With April nearly on us and summer around the corner, do you dread the start of the modesty battles as much as I do?
You know what I’m talking about. Someone writes a blog post urging girls to embrace modest dress in an effort to prevent lust. Someone else writes a response post discussing how this attitude hurts women. More posts pop up. All of them get shared on Facebook. The comment section on each thread turns into a theological battle about who’s responsible for lust, what role clothing plays, and whether this conversation harms the self-esteem of young women.
Just thinking about it in advance gives me a nervous tic.
This year, I want to make a preemptive strike. Yes, you heard me. I am striking preemptively, bringing on the conversation I so dread. Why would I do such a foolish thing?
Well, if we’re going to have the conversation anyway (and judging by my watch, we will in about five weeks), I want to get it started off on the right foot.
You see, every time this battle starts, it’s always directed at the wrong people, and I want to direct it towards the right people for a change.
Without fail, the clothing conversation is always started with young women.
“Buy modest clothing. Don’t stoop to “the world’s” tactics. Popularity isn’t worth it. You don’t want your brothers to stumble. Your motive should not be to attract them—unless you believe that “modest is hottest,” in which case, absolutely, use attraction as your motive.”
So now I’m going to say the conversation should be directed at young men first, right?
No, keep backing up.
Before the conversation gets to young women….before it gets to young men…before it gets to parents…it has a first stop to make, and that is at the doorstep of the fashion industry.
One very basic principle of life is that you can’t buy what isn’t being produced. Do you want girls to have higher necklines? Longer shorts? Fewer see-through clothes? The first step in that process is for those things to actually be available on the clothing racks.
I invite you to go shopping with a teenage girl sometime this summer. Go to any reasonably-priced department store you want. Target, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Old Navy, Maurice’s, Macy’s, doesn’t matter. Shop with her for awhile, and try to complete this challenge:
Find ONE tank top that is cut high at the neckline.
I bet you can’t do it.
(If you do, please comment on this blog post saying where you found it and what brand it was, so I can go buy it. I’m serious).
You may be thinking that you’ll immediately just go to the camisole section. Those are adjustable, right? Girls can make them as modest as they want. Ha! You’ve outsmarted the Observational Ginger this time!
Not so fast. The reality is, there’s only so far up you can adjust a camisole before it’s hugging your armpits, cutting off circulation and sponging up sweat so that you smell like an onion by 10:30 in the morning. They’re cut with the expectation that girls will wear them low, and adjusting them upwards makes them not fit in other areas of the body.
Also, to all you guys out there, I must appeal to your logic for a moment. You’ve experienced unbearably hot summer days, right? The kind where, even in a T-shirt, you’re practically melting? Now imagine that you’re actually wearing two shirts on such a day. The first is the top you picked out this morning, and the second is a FLESH-HUGGING, ARMPIT GRABBING, SWEAT COLLECTING camisole that you’re wearing UNDER the already-too-hot shirt.
Get the picture?
So let’s change the challenge to one comfortable tank top that could be worn by itself, all day long, that is also cut high.
I am confident in challenging you to this because I have searched high and low for them, and they do not exist. (Again, if they do, I beg of you to let me know where. I would fly to Abu Dhabi at this point).
Next challenge. Try to find shorts that are modest enough for you. This one should be easier, right? You’d think, in such a large shorts section, there must be a variety of lengths. They can’t all be super tiny.
Oh….well…apparently they can. Okay, so long-ish shorts for young women may be a toughie. But wait, brilliant idea! You’ll just head for the Capri pants section. Capris come down mid-thigh, so they’re—
Wait. No. Those are cut like skinny jeans and practically painted on. Plus they’re really low-rise.
Well…I guess girls can wear jeans all summer and sweat it out. (The kind of jeans that aren’t skinny, of course, which brings it down by about 50 percent).
We haven’t even touched on the phenomenon of see-through clothes yet, and already I’m frustrated.
Now, to be fair, there are ways to solve these problems. The tank top thing, for instance. You can cut off plain white tanks at the rib area so they’re just little half undershirt things, and then wear the undershirt half-tanks backward (because they are cut higher in the back than they are in the front. I’m not kidding). You can then wear those backward things under all your regular clothes, they don’t hug the armpit quite as bad, and they’re not a full second layer.
You can also buy jeans and cut them off to make your own shorts.
But do you notice something about these solutions? They’re all improvisations that girls have to invent. I recently spent an entire day looking for this season’s brand of tank tops that I will cut into under-tanks and wear backwards. I couldn’t find any that could be worn forward. Some years, I have trouble finding anything at all. Plus, it took me until age 30 to have the brilliant idea to wear them backwards.
My point is, girls can’t just walk into a store “with a good attitude” towards their Christian brothers and easily start choosing things off the rack. Sometimes you can’t find good solutions.
So I question the wisdom of lecturing girls about it, when the people with the most control are actually the fashion designers and clothing stores.
The True Degradation of Womanhood
I don’t believe there’s anything terribly wrong with wearing low-cut tank tops or short shorts, and I don’t agree with many of the shaming and scare tactics used on girls (I’ve seen memes stating that God stops paying attention to girls who don’t dress modestly. Wow). Now, I believe it’s sad when young women think they must wear those things to be attractive and have worth. And I believe any young woman should seriously consider how she shows respect to her body and how her clothing choices reflect that. Self-respect–not shaming, not fear of losing approval–is what my clothing choices are based on. And I don’t think it’s a scandal if a young woman, having thought carefully about self-respect, still chooses clothing that’s cut a little lower or higher than mine. No judgment here, ladies.
The problem is, in a world where the fashion industry offers us one option, we don’t even have a choice. I think that is the true degradation of womanhood going on here. The fashion industry either believes that all women think the same, or believes that women who think differently don’t deserve to be indulged. (I haven’t figured out which it is yet). It doesn’t care what a woman feels about self-respect or her own body.
And it doesn’t help that an army of self-righteous fashion police tells us we’re somehow responsible for the problem.
I’m not suggesting that I have The Solution to force the fashion industry to change. I honestly don’t know how to fix that problem. It’s something that I will begin researching this year. But I do know that we won’t fix it by telling young girls to magically find a type of clothing that doesn’t exist in our shopping malls. No matter how much guilt you pile on them, they can’t make tailor-made outfits appear from thin air.
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas about how we could make the fashion industry offer more choices at reasonable prices?