The reason was not to “show off” anything other than that the minority group of LDS girls confidently modeled the modesty image in an era where fashion left “nothing to the imagination” and bared all.
Every one of those girls had to either sew or modify their prom attire in some way. All had real sleeves, not just “caps” or wide straps that hardly covered the shoulders. No cleavage showed. There were no bare backs. Shawl coverage was not necessary. Every girl in that group who wanted to go to prom was able to find a date. They went in groups. They were the only ones modestly attired at the event, but they were confident in their appearance. Not a soul criticized them; in fact, it was just the opposite. Attitude is everything.
Three years later, I could hardly believe the contrast in styles being paraded as “modest” by the ward girls. Same school, same ward, same minority religious status, but a deterioration in style to more closely match the same “bare it all to the world” fashion of their school peers. The prom styles really hadn’t changed much during the three years in the retail outlets in our town, but what the LDS girls were choosing and rationalizing as modest certainly had changed.
But what stunned me the most was to hear the comments of their mothers, lining all of the girls up for a picture and exclaiming, “Isn’t modesty beautiful?” Almost every one of those girls had to bring a shawl to cover her exposure at church. I asked the stake and ward Young Women presidents if the standards for youth had changed in the three years since my youngest had left home.
Perhaps the problem really isn’t the girls; it’s the mothers who rationalize and push the limits of modest attire.
Now instead of confident modesty, we have rationalizations that push the interpretation of modesty in the direction of exposure for the purpose of luring the opposite sex. Sadly, the message being sent to the younger girls is a dangerous description of what constitutes appropriate attire. I guess the wearing of prom attire at church should no longer be allowed.
When mothers scantily dress their little girls, they teach their girls that looking attractive involves less attire and more body exposure. Little girls who grow used to wearing spaghetti straps and short shorts will not readily adopt a more covered appearance as teenage years approach. They will also be more apt to reject fashions that allow for the wearing of temple garments.
I hope what you’re describing, Disappointed, is only restricted to your region. At least where I live, the girls are now dressing modestly and beautifully. (The incident of “plumber’s crack” I described occurred so long ago that the prom princess is probably now worrying about how modestly her own teenagers are dressed.)
We have asked our daughter not to wear her formal gowns to sacrament meeting after a special dance because of the pain it inflicts on those young women who were not invited. It hurts enough to spend a quiet evening at home while your peers are living the teenage dream. But it’s torture to spend three hours in church amidst your obviously more popular peers in their dazzling dresses.
To me it’s not about modesty, it’s not about drawing undue attention to oneself, it’s not about reverence. It’s about kindness.
Linda in Arizona
I love your attitude, Linda. With an attitude like that, I’m sure you are raising a wonderful daughter.
By the way, teenagers don’t have to stay home from proms. In our area, caring youth leaders have organized an annual “Mormon Prom” for youth in our stake. Kids who have gone to their own proms can now wear their dresses twice, and kids who haven’t gone to their school’s prom will have an excuse to dress up and attend a formal dance where many, if not most, of the youth go without dates. Youth leaders go to a whole lot of trouble to make sure this isn’t just another dance. There’s always a theme and great decorations. Portraits are taken, and other things are done to make the Mormon Prom a memorable occasion.
Okay, people, that’s it for this week. Next week we’ll finish up this topic before moving on to another interesting discussion.
Until next week ? Kathy
“Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard to virtue.”