You are what you wear
CARY, N.C. - Imagine a home with a teenage girl where the most contentious argument over clothes involves whether it's OK for the lace on a camisole to peek through the top or bottom of a shirt.
That seems to be the case with 15-year-old Morgan Morrissette, whose mother, Shelley, is the founder and organizer of a local Pure Fashion group, a Catholic-based organization that promotes modesty and purity among teenage girls.
"I think it's modest because it's a camisole with lace on it," Morgan says. "And my dad's like, 'you know what the guys think, they think it's underwear with lace on it.' "
It's a small quibble in these days where fashion seems to find a new body part to expose each season - from bare midriffs to cleavage to the cheeks not on the face.
Pure Fashion is one group of teenage girls moving the other direction. At spring fashion shows by 18 affiliates in the United States and Canada, teens model clothes that abide by guidelines such as "necklines no lower than four fingers below the collar bone" and pants that fit loosely enough that they can be pulled away from the leg.
Groups such as Pure Fashion could be a mere blip on the fashion radar screen, aided by a poor economy that says hemlines go up when life is good and down when the dollar plummets. Or it might be the start of a movement to excise from public memory images of Janet Jackson's nipple or Britney Spears' nether regions.
So, are high-waisted jeans a replacement for the low-rise variety? What do we make of CEO Sharen Turney's statement that Victoria's Secret has become "too sexy" and that the lingerie chain needs to focus on feminine?
"I think what's happening is that we've reached the limit of the 'if you've got it, flaunt it,' philosophy and we're seeing the power of a little mystery and glamour," said Wendy Shalit, author of 1999's "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue" and 2007's "Girls Gone Mild."
"When exhibitionism becomes the norm, the fact is, it gets boring," Shalit wrote in response to e-mail questions.
Pure Fashion is an outgrowth of Challenge Clubs, groups for girls in Catholic churches. Morrissette's group's membership is about 60 percent Catholic and about 40 percent other Christian religions. But modest clothing has roots in many religions; Shalit, for example, is Jewish.
She says the role of religion has been overstated, citing the "girlcotting" of Abercrombie & Fitch for its T-shirts that read "Who Needs Brains When You Have These?" as an example. The girls "just wanted a different definition of empowerment," she said.
National Pure Fashion director Brenda Sharman, herself a model who has been signed by Elite Model Management in Atlanta, says that while Pure Fashion has guidelines for how to dress, fashion has too many variables for hard and fast rules.
"I think we're trying to remind our kids that certain outfits are appropriate at some times and not appropriate at some times," Sharman said in a telephone interview.
"I think that women need to examine their intentions when they're getting dressed. Getting dressed with the intention to be pure is different than getting dressed with the intention to lure. Out in public, people will get an impression about them, and they need to be aware that their clothing sends a message about them."
For Shalit, that's not even the issue. The real issue, she says, is sexuality at too young an age.
"Lots of girls have really good instincts but the media, peers - and sometimes even parents - can wear them down, all under the guise of empowerment. What I'm trying to do is to present a viable alternative to this pressure, and to let girls know that it's OK to be themselves," she says.
Bold print emphasis mine, LM. This article copied from - Copyright 2008, San Jose Mercury News