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Don’t Get Your Daughter a Skanky Prom Dress

The Skanky Prom Dress Issue

What are they thinking? Is prom such a “special occasion” that it warrants a serious dressing down of decency?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photos (on blogs, on FaceBook, in person) from my good Mormon friends, whose good Mormon daughters are wearing dresses with any combination of halters, mini-skirts, strapless dresses, backless dresses, slits to the hipbone, plunging necklines. Sometimes they have a shawl thingy that covers nothing but their elbows and lower biceps—for a while.

A few years ago I sat near the dressing room of a store while Jessica tried on formals. The girl in the next dressing room was visibly uncomfortable and vocally upset with the less-than-covering dresses her mother kept bringing. And her (good Mormon) mother kept reassuring her that they looked beautiful and appropriate.

Seriously? Did you just fly in on a ship from Planet Wench?

Just to be clear in case you’ve only been in the church for about 12 minutes or had your head in a sound-proof helmet at every single meeting during your lifetime: we’re pretty keen on covering all your private parts and then some. Read that: cover the garment area, at least, for most activities. (That would be at least toward the knee, above the bra line, have minimal sleeves, and cover the stuff in between.)

Last night Alana’s prom date’s mother thanked all the girls in their group for being dressed modestly. Nice of her to notice their efforts. I know it’s not easy to do these days. But it is possible with some effort. So, just do it.

The Other Side of the Skany Prom Dress Issue

In this area (at least since my older sister was in high school a long, long time ago) it’s a tradition that the morning after a formal dance, the guys and gals wear their dance attire to church, often including their corsages/boutonnières.

After attending part of our ward, Alana and I left to attend a meeting-formerly-known-as-a-mission-farewell in another ward. Since many of the kids in that ward go to the same high school Alana attends, lots of the older kids had on formal attire, as she did.

One of Alana’s friends (from a third ward (not ours and not the missionary’s)) who was at prom last night, but didn’t have on her (gorgeous, home-sewn, modest) dress. Alana asked her why. She said her bishop had made a rule that no one could wear dance clothes to church the next day.

OK, yea, I understand that some kids dress immodestly at prom and if the skanky gal wears such a dress to church, she’ll be immodestly dressed. But Bishop’s Alert it’s out of your stewardship to dictate what kids are “allowed” to wear to church. Whether after the prom or not, whether less modest than you like or not, people come to church and we welcome them.

In my opinion, this is a “teach them correct principles” issue. If you have a problem with scantily clad prom outfits showing up in your ward, maybe you should focus on teaching modesty the rest of the year. Or teaching the kids that standards are standards and they don’t move around willy nilly depending on which school event is upcoming. Or teaching the moms (parents?) that if they spend their money on skanky prom attire and/or let their daughters leave the house in skanky prom attire they are contributing to the delinquency of their minor children. Or something.

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • stbennett April 25, 2010, 6:34 pm

    I totally agree with modesty! I say AMEN to getting our daughters modest dresses and teaching them to only be comfortable modest. (and MODEST should cover the same areas garments will eventually!) Start this as little girls and they will feel this way as adults. Dress modest yourself too so our daughters will have a great role models.

    As for Prom dresses at church. We live in a Stake that does not want dance dresses at church. It has nothing to do with modesty… we assume all our youth will be completely modest at the dance. It has everything to do with appropriate clothing for church. Prom dresses tend to be too fancy… over the top for the church look. The request came from the Stake presidency when we as young women leaders noticed that our girls who did not get asked to the prom stayed home from church the day after prom. Why? Because they did not want to advertize to the entire ward that they had not gone. They didn’t have a dress or flowers at church so it was one more place they had to appear as a “reject”. Once we asked our youth not to wear dance clothes to church all our young women feel comfortable in church the day after prom, they all are equals and the sad girl of the night before is no longer singled out! Just another perspective as to why not to wear dance clothes to church.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 25, 2010, 8:00 pm

    Hi stbennett. Welcome. 🙂 Glad to have your input.

    Alana’s friend told us that it was a modesty issue in her ward, so I’m just going on what she said in this circumstance.

    I understand the good intention behind this, but I think it is problematic. To me it goes to the principle of stewardship and I sincerely don’t think this kind of dictation is appropriate for a bishop or auxiliary leader.

    I understand not liking to feel left out. (I didn’t go to every dance in school either. So I was a “reject,” too! And I’ve had kids who were “rejects” as well.) But I also know that there are lots of people at church who dress nicer than I do and are skinnier than I am. 😥 🙂 Do I stay home because it makes me feel bad? Or does the bishop tell everyone to get their clothes at Walmart so I won’t stand out? I’m also reminded of when I was a kid and it was pretty common for moms to get corsages for Mother’s Day. But I’m pretty sure that would make some people feel bad.

    Personally, I think it’s better for the kids who go to dances learn (1) to dress modestly and (2) to be gracious – and better for those who don’t go to learn to be happy for those who do. I don’t think trying to equalize those things either works or really helps much most of the time.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 25, 2010, 8:17 pm

    Another thing that might add to this conversation: When my kids turn 8 they are responsible to earn their own money and buy all their own stuff. As in clothes, presents, movies, dates, school (!). Pretty much everything. If we have LEGITIMATE work that we would pay someone else for, they can earn it from us if they have the skills, but otherwise they have to earn it elsewhere. And we don’t pay for college, either. (Even though we expect them to go.) We offer half of BYU tuition only. (Since Sam was an adjunct professor at BYU (kids of faculty get half tuition) when we set out the ground rules and we didn’t know whether or not he’d take the full-time position, we decided to offer that without condition.)

    That isn’t easy when your friends can go almost anywhere they want and mommy and daddy buy their clothes and pay for their stuff. Alana didn’t go on a cappella tour or ballroom tour this year, she went to state Shakespeare competition (where she won best actor!) and UTA (a theater workshop) and will go to Young Ambassador’s workshop this summer — because that’s what she can afford. And even though we live in nice houses (:smile:), my kids wear a lot of tee-shirts and jeans and shoes from Walmart or Payless — because that’s what they can afford.

    And they have lots of friends who have expensive, department store stuff and designer stuff. And they have people who think they aren’t cool enough because they don’t.

    And sometimes it stinks when you can’t get any college grants because your parents make too much money — and your friends are getting thousands every year — but your parents don’t support you and you have to work part time all year (while your friends play) and full time in the summer, just to pay for your books and tuition and expenses. And your friend who don’t work have way more money FOR FREE.

    Now if I could “equalize” things in this way, I would. Meaning that I’d prefer to have all the kids earn what they get rather than have their parents make their lives easy and/or the government redistribute money from those who earn it to kids who think they have a “right” to go to college on someone else’s dime. But, of course, that won’t end up as equal, either. 🙂

    What we have tried to do (imperfectly!) is to figure out how to grow the best people. To *us* that seemed to be people who learned to be responsible, to be self-reliant, to deal with the fact that life isn’t fair and sometimes people get stuff that we want — even when we “deserve” it more. Whatever.

    Some of the best people ever don’t go to dances. One of Alana’s dearest friends (beautiful, extremely talented, smart, nice, a friend to everyone — one of the all around best kids I’ve met) is a senior and had never been asked to a dance. So her DAD took her to homecoming. She was elegant and gracious and people were just blown away by how cool it was for her to go with her dad (and be happy about it!) instead of staying home AGAIN. (I wished WE had thought of that!!!)

    Alana and a boy at school (who she went to homecoming with)… ahem… “like each other pretty much, unofficially, kind of.” A few weeks ago, Alana helped him ask her friend to prom. Her parents were so cute and excited and recorded pretty much every moment they could. She had a great time and was stunning and lovely.

    I just thought the whole lesson behind that dance thing was amazing. Kids showed kindness and grace and poise. They became better friends. They had fun. They kept better dating boundaries.

    I’ve also seen groups of kids who didn’t get asked to dances, creating their own fun. I’ve seen huge didn’t-get-asked-to-prom parties that were more fun than prom. I’ve seen kids who planned a non-date dance for the kids who weren’t going because they didn’t get asked, weren’t old enough to date, COULDN’T AFFORD IT. And I’ve seen YW leaders who (quietly) rounded up dates for everyone who was dateless and wanted to go. Lots of options. 🙂

    At Alana’s school, the kids are relatively low key about money and prom. But I’ve seen many schools where wedding-dress-like-ball-gown, tuxedo, limo, and hotel (hello? earth to parents?) is the expected. What? I think it’s crazy, but rather than prohibiting such craziness, I’d hope to teach the kids a better way. Like having a big ice cream bash at my house after the dance (while the other kids go to their hotel room (um…did I mention “earth to parents?”).

    Do you have any ways that you help your kids deal with such issues?

  • Lewis_Family April 25, 2010, 8:49 pm

    It is bishop decisions like that that cause inactivity and falling away. Seriously? Telling kids they can’t wear their special attire? Really? It’s as bad as my sister in law’s stake pres telling them to not use facebook. Sometimes stewardship seems to go to some people’s heads.

  • jennycherie April 26, 2010, 1:20 am

    I can ?t tell you how many times I ?ve seen photos (on blogs, on FaceBook, in person) from my good Mormon friends, whose good Mormon daughters are wearing dresses with any combination of spaghetti straps, halters, mini-skirts, strapless dresses, backless dresses, slits to the hipbone, plunging necklines.

    I think the same thing goes for wedding and bridesmaid dresses as well! A while ago, we went to a wedding reception for a couple that had been married in the temple. The bride and bridesmaids were all wearing shoulder-baring gowns, and the bridesmaids’ dresses were rather low-cut. I really was surprised–I mean, this was at a church building. And I was upset with myself for being so distracted by it (come one, forget the clothes and focus on the happy occasion already), but I was also upset thinking, “If my son were older, I would really *not* want him in close company with these young women in provocative dresses AT CHURCH.”

    That being said, my kids can be rather horrified (sometimes vocally) at dresses that are immodest by our standards. I am trying to teach them: 1) to be less vocal, at least until we get home; 2) to see the difference between dresses that are immodest (to me, anything that is suggestive, shows cleavage, is really tight, reveals the tummy or just generally makes one think sexy more than beautiful) and dresses that don’t meet our standards (particularly on family members who are non-members), but would be modest for those who have not been taught such standards and haven’t made a covenant not to wear clothes that bare shoulders, etc. I was just looking at pictures from prom for one of my cousins. Her dress was not modest by LDS standards, but still, in my opinion, modest. It was a full length ball gown, very traditional style, that was strapless (think Audrey Hepburn). Several of her friends were also wearing full-length gowns but they were MUCH more provocative–halter style necklines (that just really draw the eye to the neckline and the cleavage) and little to no dress in back (except to cover the tush and below)–and those, to me, were completely immodest.

    On a related topic, our school (where I work–Catholic college) paper had an article on modesty last week! Now, as far as I know, the Catholics do not encourage any *specific* standard of modesty, only a general one. A young man wrote a piece for the paper begging young women to respect themselves enough to COVER UP. He covered all the major points (especially, not turning oneself into a sex object) and talked about the importance of young men learning to see inner beauty over outer-sexy-legs-in-short-shorts and of young women learning to highlight their inner beauty and intelligence. It was just refreshing to see this outside of church!

  • facethemusic April 27, 2010, 9:47 pm

    Someone who had just gotten married in the temple was wearing a shoulder-bearing gown?? That would mean that she either wasn’t wearing her garments, or she dropped them off her shoulder.

    Aye yie yie…

  • Alison Moore Smith April 28, 2010, 1:45 am

    jennycherie, that’s one I haven’t seen! Sheesh. You wonder why get married in the temple at all?

    Totally agree on paragraph #2. Not only about teaching kids that they don’t need to critique others publicly, but that standards are different. It’s funny how I can see a really cute sundress on TV and think it’s adorable, but if my own daughter (or own of her LDS friends) were to walk out in it I’d by covering her up with an afghan! Different expectation.

    And, hey, if someone asked me to make the rules, we’d have something NON-underwear related as a symbol and no sleeves would be required. Personally, I just don’t see what’s wrong with upper arms! But when that’s the standard, it’s the standard.

    That’s great about the kid at the college. Good on him!

  • jennycherie April 28, 2010, 4:08 am

    Posted By: Alison Moore SmithIt’s funny how I can see a really cute sundress on TV and think it’s adorable, but if my own daughter (or own of her LDS friends) were to walk out in it I’d by covering her up with an afghan!

    :rolling: so true!

  • Janiel Miller April 29, 2010, 9:08 am

    Great topic. This brings up so many important points. First, in terms of teaching my children, I do find it more challenging in Utah than elsewhere I’ve lived to teach my kids not to judge others for their personal choices – mostly because the majority of people living here are LDS, so when you see someone acting obviously outside of church standards/doctrine, it’s hard not to start forming opinions, or judging them. I’ve seen so many kids whose parents advocate them being out of step with the Church’s standards or guidelines (cases in point: Alison’s experience in the dressing room with the mother pushing immodest dresses on her daughter; the bride in Utah Bride magazine who was shown being photographed on the temple steps in her apparently temple-worthy dress, then later at the reception where the dress is now backless and sleeveless with a tiny bolero on top; to a girl I know whose parents helped her design and make immodest prom dresses for herself), that it is hard to not, at best, worry about our future as a people, and at worst, criticize/condemn. So the balance I am looking for is teaching my kids to make righteous judgments (I don’t like that. Don’t think I’ll do that), without judging unrighteously (Wow. SHE’LL never get into the Celestial Kingdom). And all of this while maintaining a loving attitude and being a good example. I’ll let you know when I’ve perfected this. :p

    That said, I am very heartened by what my children’s friends are doing in life. Most of them are becoming people that it would behoove the adults around them to imitate: Un-Prom parties, attending each others performances and events, having group activities designed specifically to include everyone, searching far and wide for modest clothing, jumping in on service projects. It does seem to me that there are groups of kids out there for whom there is a moral upswing. And that’s saying something, because at the same time there seems to be a concerted adversarial attack on today’s youth, and they have more to cope and struggle with than I remember having at their age.

    I think the best thing we can do is shore these kids up with as much love from us as possible. They need to know God loves and supports them, and they’ll get that by feeling it from us. These kids are warriors. If we are behind them and they can feel God they will be unstoppable. I am convinced of that.

    As for the bishop mandating the “No Prom Clothing in Church” rule, I wonder if, rather than being concerned about people feeling left out, he was more concerned about the appropriateness of ginormous princess dresses in church. About whether bringing the prom atmosphere into Sacrament meeting where we take the Lord’s supper would be oppressive to the Spirit. That one would make sense to me. The other reasons, not so much.

    Thanks for your lovely brains, everyone. You all have great insights.

  • Janiel Miller April 29, 2010, 9:13 am

    Slight edit. The parenthetical comments above “(I don’t like that. Don’t think I’ll do that)” and “(Wow.SHE’LL never get into the Celestial Kingdom)”, should have been in quotation marks. They weren’t my thoughts about teaching my kids to make righteous judgments, they were examples OF those judgments. I think I made it confusing.

  • Oregonian May 11, 2010, 6:16 pm

    i wish that a mormon mom who lets her daughter wear strapless dresses or halters would post here and explain it. i don’t ever ask in person but always wonder why they would do that. it makes no sense.

  • jennycherie May 11, 2010, 7:42 pm

    Posted By: Oregoniani don’t ever ask in person but always wonder why they would do that.

    I really agree! I’d love to know the reasoning- especially when I see it happen in families that I know are strong in the gospel.

  • Janiel Miller May 11, 2010, 9:24 pm

    I wonder if they are afraid to say no to their daughters. Worried they might not be friends anymore if they do.

  • Lewis_Family May 12, 2010, 10:51 am

    I am sorry, whatever the reason, I think it is inappropriate for someone to tell you what you can and cannot wear, as long as it is in the bounds of being modest. If my child were to get a dress that is 1-2 hundred dollars, I would encourage wearing it every chance you get. Easter? Memorial Day? 3rd Sunday? Go for it. I think that is ridiculous to spend the monies to wear it once.

    Let me clarify, if the prophet sent out a proc saying no more prom dresses to church, that is one thing, but one bishop making up that rule is as bad as the one who says women can’t open a sacrament meeting.

  • agardner May 12, 2010, 2:42 pm

    Amen Oregonian. I have been seeing so many friends of mine posting pics of their daughters in their prom dresses – and almost all of them are immodest (and almost all of them are active LDS). What is going on?? I feel kind of like a prude like I’m the only one who notices. I never say anything though.

    Not to mention that a lot of these girls going to prom are not 16.

  • Michelle D May 12, 2010, 6:58 pm

    I agree with Church standards, but I have seen strapless dresses that were more modest in what they covered than some with sleeves that had plunging necklines or low backs or slits up to the thigh.

    Prom here was interesting. 4 girls with shoulders covered (my daughter was one of them), and many of the dresses were eyebrow raising by any standards. A few of them I wouldn’t have anyone wear outside the bedroom. Makes you wonder…

  • Alison Moore Smith May 15, 2010, 1:57 pm

    Lewis, I tend to agree that it goes beyond an appropriate stewardship.

    agardner, I know exactly what you mean. The sad thing is that if you watch this trend — over a number of years — there is a huge correlation to girls who dress this way (and boys who date them) NOT getting married in the temple. If you ask me, that’s a no-brainer. Do theses parents not understand this? Or do they just not care? I can’t figure it out.

    Michelle D, definitely the shoulders are not the only modesty issue in these dresses. 🙁

  • A Loving Mother March 4, 2015, 1:55 am

    I agree completely that girls should dress more modestly, and not just at their proms. The more they are encouraged to cover themselves the better off they will be. Men can’t be expected to control themselves if they see female flesh, so I think as time goes on we should mandate that more and more modest dresses should be used.

    Utah is already the state with the highest consumption of pornography in America, so we need to get started. With luck we can match our sisters in the middle east and remove the sight of temptation altogether.

    In the future girls can be married as soon as possible, at 7 or 8 say, and then they won’t need to be in school any more, and the problem will be solved once and for all.


  • Alison Moore Smith March 4, 2015, 10:10 am

    Because decency always jumps the shark to sharia law.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Book Review: Mormons Say and Do the Darndest ThingsMy Profile

  • Chris March 27, 2015, 5:43 pm

    Hi girls! I’m 16, and a friend invited me to a Mormon prom with her (I’m not very religious, but I am Catholic ), so I’ve been searching around looking for ‘rules’/ etiquette for them. I stumbled onto your blog. I bought a beautiful floor length dress with no slits and shows no cleavage (it starts very high up) and no back (aside from you know underarm and above) but it has very thin straps and so my shoulders/arms show. I was unaware that my shoulders had to be covered. I did run out and buy a (not quite but almost matching) stole (like a wrap but thinner sort of) for it but like you mentioned it goes around my lower biceps and elbows. I don’t know what to do!! Do you have any advice?? Sorry for bothering you. Thanks!

  • Alison Moore Smith March 28, 2015, 9:45 am

    Hi Chris, thanks for your comment.

    There isn’t some very specific Mormon commandment, but the general LDS expectation is that clothing will not be sexualized and will cover the areas covered by the LDS garment (the underclothing worn by Mormons who have been through a temple “endowment” ceremony).

    Given that you said this was a “Mormon prom,” I do think you might find yourself more in line with convention (and, perhaps even the dance dress code) if you accommodate that idea.

    That would mean nothing above the knee, nothing too low in front or back, and, yes, that your shoulders are covered to about a cap sleeve length. Here are some examples:


    Given that you already have a dress, here are a couple of ideas that LDS families typically do to “fix” a dress that won’t work.

    (1) Go to a tailor and get sleeves added or otherwise altered. (My oldest did this with her designer wedding dress that was strapless when we bought it. It was absolutely stunning. Some day I will post that!)
    (2) Get a matching or contrasting bolero or other jacket to wear with the dress.


    The stole isn’t a bad idea, but may not pass a possible dress code, just because it’s not affixed and would likely not be worn the entire night. (It would be kind of a pain to dance all night clinging to a stole, right?)

    I’ll ask another friend to leave her comments if she has time, too. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Emotional Labor – The Injustice of It AllMy Profile

  • Tracy Keeney March 28, 2015, 6:04 pm

    Hi Chris! My daughter had to add something to create shoulders for her homecoming dress. She LOVED the dress, but it was sleeveless so we needed to add some kind of sleeve. And even though I am NOT someone who sews, it turned out to be really simple. The idea was to create shoulder by gathering tulle (like the netting of a bridal veil)– and gathering enough of it that it wasn’t see through and sewing it to the top of the dress near the armpit, then again on the BACK side, again, near the armpit. It actually looked VERY elegant and natural–like the dress had actually COME that way. We just went to a fabric store and brought the dress WITH us–we found tulle that was almost the exact same shade of light blue as her dress, then we went to the cutting table and gathered up the tulle to make a little “shoulder” and draped it over my daughter’s shoulder to see how much we’d need. Whatever that amount was we used– we got a little MORE than twice that, so we’d had enough for both shoulders plus a little extra just in case. It was so easy– and dirt cheap too!

    Here’s a link to a dress that shows the kind of sleeves we made.

    Having been to “Mormon Proms” I can tell you that they really are pretty strict about the dress standards. That’s sort of the purpose of the whole thing—to give LDS kids a chance to go to prom AND maintain their standards in an environment where everyone ELSE is abiding by the same standard. So I think it’s really wonderful that you are showing such respect for those standards and are willing to do abide by them, even though you’re not LDS yourself. You’re a good friend!

  • HAYDEN CLEGG September 4, 2016, 12:03 pm

    YES!!! THANK YOU ah girl you get me

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