Retailers widen options, including more modest clothes

"Fashion's in our court right now," says Sharman, a former model.

Pure Fashion has about 700 members who work as models at spring teen fashion shows, which attract about 11,000 people. The group has affiliates in 10 countries, and is signing new groups on its website, PureFashion.com.

Pure Fashion was an offshoot of a Catholic missionary organization, but Sharman believes its message resonates from Muslims to Orthodox Jews to parents who simply believe it shouldn't be hard to find shorts that completely cover the rear end.

"Girls need to understand: What they wear sends a message," Sharman says.

Evangelical tween group Secret Keeper Girl was founded in 2004 by author Dannah Gresh, partly in response to a 2003 Time magazine report that $1.6 million was spent the year before on thong underwear for girls ages 7 to 12. The group is circulating a petition it plans to send to the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Apparel & Footwear Manufacturers Association urging them to consider modesty in their designs.

Gresh is hoping to have 50,000 signatures by fall. She says 5,000 have come in on their website, SecretKeeperGirl.com. When they do, Gresh plans to organize a day of shopping at the few stores they think offer appropriate fashion choices for pre-teen girls, including Old Navy, Gap Kids and Children's Place.

Gresh, who also started teen group Pure Freedom, which hosts fashion events in up to 80 cities annually, says the parents of her members are relieved the movement is getting traction.

"When clothes get skimpier and skimpier, moms get angrier and angrier," says Gresh, who's written several books including And The Bride Wore White. "But it's harder to appeal (to retailers) when it's become the norm and you're just one mom trying to hold the line."

Many parents agree.

Joe Cummings of Universal City, Texas, links self-esteem issues about appearance in young women to influences including suggestive apparel stores, Hannah Montana and the Bratz doll line. "It is no wonder that this might be the most difficult period in recent history to be a teenage girl in school, or a parent of one," says Cummings, who has a 12-year-old daughter.

Jenny Carpenter of Washington has applauded moves by apparel makers such as Shade and Layers to offer more modest choices, but she remains appalled by the marketing many retailers use to pitch their products.

"Why are retailers using sex to sell to young women?" asks Carpenter, who has four sons. "My boys will one day be men, and I want them to respect women for who they are — mind, body and soul — instead of drooling after them because of the amount of skin they're showing."

Retailers respond

Ella Gunderson unwittingly amped up the modesty movement when she complained to Nordstrom in 2004.

"Dear Nordstrom, I am an 11-year-old girl who has tried shopping at your store for clothes (in particular jeans), but all of them ride way under my hips and the next size up is too big and falls down," she wrote, according to an excerpt on PureFashion.com.

Gunderson's story made national news, and Nordstrom responded with higher cut jeans — and more — when it realized hers was hardly a lone cry. "Around that time, a fair amount of people were looking for modest options," says Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White.

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