“Big hair, leggings and layered shirts on top,” as the lyric goes from “Provo, Utah Girls” — a satirical song that pokes fun at Utah style. At one point, Utah was known for wearing spaghetti straps over short-sleeved T-shirts, skirts with leggings underneath and hair that was teased with a rat-tail comb.
Now Utah curls (hair that’s curled with straight ends), matching athletic sets, smocked dresses and floral dresses are all the rage. There’s a discernible aesthetic that’s common across Utah boutiques. Smocked bodice monochromatic dresses and brim hats are often the look that influencers wear.
There’s a significant Latter-day Saint population in the West, and for many Latter-day Saints, modesty is a way of focusing on God instead of their own appearance. Modesty for Latter-day Saints when it comes to clothes generally means clothing that covers the shoulders and hits just above the knee (or is longer). The concept of modesty in religion sometimes refers to clothes, but it’s also a way of not drawing attention to yourself and glorifying God. Utah fashion is influenced by these modesty standards.
Defining the Utah modest fashion aesthetic
The Utah modest fashion aesthetic is a particular vibe. Examples of this clothing style include a matching sweatsuit or a knee-length, flowing floral dress with bright colors. Utah modest fashion is disparate and is probably best understood by surveying the landscape.
Stephanie Tarnasky, founder and owner of Love Olive Co, said the style is more conservative and slower to catch on to trends. She said there’s a customer base for more modest and conservative styles in Utah and Idaho, and so those styles are some of the more popular ones here.
Boutiques in the West sell clothes that are typically at a higher price point than, say, H&M or Forever 21, but aren’t high-priced fashion. The dresses from these stores generally run anywhere from $40 to $90.
Necklines are higher up and the styles themselves are more reserved, which results in a classic look that is reminiscent of cottagecore, but a little less whimsical. Tarnasky said that even though other areas of the country have moved on to brighter colors and more abstract patterns, Utah and Idaho are more muted — basic monochrome dresses, pastel florals and stripes are popular here.
Tarnasky said she started Love Olive Co because she noticed there weren’t a lot of clothing stores in Rexburg, Idaho. Since then, her store has expanded to Arizona, with two stores planned for Utah. She said the bestsellers of her store tend to be the dresses, but the elevated tops work as well. Many women who buy her clothes are college students, but a good number of them are moms who are looking for comfortable, fashionable clothes that are more reserved.
For a while, Tarnaksy said, the midi length dress was the most popular, but now she’s seeing more knee-length styles. But both styles of dresses are tiered — Utahns love the tiered dress look, Tarnasky said, which is why so many dresses in Utah have a more fitted bodice and flowing skirt.
Some of the stores with these styles include:
- Love Olive Co.
- Ivy City Co.
- Downeast Basics.
- Piper & Scoot.
- One Loved Babe.
- Called to Surf.
- Sweet Salt Clothing.
- Hope Ave Boutique.
- Colby & Claire.
- Janela Bay.
- Albion Fit.
‘The Utah dress’
In some ways, Downeast Basics is a pioneer in the Utah fashion realm. The company started in 1991, according to Utah Business, and has expanded rapidly in the West.
Downeast was followed by companies like Mikarose. Mika Lawson started this clothing store a little over a decade ago because she wanted a place where women could find fashionable modest clothes. Stores like these have set the style cues for other women.
Tiered dresses, like the Poppy from Mikarose, are classic and simple styles, but timeless. A lot of women in Utah want and need clothing that they can wear to church, on dates and at work, so classic styles like these catch on quickly.
But what’s trendy in Utah isn’t necessarily trendy outside of Utah. Anthropologie, Madewell, J. Crew and other similar stores do stock these styles of clothes. And no one can forget about the time Target started selling prairie dresses. But other styles, like cropped shirts, cutouts and mini dresses, are more popular outside of Utah than inside of Utah, according to Tarnasky.
While tiered and midi length dresses and other similar pieces are available worldwide, there’s a significant hub in Utah.
One reason modesty influencers can have such a strong impact on Utah fashion trends is because celebrities — who often set fashion trends for many women — might wear clothes that some Utah women wouldn’t choose to wear, so there’s a vacuum of influence available to these women.
The background of Utah influencers
Utah may be “the capital for mom bloggers and influencers.” That’s according to Morgan Pederson, who has a sizable following for her digital content creation. She described the area as having a “sea of creators.”
In the Toronto Star, Katrina Clarke reported, “For the past decade, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taken the blogosphere by storm, documenting their daily lives and amassing huge followings of Mormons and non-Mormons in the process.”
Not only have mommy bloggers been influential, some Utah women were among the first — like Stephanie Nielson. Nielson was injured in a plane crash in 2008 and has written about her recovery. Her story has attracted the attention of people like Oprah Winfrey — she even went on Oprah’s show to tell her story. Her blog had a worldwide audience, and she isn’t the only one. A slew of mommy bloggers are Utah mothers who were looking for a way to write and make an impact while at home with their kids.
It’s not just the religious or people in Utah who have liked these blogs. Emily Matchar, a self-described “young, feminist atheist who can’t bake a cupcake,” said she loved reading mommy blogs because she found them uplifting and liked the basic messages they shared.
But Utah women’s penchant for influencing remains strong — there are still dozens and dozens of Utah influencers who are taking mediums like TikTok and Instagram by storm.
Wherever you land on mommy bloggers, they are influential. The rising generation of influencers are prominent in the same way mommy bloggers have been — they’ve also helped mold the Utah modest fashion landscape.
The influencers behind Utah fashion
Noelle Bybee, a Latter-day Saint TikTok influencer, says fashion is important to her — but so is modesty. For her, modesty isn’t just about the clothes she wears — it’s about her faith and relationship with God.
Bybee said she gets her basic pieces from stores like H&M and Old Navy, but will buy investment pieces from Madewell and Anthropologie. “I personally love baggier clothes myself. I don’t like wearing form fitting things, so when I’m looking, I’m trying to find bigger T-shirts that I can wear with biker shorts,” she said.
On her TikTok account with 17,000 followers, Bybee often shares her OOTD (outfit of the day) and shares other lifestyle content. She has used social media to find modest clothes, and encourages others to do the same. While it can be challenging for her to find modest clothes, she said that it helps her to be in the best head space and that she believes people can still be themselves and express themselves while dressing modestly.
Chillier day called for a warmer set 💜 #modestfashion #modestoutfits #ootd #mormon #utahcheck #lds #christiangirl♬ Ophelia - The Lumineers
Mimi Bascom, an Instagram and TikTok influencer in the modest fashion realm, said that as an Asian American, she doesn’t feel like she always fits the classic Utah mold. She said looking at the different aesthetics on social media helped her find a style that she made her own. She said she loves the old money aesthetic and advised anyone who feels like they don’t fit the cultural mold to explore the different styles out there and find a style they love.
Even though she shops at a couple of the classic Utah stores, Bascom said she buys a lot of her clothes secondhand. She loves to layer her clothes, like wearing a tank top over a turtleneck, and likes to wear high-waisted pants.
After Bascom spent some time working on the show “Saints Unscripted,” she started as a modesty blogger because she thought there was a content gap she could fill as a Latter-day Saint influencer.
“And as much as I love fashion and I think it’s a great way to express yourself, dressing modestly just helps you focus more inward than outward, if that makes sense,” she said.
For Bascom, it’s important to have her own personal style, but she also has a broader picture she wants to keep in mind. She doesn’t want to focus too much on her appearance because she believes that it will help her to focus on God more.
Another TikTok influencer, Kenna McClellan, also built her platform on lifestyle content and modest fashion. McClellan shops at stores like JessaKae, Princess Polly, Ivy City Co. and Bohme for her flowing dresses, matching sets and floral dresses.
In some ways, she’s the quintessential Utah lifestyle influencer. She drinks dirty sodas from Sodalicious and she wears “the Utah dress.”
The dresses aren’t exactly the same, but often times, they are A-line, frequently have floral patterns and are flowing as opposed to form-fitting. McClellan has 165,000 followers on TikTok and some of her most-watched content are the videos where she shows her modest clothes collection.
Her videos features clothes from Hope Ave Boutique, Asos, One Loved Babe, Free People — these clothes fit the typical Utah aesthetic. Overalls are in right now, along with the Utah dress, rompers and matching sets. In fact, it may be partially because of these bloggers that there is such a distinct style in the West.
At the same time, modesty influencers find themselves in a unique spot.
On the one hand, many women of faith, including nondenominational Christians, find these modesty influencers inspiring and helpful, but the concept of modesty hasn’t escaped criticism. Some have argued that modesty is a backwards, gendered norm that isn’t a virtue. Bascom said she’s received pushback.
She said that even in the face of backlash, she thinks her style of dress is a way of expressing herself and that it has a deeper meaning for her.