The Truth About The Duggars' Dress Code

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From the moment "19 Kids & Counting" first aired, viewers were fascinated by the mega-family. The Duggars were a curiosity, not only because of the number of children in their household, but also for their unusual lifestyle. Parents Jim Bob and Michelle are members of a highly conservative Baptist branch that dictates how they live, learn, and love. As Michelle has explained on the family website, they looked at the series as a way to display their Christian beliefs to a wider audience. "We said the only way we would do the documentary is if they did not edit out our faith, because that is the core of our lives," she wrote.

One of the things that stood out right away about the Duggars was their appearance. Michelle and the girls (all nine of them!) were always seen wearing dresses or long skirts, and shirts with sleeves. They could wear leggings under a dress, but never pants alone. This, too, was as much a part of the family's core faith as Bible study and courtship. Early in their marriage, Jim Bob and Michelle used the Bible as a guide to clothing; after seeing passages about gender-specific clothing and not uncovering the thigh, they decided their family would always be covered from the neck to the knees. The Duggar children accepted the dress code while living at home, but as they grew up, some of them chose other options.

Michelle Duggar established the family trend

Unlike, say, the Amish "plain" style, the Duggar dress code isn't a generations-old tradition. As a teen, Michelle Duggar (née Ruark) wore the same types of outfits her friends did — a choice she now regrets. In a now-deleted blog post she wrote for TLC in 2012, Michelle wrote, "Growing up I would wear a bathing suit or shorts and not realize that it was revealing. When I got older I really felt convicted about my responsibility for how I was causing others to be defrauded. And I began to cover up because I felt responsible for my part in that." In another post, the Duggar matriarch clarified that her husband explained to her "about how men see things and what goes on in their minds" when they look at women.

With that in mind, the senior Duggars began dressing their children modestly at home. Michelle has said that the children were never forced to keep to the dress code, but rather encouraged to make similar choices as they grew up. "I find that my daughters are even more careful with their appearances," Michelle wrote at the time. "Their modesty is their own. They own it themselves. I'm not the one telling them what to wear. As my 12-year-old girls are growing and maturing, sometimes I'll have to mention to them when things are getting too snug or revealing." 

For the Duggars, Nike was more than just a shoe brand

The Duggars' stance on modest dress is meant to avoid "defrauding." In Duggarspeak, this means "stirring up desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled," as mom Michelle has said (via InTouch Weekly). Or, to put it even more bluntly, it means not dressing in a way that might be considered provocative. The Duggar sons were taught an unusual strategy for avoiding lustful thoughts. In the book "Growing Up Duggar," daughters Jana, Jessa, Jinger, and Jill explained that the family used the code word "Nike" whenever they passed a woman who looked immodest. That was the cue for the boys to look down at their shoes (via People). 

That's the reason "19 Kids" never showed the family visiting the beach. In another blog post, Michelle explained, "[I]n general we don't do a lot of swimming events where swimming suits are worn, because it's just too hard for the guys to try to keep their eyes averted in those situations." Instead, they would go to private creeks or visit friends who had pools, where they could wear "modest clothes" in the water.

The message, of course, is that men can't control their sexual urges, so women must avoid tempting them by covering up. Critics of the family have slammed them for this belief, saying it's especially damaging in light of the fact that oldest son Josh Duggar is currently serving time in prison for possessing child pornography. 

This Duggar daughter was one of the first to break the code

The kids from "19 Kids & Counting" have changed since the show first aired. More than half of the Duggar children are adults now, and most of the grown kids have gotten married and started families of their own. As they have carved out their independent lives, some have opted to move away from the restrictive dress code they followed as children. Among them is Jinger Duggar Vuolo, the sixth of the 19 and the fourth daughter. Married to pro soccer player-turned-minister Jeremy Vuolo, Jinger kept to a skirt-and-dress wardrobe early in their marriage. As she and Jeremy began studying the Bible together, her views slowly changed. 

As she describes in the book "The Hope We Hold," a book she and Jeremy published in 2021 (via People), Jinger discovered that there were no passages in the Bible that specifically forbade women from wearing pants. "[I] realized that biblical modesty is deeper and more profound than wearing skirts instead of pants," she wrote. She asked Jeremy for his opinion, and he encouraged her to follow her "true desire to understand what the Bible said and do exactly that."

Thus reassured, Jinger has since rocked not only pantsuits like the one pictured here, but also jeans, shorts, and even tank tops. The Vuolos' daughters, Felicity and Evangeline Jo, have been spotted in pants as well. For this family, faith is more than outward appearances.

Jill has defied many of her parents' rules

Jill Duggar Dillard was one of the first of the Duggar children to leave the nest, marrying Derick Dillard and becoming a mom to sons Israel and Samuel. But what seemed to be a happy extension of the family story quickly turned dark. The Dillards have claimed that Jill's dad, Jim Bob, withheld their TV earnings and ordered them not to come to the "big house" where Jill grew up (via The U.S. Sun). Another point of contention is Jill's older brother Josh; whereas Jim Bob and Michelle have stood by Josh during his trial and sentencing, the couple are squarely in the opposite camp, stating that justice was served.

To look at Jill today, you might not realize that she once lived by a strict modesty code. Although she does step out in dresses once in a while, she's more likely to don jeans, t-shirts, shorts, and hoodies. Her hair is still long — a Duggar girl tradition — but she has lightened it and often wears a head wrap. Even more un-Duggarly, Jill has pierced her nose and once posted photos of henna tattoos on her hands. The Dillards also have looser standards when it comes to recreation; they enjoy visits to the beach, and their sons are taking swim lessons. However, Jill does have limits when it comes to swimwear. She has promoted a line of modest bathing suits featuring shorts, skirts, and tee tops.

Do the youngest Duggar girls keep the tradition?

It seems that the senior Duggar daughters have followed their mother's advice to follow their own consciences when it comes to dressing modestly — and they have concluded that they can be women of faith who still wear pants. Along with Jill and Jinger, sisters Joy-Anna and Jessa also opted to break the dress code after they wed and left the Duggar nest. Even Jana, who at 32 is still living at home, has ditched skirts for jeans on occasion. 

But there are indications that the younger Duggars still follow their parents' lead. Jinger recently reported on Instagram that sisters Jana, Jessa, and Jennifer came to visit her in L.A., along with Jessa's husband, Ben Seewald. The family had a great time visiting the Santa Monica Pier amusement park, sightseeing, shopping, and playing a competitive game of Uno. But Jinger's photos of the weekend speak volumes. While the older sisters are casually dressed in T-shirts and jeans, Jennifer — who turns 15 in August, per 19 Kids and Counting Wiki – is pictured in a knee-length dress.  

So fans are curious: Will Jennifer one day follow her sisters' lead and fill her closet with capris and Bermuda shorts? Will youngest Duggar daughters Jordyn and Josie go full "Nike" when they come of age? Only time will tell.