Think of your favorite deep v-neck top or one-shoulder dress. Now picture it with a white t-shirt on underneath. Brooklyn transplant Nate Zubal encountered many young Mormon women rocking this weird and frumpy style while on a trip to Salt Lake City in 2008. “It’s unflattering, all bunchy and not fitting them well,” Zubal said. “It makes these women look slightly overweight and doesn’t make them feel as beautiful as they are.”
As a former Mormon who grew up in Utah, Zubal, 30, was well acquainted the four-finger rule–skirts no shorter than four fingers from the knee and blouses that never dip four fingers lower than the collarbone. But when he saw how modern Mormon women were buying low-cut blouses at Forever 21 and then layering them in an effort to stay covered up, he felt inspired to start Just Like Molly, a blog dedicated to highlighting modest clothing that is also fashionable.
Named for “Molly Mormon”–a term that many Mormons use, both admiringly and sarcastically, to refer to the stereotype of the perfect Mormon woman–the blog draws from high-end brands like Kate Spade (one of Zubal’s favorites), smaller up-and-coming designers, and affordable retailers like Target to show women where to find the perfect cardigan or bathing suit (one piece, of course). Zubal also teamed up with Thread Ethic—another blog that focuses on not baring it all—for a guest feature on modest street style.
When Zubal first started the site, he was afraid of how it would be received. Would Mormon women trust a 30-year-old gay man who lives in Brooklyn or would they see him as an outsider? In the end, Zubal says it came down to one thing: “I grew up in Salt Lake City. I know more about the stores and restaurants there than people that live there now,” he said. “I love that city.”
Before Just Like Molly went live last April, Zubal, who is also the vice president of marketing at WeConnectFashion, a company that offers business research to the fashion industry, sent contacts in Salt Lake City a survey to find out exactly what his audience was searching for. Hundreds of women answered, revealing in detail how much trouble it is to find clothes that work with traditional Mormon undergarments. Women usually wear a cap-sleeved undershirt with either a rounded or sweetheart neckline along with a pair of pantaloons or a skirt that comes approximately to the knee. “You can wear Diane von Furstenberg, but you can’t just go get what Nordstrom’s is giving you,” Zubal said. “You have to do a little more hunting and we’re going to take a little bit of the work out of it for you.”
Unlike most fashion blogs, which post constantly, Zubal sometimes doesn’t put up new content for several weeks. He says this hasn’t slowed (the somewhat modest) traffic to his site, which receives roughly 10,000 visitors a month, mostly in their teens and twenties, though traffic from women in their 40s and 50s has been growing. And while Just Like Molly was originally geared toward Mormons, its fan base has grown to include Christian women, Jewish women and fashionistas who simply don’t want to bear so much skin.
Just Like Molly’s most popular posts are the “Modest or Not” quizzes. Every few weeks, Zubal and his team ask readers to give a thumbs up or down to a look they’ve styled. This might be a skirt that hits a few inches above the knee paired with opaque tights, or a dress with a bold pattern. The comments, on the blog and on the Molly Facebook page, often lead to heated debates that tend to split along generational lines.
“Younger woman don’t tend to have a problem with length anymore,” Zubal said. “But older women question whether it’s appropriate and what it says about them.”
Zubal is also planning on going retail with the Just Like Molly brand. He’s currently working on a line of modest bathing suits and wedding dresses that channel Kate Middleton–the modest girl’s style icon. And, he plans to open a store on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City (with an eye on other cities as well) filled with modest basics like pencil skirts, blouses and blazers.
“There’s a misconception that modest means frumpy or old lady or old fashioned,” Zubal said. He noted that modest fashion was all over the runway this year, with designers focusing on long dresses and high-collared blouses. “These styles are great for an interview or for church or for meeting your fiancé’s parents for the first time,” Zubal said. “It’s a smart decision.”