Au-courant but covered; Girls and women weary of suggestive clothing demand, get alternatives
can be a frustrating experience for Mandi Hart.
It isn't that Miss Hart doesn't fit into fashionable clothing. In fact, she is
18 and trim. The problem is that the racks of jeans that ride low on hips and
shirts that emphasize cleavage don't mesh with Miss Hart's conservative
"How you look on the outside is a reflection of your heart on the
inside," says Miss Hart, a freshman at American University
in Northwest. "You have to think about what sort of image you want to
project. As a woman, I want to be valued for who I am on the inside. I don't
want to attract attention by showing skin."
Miss Hart has set her own rules: No short skirts. No shirts that ride up at the
waist. Nothing low-cut. Today, for a visit to church, she is wearing an
adorable but demure cardigan and a trendy brooch. Her motto: "If it's not
for sale, then don't advertise."
It appears Miss Hart is not alone in her search for modern, attractive clothing
that covers most body parts. She has friends who also are trying to solve the
modesty fashion puzzle by adopting strategies that turn skimpy clothes into
There is evidence of a nationwide response, too. Department stores such as
Dillard's and Nordstrom have responded to customer requests to carry more
modest clothing. Pure Freedom, a Christian organization for young women, has
sponsored style shows that promote fashionable modesty. Several business-minded
young women have started Web sites either advising others on where to go for
modest clothing or selling the fashions themselves."I think there
absolutely is a backlash going on," says Colleen Hammond, a former fashion
model and author of the book "Dressing With Dignity." "It
started about a year ago, but it takes a couple of years for it to filter down
to stores like Wal-Mart. There is always a pendulum when it comes to
Mrs. Hammond says young women often have a hard time making the transition from
an anything-goes college wardrobe to a more professional work environment.
That is why adopting standards - or even a fashion role model - is a good idea
for all young women, even those who aren't specifically seeking modesty, she
"People make up their mind about you in the first few minutes," Mrs.
Hammond says. "So it is good to have rules all around. Professional women
in careers need to be modest. People do treat you differently based on how you
That is true outside of the workplace as well.
"Men are definitely wired differently," Mrs. Hammond says. "A
lot of women don't understand that when men see certain things, there is a
hormonal reaction. I think boys are actually more comfortable with modesty.
Then they can see who you really are."
One of the forces behind the fashion pendulum is religion. Virtually all the
major religions in this country have some rules about modesty in women's dress.
In Islam and Orthodox Judaism, the rules are specific - keep the head, chest
and most of the body covered. In Christianity, there is no definitive law, but
modesty is encouraged and, depending on the views of the church or the family,
Diane Spinelli is a Catholic mother of seven - including five daughters ranging
in age from 2 to 19. She has tried to teach the girls to draw attention to
their faces, not their bodies. Her basic rules: no bras showing, nothing
sleeveless, and skirts must come to the knees.
"I ask them, 'Would you wear that if you were going to see the
president?'" says Mrs. Spinelli, who lives in Springfield.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, short skirts, tight
clothing and shirts that do not cover the belly are considered immodest.
Jennifer Loch, a 24-year-old Mormon, has long struggled with her desire to look
current and also be respectful of her faith. She would flip through magazines
such as Cosmopolitan and Jane and think, "What's in this for me?" she
says from her home in Utah.
Two years ago, Ms. Loch started Jen Magazine (www.jenmagazine.com), a Web site for
modest clothing, music and other facets of pop culture.
"There are a lot of companies that sell all modest clothing," she
says, "but they are like something out of 'Little House on the
In addition to writing articles about topics such as finding a modest prom
dress or why she follows modesty standards, Ms. Loch has combed cyberspace to
point like-minded young women toward longer shorts and skirts that don't show
too much skin.
"It is hardest to find something to wear to a party at night," she
says. "Tops are always shimmery or strappy. It is hard to even find
dresses for church. You can find appropriate dresses, but it is usually in the
older women's section, and it is not something a young person wants to
Miss Hart and her friends say demure clothes are out there - you just have to
know where to look and how to put the items together. Their favorite stores are
the same as those of many other women in their late teens and early 20s: Gap,
Old Navy, H&M and Target.
"It is all about being willing to look for it," says Sabrina Iga, a
19-year-old sophomore at American
Laura Kalichak, a 25-year-old nurse who lives in Arlington, says she will adapt her rules to
fit the situation. She says she is always seeking flattering clothes and is
trying to move from teen-type fashion into classic looks.
"I don't want to look 15," she says, "but for a church retreat,
when I am in the company of hundreds of guys, I will choose a tankini rather
than a bikini. I won't wear spaghetti straps to church, but [in] my back yard,
The women all say that layering, starting with a stretchy camisole, is the key
to putting together an appropriate, fashionable outfit.
Camisoles - fitted tank tops made of a cotton-Lycra blend - can be worn under
sheer clothes so bra straps don't show. They can cover up sides if a shirt gaps
at the armholes. If cut long enough, the camisole also can cover the gap
between where a shirt or sweater ends and low-rise jeans begin.
Mrs. Hammond and Ms. Loch are big fans of camisoles. So is Chelsea Rippy, a Utah woman who started
her own company, Shade Clothing, last year. Mrs. Rippy, a Mormon, says she was
tired of shopping and coming back empty-handed.
"Jeans are getting really low," says Mrs. Rippy, 31. "I am not
comfortable showing my midriff - I've had two kids."
Mrs. Rippy's company sold more than $2 million in cotton-spandex camisoles,
cap-sleeve shirts and T-shirts its first year. The shirts fit snugly, are
slightly higher at the neck, and are about 3 inches longer than most shirts.
"A lot of clothes are only good if you are standing perfectly still,"
Mrs. Rippy says. "With these shirts, you can stand up or bend down. They
don't come untucked, and you stay covered."
Sassy, not strappy
Want to be cute but covered? Here are some places to find modest fashions:
Nordstrom (www.nordstrom.com) has a Modern and Modest
section on its Web site. The section features fashions in all price ranges with
modesty in mind.
Jen Magazine (www.jenmagazine.com), an online fashion
magazine started by a Mormon woman, has many selections of modest clothes
available from Amazon.com.
Funky Frum (www.funkyfrum.com) is a site geared
toward observant Jewish women who want fashionable long skirts, long-sleeved
shirts, hats and other head coverings.
Far Above Rubies (www.faraboverubies.com) is a site
that offers fashionable - but modest - clothes for teenage girls.
At the Modest Clothing Directory (www.modestclothes.com),
visitors can find a Web directory of dozens of sites that offer modest
clothing. The sites are divided by style as well as by culture (i.e., Muslim,
Mormon, Jewish, etc.)
The Mod Bod (www.themodbod.com) is another site
offering camisoles for women and girls.
By Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON