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“Embarrassed by Showing So Much”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 05, 2012

We have largely avoided the whole modesty firefight at Keepa, mostly because it is so thoroughly, uh, covered elsewhere. Here is a data point I found in a 1967 issue of the Church News, though, which makes it historical and therefore topical for Keepa:

The Church News reprinted on its back page a UPI dispatch datelined Baldwin, Michigan:

In the day of the mod, the mini, the pop and the twig, some girls at Baldwin High School have developed a style of their own.

It’s mod, all right – modest.

Ten girls showed up for classes in skirts that had hemlines four inches below the knee. In addition, they wore loose-fitting blouses with long sleeves and high neck lines.

The counter mod movement was started by [seventh-grader] Thyra Sweet of nearby Beitly.

“We are tired of being embarrassed by showing so much,” she told her mother recently. “We are tired of tight fits and we are tired of looking at girls with knobby knees. We like long dresses.”

Because this originated with UPI, the story, such as it is, was reprinted around the country: in Lawrence, Kansas, under the headline “Hem Revolt for School in Michigan”; in Reading, Pennsylvania, as “Long Dresses Coming Back?”; in Florence, South Carolina, with the headline “Tired of Knobby Knees, She Leads Revolt on Mini Skirt”; in God’s Missionary Standard, out of Penns Creek, Pennsylvania, as “Mods Show Difference in Hemlines”; and in uncounted other publications. Some papers carried a photograph showing two of the ten girls surrounded by their knobby-kneed peers.

Some points that stand out to me:

* These are not, so far as we know, LDS girls.

* Although the other girls’ knees may be in view, the girls are wearing high necks and long sleeves, and nothing – top or bottom – seems particularly tight-fitting or form-revealing. The other girls’ sleeves, in fact, are longer than the “modest” girls’ sleeves, and they are all wearing layers that tend to “pad out” and obscure their bodily shape. The other girls are wearing straight skirts, which if I recall correctly were sometimes considered less modest than full skirts, even when they weren’t tight.

* The “modest” girls don’t just bring their skirts down a couple of inches to hit their knees, in what would have been considered amply modest then and now. Rather, they exaggerate their difference with hemlines that, in one case, comes to the very bottom of the knee and, in the other case, falls to the ankle.

* The *modest* girls are wearing completely different styles than the other girls are – dresses, rather than skirts and blouses or jumpers – and although it’s difficult to tell in the grainy photograph, the longer dress seems to be a little frilly, with ruffles of some kind at the elbow. In other words, they didn’t just adapt the current style to be a bit more modest; they adopted a radically different style. Instead of blending in with slight fashion variations, they stand out as very different.

The Church News endorsed this bit o’news with approval and a challenge:

“Have Latter-day Saint girls and women the courage to do as well?”

Discuss.



15 Comments »

  1. I’ve heard that modesty fosters confidence. This picture doesn’t show that. The supposedly more modest girls seem to be hanging back insecurely while the shorter hemline girls are walking boldly forward. Anyway, I really like the dress on the far left and I certainly prefer knobby knees to those long flowing dresses.

    Comment by Diana — March 5, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  2. They do carry themselves quite differently, don’t they, with the “other” girls relaxed and confident and the “modest” girls hugging their books protectively against stiff torsos. I mean, I’m all for modesty, really, but this picture shows how much more there is to it than a couple of inches of bare knee!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 5, 2012 @ 9:16 am

  3. They sort of lost me with “we are tired of looking at girls with knobby knees.” I’m all for self-actualization and body confidence, but that’s personal. You don’t get to tell other people what to wear.

    Comment by E. Wallace — March 5, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  4. That’s actually what I remember most about the skirt-length (spaghetti-strap, two-piece swimsuit) debates of the ’60s and ’70s, E. — it wasn’t like today’s stress on morality and impure-thought-provocation, it was on the implication that “knobby knees” (or bony shoulder blades or the bone structure of the back) were unattractive.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 5, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  5. The “modest” girls look like they live in Colorado City . . .

    Comment by Steve — March 5, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  6. So, because “you don’t get to tell” people what to wear, does that mean you can’t make any comments at all?

    “Nice knobby knees, Nanette” or

    “Delectable decolletage, Deborah”

    Completely off limits?? What’s left to talk about?

    Comment by Mark B. — March 5, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  7. I’d wager the two “modest” girls are posing for the picture where the others aren’t, and that is the reason for the difference in demeanor.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 5, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  8. the girl 2nd from right as you look at it seems to have unfortunately spindly legs. I would have gone(and indeed did, in the early 70’s) for the look of the girl far left, ie the pinafore dress with knee high boots.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — March 5, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  9. Actually, this could be a scene from my sophomore year in high school, 1966/1967, and all the girls, except the “modest” ones, look pretty much like my high school classmates in Ogden, Utah. Even in heathen Ogden in the 60’s, our high school population was about two thirds LDS. All the girls had to wear dresses or skirts, even on blizzard days, no pants allowed except on one or two days in the spring of our senior year, for some work/service project days. And no shorts for boys, nor logo T-shirts. Not that you could buy a Nike T-shirt in those days, of course.

    Comment by kevinf — March 5, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

  10. My mom and 2 of her sisters (only LDS kids at their schools in upstate New York) were suspended from school in March 1966 for wearing “Granny dresses”. The reason stated by school officials were they were a tripping hazard.
    Bateman Granny Dress Incident
    This story also ran in papers across the country. My mom said they received mail from all over in support.

    Comment by mahana — March 5, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

  11. Wait, I’m confused. I thought everyone in the photograph was part of the “modest” group. Yeah, there’s a couple of them that have skirts that don’t quite reach the knee, but everything else about their outfit matches the description of the “modest” girls.

    I’m not familiar with the mod, the pop, or the twig, but nothing in the photograph could remotely be called a mini skirt. If the photograph is supposed to show the “modest” girls standing out of the crowd, the contrast sure doesn’t match the expectation set in the opening paragraph.

    Comment by Left Field — March 5, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  12. That’s pretty much my observation, Left Field — because the “regular” girls are modest by just about every possible measuring stick, the “modest” girls aren’t modest, they’re calling attention to themselves by an exaggerated, out-of-place inappropriateness. But that all gets overlooked in the rush to praise the covering of that oh-so-immodest kneecap (the kneecap of 1967 was the shoulder of 2012, evidently).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 5, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

  13. I really thought it was just a photograph of five “modest” girls posing. None of them are wearing ’60s “short skirts.” Did the caption identify some of the girls as not part of the group? If so, which ones?

    Is the girl on the far left supposed to be part of the group? I can’t decide. As far as hem length, the girl in the middle is the only clear outlier. The other dresses are really within a few inches of each other, gradually going from just above to just below the knee. I’m not seeing a sharp contrast here, except for the girl in the middle.

    Comment by Left Field — March 6, 2012 @ 7:16 am

  14. The caption gave the names of the two girls in the light-colored dresses, 2nd and 3rd from the right, and identified them as members of this “modesty group,” in contrast to their peers in the hallway.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 6, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  15. Thanks, Ardis; that clarifies things for me. I was just confused by the fact that there was nothing scandalous about the Three, particularly by 60s standards. I can’t imagine even the Harper Valley PTA objecting.

    Comment by Left Field — March 6, 2012 @ 8:19 am

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