LDS.org defines a modest person as one who “avoids excesses and pretensions.”1 Wearing excessive jewelry is immodest. Eating large meals is immodest. Wearing a conservative prom dress to church the next day is immodest. Building a large home is immodest. Driving an expensive car is immodest. I wish we could spend more time discussing modesty in a non-sexual context so we could be less pharisaical.
God sent us into the world naked, and in our immodesty we’ve covered ourselves with all sorts of fancy cloth objects. Clothing is inherently immodest in that it is used by us and interpreted by others to convey pretensions of personal goodness (or lack of goodness). I like Mark Twain’s statement on the subject: “Modesty antedates clothes and will be resumed when clothes are no more. Modesty died when clothes were born.”2
The rules of what constitutes “modest” clothing are culturally bound, not a universal gospel principle, as evidenced by the shifting sands of “modesty” as each generation passes and from one part of the world to another. The “modest” swimwear guidelines for LDS Young Women today would get you sent home in 1940, and shunned in 1880.
|Harper's Bazaar fashion advice from 1900.|
Women and girls in minimal clothing may be far more modest than purportedly upstanding young women who are covered up from neck to ankle. I know many disagree with me (what’s new?) but I believe we’d be better off with no clothes than debating what quantity of clothes constitutes “modesty” in apparel. It’s the same argument for dressing in all white in the temple – so there’s no clothing difference between us (though those who have been to the temple can tell who the rich are easily identified by the qualities of their white dresses, shirts, etc.). I would imagine (though I have no personal experience to support this opinion) that modesty is greater in a naturist community than in any BYU-standards-based ward or stake.