I have a friend who recently joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She and I were talking one night about clothes, as women are apt to do, and she excitedly told me about some new dresses she bought. After she explained what color they were and how they were designed, we got onto the subject of modesty. Being a new convert, she had decided go through her clothes and remove any clothes that were immodest. She then asked me something I really didn’t have an answer for, “What’s wrong with showing your shoulders?”
To be honest, I had never even thought about it. I grew up in the Church, and I had always been told that you shouldn’t wear sleeveless clothing. It was immodest and that was that. The LDS church issues a pamphlet to all youth called For the Strength of Youth. In it is an explanation of some of our beliefs and morals that our youth can use as a guide in their daily lives. In the section called “Dress and Appearance,” it says:
Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. All should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. Always be neat and clean and avoid being sloppy or inappropriately casual in dress, grooming, and manners. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”
Short skirts, tight clothing, and low-cut shirts are obvious no-nos to me because they can lead to sexual thoughts and the like. But shoulders? Shoulders aren’t sexy. I’ve never looked at a shoulder and thought it was sexy, anyway. Maybe other people have. We all like different things. But why the specific discouragement of shoulder-showing?
The main reason that the Church encourages youth to keep their shoulders covered is in preparation for going to the temple and receiving their endowments. An endowment is basically a special covenant we make with God inside the temple. When we make these sacred covenants, we also make a covenant to wear what you’ll hear referred to as temple garments. If you’ve heard that Mormons wear special underwear, this is what they’re referring to. It may sound a little weird when you hear it, but really, it’s just an outward expression of an inner commitment. Many people in other faiths wear cross necklaces or bracelets to remind themselves of promises they’ve made to the Savior, while some place fish on their cars. People use different objects to remind themselves of commitments they’ve made all the time. Temple garments are much the same. These garments cover a great deal of our body, including our shoulders. If we’ve received our endowment and wear these garments, we wear clothing that will cover them because they are sacred to us. Therefore, we don’t show our shoulders. Some exceptions to this would be, of course, bathing suits or instances such as exercising when you’re wearing exercise clothes. That’s really up to the individual.
What about those who haven’t received the endowment, though? My friend that asked the question hadn’t gone to the temple yet, so why would it be a big deal? The answer goes back to the explanation in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.
Someday you will receive your endowment in the temple. Your dress and behavior should help you prepare for that sacred time.
Someday my friend WILL go to the temple, and now is the time to prepare. When she lives her life with those special covenants in her view, it won’t be a difficult for her to keep those covenants later.
Now, as to the question of whether showing shoulders is really immodest, it depends on who you ask. I would say in the long scheme of things, no. There are worse things you could be showing. However, as a Mormon knowing that one day you’ll go to the temple and make a covenant, choosing to not reveal your shoulders seems a small sacrifice in the scheme of things. Though it’s difficult sometimes, it is possible to find clothes with sleeves, and when I think of the reason behind it, it makes me smile. I wear sleeves because I made covenants with my Heavenly Father, and they serve as a small reminder that I’m trying to keep them. Modesty to me is more than what I can and can’t wear. It’s a reminder to myself that I am a daughter God and have promised him that I will live my life for him.