This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Provo • When you meet modest-fashion maven Jen Loch, who has tens of thousands following her online magazine and store, you might expect another cute, wide-eyed Mormon blogger who has taken her faith, values, innocence and, of course, fashion sense onto the Internet.
Loch, a 30-year-old sometime model and online entrepreneur, fits most of that pattern she's got the eyes and fashion sense, for sure. But she came by her commitment to dressing modestly the hard way. And Loch, a lifelong Mormon who came to Utah via Nashville and Los Angeles, is disarming in admitting she's a work in progress.
"I don't consider myself the most modest person," she says during a recent interview in a Provo café. Loch is wearing skinny jeans, for instance. Many readers of her magazine Jen or shoppers at JenClothing.com denounce skinny jeans as indecent attire.
Loch, a mother of three children under 5, acknowledges the parameters of modesty are something she still finds elusive. If dressing to attract attention is immodest, she says, then "you'd have to dress like the Amish."
"It's hard to balance it," Loch says. "I'm an eccentric person. I think of myself as an artist."
Worse, she admits, she loves outré fashion.
"I look at someone like Lady Gaga and I say, 'That's really fun!' If I weren't trying to be modest, I might dress that way."
A modest movement • Google "modest fashion" and you'll enter a world of hip blogs, stores and websites dedicated to dressing chastely, including justlikemolly.com, http://www.clothedmuch.com and MoMoMod.com (More Modern Modesty). Most of the blogs are written by Mormon women.
The niche has also spawned business ventures like Loch's online clothing store. Jason and Brigitte Shamy of Highland in Utah County opened a brick-and-mortar boutique, SexyModest, in American Fork in 2009. They opened a second SexyModest in Salt Lake City last summer.
Brigitte Shamy found herself surrounded at her Mormon ward with women who "had taken a break from fashion to do important things like have children," Jason Shamy says. To soften their re-entry into the adult world, they needed advice on how to dress attractively, but modestly.
At first, Brigitte Shamy advised them individually at her home and sold some carefully selected clothes. "One day a hundred women showed up. It was just madness," Jason Shamy says. When they opened the boutiques, they stuck to the principle of offering modest fashion at under $50 by keeping overhead low and catering to customers "from 12 to 75," Jason Shamy says. The stores continue to offer one-on-one consultations.
Los Angeles-based Elaine Hearn writes the fashion blog Clothed Much because "I wanted to show that wearing revealing clothing [to me] such as short skirts and strapless tops weren't the only options to be stylish. It's possible to be stylish without sacrificing skin."
The market for such modest wear is growing "slowly, but surely," Hearn says. "When a modest trend is 'in,' there will be a greater supply of modest options, but once it's 'out,' we have to try harder to find modest clothes."
Brigham Young University blogger Sarah McCammon dresses modestly, but "I don't try to shove it in people's faces. My clothes are modest because of my personal standards."
As a student, McCammon's biggest hurdle to dressing stylishly modest is money. Anthropologie, for instance, carries many items she loves, "but nothing is under $100." Consequently, about 80 percent of her clothes comes from thrift shops before she runs them through her sewing machine. "I can find just about anything and make it modest."
Rocky road to modesty • Loch says understated couture didn't come easily to her.
"I wasn't following modesty standards as a teen," she says, recounting how she fell under the sway of the pervasive popular culture that surrounded her. "I fell in with the wrong crowd in Nashville. I thought if you look really sexy, you'll have the world at your fingertips."
Soon she learned it doesn't work that way, Loch says. "I was date-raped at 14."
Another date rape, unintended pregnancy and miscarriage followed by the time she was 16. "My teen years weren't what you think of as the straight-arrow LDS teen years."
Now, Loch believes her fashion choices short skirts, revealing blouses had broadcast a dangerous message.
"The way I was dressing before, I was attracting low-life, loser guys," Loch says. "The truth is, the kind of guy I was looking for didn't want somebody who dressed like a bimbo."
Soon after Loch rethought her spiritual priorities, including how she dressed, she met the love of her life, Christopher, in 2001 at an LDS singles function, and they were later married in an LDS temple.
Loch emphasizes that she doesn't believe rape, strictly speaking, is brought on by how the victim looks or behaves; it's about violence.
"With rape, it isn't about how you are dressed," she says. "As for date rape, it's different. I know that I had a part in it. I might have been attracting the wrong kind of guys. But that's not an excuse for it."
Now, she advises teens who are struggling with self-esteem and acceptance to lean on their religious beliefs until they have matured enough to understand that identity doesn't come from clothes, a boyfriend or a cool circle of friends.
"When you're young it's all about fitting in being thin. We are put here for a purpose as a daughter of God. You are more than just the physical.
"I would tell teens, everyone has a purpose, but you haven't found yours yet. Until then, you can base your self-esteem on Jesus Christ."
But Loch is anything but self-righteous or judgmental. "I'm still struggling with being modest. I still want to dress in a way that says, 'Look at me!' "
Across religious barriers • In her path to modest enlightenment, Loch launched an online store and a magazine catering to women who judge fashion by religious standards.
"My readers and commenters have taught me a lot," she says. "I've been talking to all these people who have stricter views of modesty than even Mormons. Some religions don't even allow pants," let alone skinny jeans.
She was surprised that many of her followers are evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and even Muslims.
"All these people believe in being modest for similar reasons, but they have different standards of what modesty is," Loch says. "When I started Jen magazine, I thought I should give a blanket statement of what modesty is. But what is modest? There's such a big spectrum there."
Hearn uses LDS standards as a guideline for her personal definition of modesty: "Having your shoulders and upper arms covered, meaning at least short sleeves; skirts, dresses and shorts to the knee; no cleavage showing and no low-cut tops; and no back and midriff showing either."
For Mormon women, Loch says, the sacred garments that many wear daily almost literally set clothing boundaries.
"Any clothing that would show garments is not modest," she says, then jokes, "To me, showing garments is more of a fashion faux pas."
And the recent fashion trend that reveals bra straps and other underclothes doesn't affect that, she says. "I don't think showing [sacred] garments will ever be fashionable."
Loch is often flamed for her modest-fashion philosophy with posts like, "The body is beautiful, there's no reason to cover it. You've been brainwashed."
Fashion's place in the 'big scheme' • For similar spiritual reasons, Loch started her modest-fashion magazine in 2004. She has always pored over fashion magazines, but now finds the articles insipid and often degrading. "I mean, things like 'How to Wow Him in Bed'? I wanted to provide inspiring and uplifting content along with the fashion pictures."
Apparently, JenMagazine.com is also a work in progress. Articles on goal setting for young women compete for readers with an essay on the newest "Twilight" release and advice columns, including "Three Things That Seem Romantic, But Aren't."
Still, Loch is unabashedly Mormon and dedicated to "being healthy." "Fashion is fun," she says, "but in the big scheme of things, it just isn't that important."
Modest fashion within reach
Jen Magazine • http://www.jenmagazine.com
Wearing it on my Sleeves • wearingitonmysleeves.blogspot.com
Clothed Much • http://www.clothedmuch.com
SexyModest Boutique • 739 W. 180 North, American Fork, 801-850-6768; 2981 E. 3300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-255-3772; http://www.facebook.com/ModestClothing.