Negotiating Modesty: Reading Mormon Fashion Blogs as Visual Rhetoric

Negotiating Modesty: Reading Mormon Fashion Blogs as Visual Rhetoric
  • visual theory
  • teaching
  • views
  • images
  • blog
  • ransom

Blog Roll

Fashion blogs have proliferated the internet since its inception; the rhetoric of the genre is as multifaceted as its participants, most of whom are women. Daily fashion blogging, in which the blogger takes regular photos of the outfit she assembles each morning, is a popular iteration of the genre. An interesting subculture has received a substantial amount of attention in the fashion blogging community recently, and that is modesty blogging. All the modesty blogs I’ve come across are motivated by religious restriction; the vast majority of these base their definitions of modest clothing upon the tenets of the Mormon church. Of course, the situated ethos of modesty blogging must negotiate an inherent contradiction between two competing definitions of modest: the function of modest dress as a physical representation of religious belief and the concept of modesty as the quality of being unassuming, scrupulous, and free from presumption. What does it mean to take pride in modest dress, to wear it as a badge of individualism and difference? And how can we read these modesty blogs in terms of visual culture? Join me as I take you on a journey into another strange corner of the internet: Mormon fashion blogging.

Site information About viz. About our contributors Login Recent Blog Posts

We might make a few generalizations about popular fashion blogs: most successful blogs attract their audiences with an ethos that exhibits an internally consistent personal style (what we might call a “style narrative”) that is accomplished by innovative pairings. Thus, the blog initially attracts an audience with the familiar-a “style narrative” of, for example, grunge, retro, hipster, or editorial-and keeps their interest with the unfamiliar-a scarf made into a bolero or a vintage headband woven into a punk outfit. We might, then, loosely read the ethos of these blogs as “text” in terms of Barthes’ conforming/cutting edge dichotomy in The Pleasure of the Text. This makes the case of modesty fashion blogs especially interesting, because the “cutting edge” component of these blog’s ethos is, in fact, a conservative reaction to counterculture-it operates on the fantasy of return to a dress standard of the past (although its location in the past is certainly ambiguous). The familiar, plagiarizing edge is, in fact, the way that these modesty blogs attempt to participate in mainstream discourse-a discourse that is often countercultural (hipster, grunge, retro). Their popularity comes in large part from the way these blogs resemble in their formal elements many other successful fashion blogs, but are able to translate their audience’s desire for surprise and innovation into a restricted code of dress.

Obviously much of the blogger’s value systems is exhibited through the personal ethos she cultivates on these blogs; the way the blogger frames the narrative of the outfit in terms of its relationship to her day-to-day activities reveals much about these value systems, as well

Most Mormon fashion blogs define immodest clothing as anything low-cut, sleeveless, backless, or too short-some combine a series of positive descriptions along with the negative (for instance “long skirts” or “skirts below the knee” rather than “no skirts above the knee”). Most do not address fit but instead warn against “revealing” clothing. Concrete restrictions almost always regard coverage, rather than the tightness or fit of clothing. This ethos in general is oriented around fulfilling a minimum requirement of modesty, and the boundary of that minimum requirement is represented physically by the temple garment, an undergarment standardized and manufactured by the central Church. Women begin wearing this garment daily when they receive their endowment, which for most coincides with their marriage. We can reasonably assume that most of these bloggers wear temple garments, as they advertise Isländska heta kvinnor their status as Temple-married women, but it is worth mentioning that almost none of these bloggers mention the temple garment or the way it might restrict their code of dress; rather, these women speak of their restricted dress as a lifelong commitment predating their temple endowment, and a code of modesty that is self-defined and self-enforced. (Many of these blogs begin their “about me” with some variation of “Modesty means ____ to me…”).

Leave a Reply