24 September 2009

Social Duds

Mostly speculative, assuredly crazy

Interesting discussion here.

A few months back, I was bulldogging an overfull cart through the grocery store when I walked by a middle-aged mother happily discussing the merits of some brand of something with her three older daughters. All four women were dressed in denim jumpers and loose T-shirts, and they wore their hair up in simple ponytails. The simplicity and uniformity of their clothes startled me (we don't get a lot of that around here), and as I looked them over the oldest daughter noticed me and gave me a warm smile.

I smiled back, of course, but as I lugged my stuff away I wondered, “Why do they do that? They’re communicating ‘weird’ by dressing that way.”

Then: “Oh. That’s why they do that.”

Then: “Ack! No! That’s why they do that!”

Then: “But I LIKE wearing jeans!”

That brief encounter with such unobtrusive modesty made a deep impression on me. Those women were different, and they wore their difference on their sleeves. Their clothes sent a clear message to any onlooker: We aren’t like you; we belong to someone else; we know something you don’t know.

Yet they were not snooty broads, those women. They didn’t seem to be conceited legalists. Their ponytails hinted that they weren’t members of some woman-hating cult. Their cartful of products boasted of normal tastes and a normal life (unlike my cartful of wheat flour and raw beans). They smiled at me kindly when I passed. They laughed easily. They were typically human, but they were modestly dressed and, therefore, set apart.

I have committed various crimes against modesty over the years. I confess I used to wear the girl uniform Father Curtis lambastes in his post. I still own a few tighty-Ts, given to me as gifts, which I have worn. I am heartily sorry and sincerely repent of my tighty-Ts, because I now see that wearing such clothes, clothes that invite the world to appraise my frame, is disrespectful to my confession, my marriage, my children, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and myself. I am a woman, and can hardly disguise it. I am not ashamed of being a woman; I look the way I was designed to look. But there are limits, and looking like a woman needn’t translate into everyone looking.

What is more, I am responsible for the dress of three little girls. The type of woman I am now heavily influences—if not directly predicts—the type of woman my daughters will become. What I wear and how I comport myself communicates consequentially, and my little ones are paying attention. Shape up, self. Lose your vanity and kick the world out of your closet.

The problem: there is precious little available to the sewing-impaired on humble incomes who wish to dress themselves and their daughters modestly. The blousiest blouse is too low cut, the highest turtle neck is corset tight, the loosest pants are much, much too “juicy” or “go team” or “take a good long stare.” Modesty is especially difficult to affect when nursing, for obvious and "I hope it's not so obvious" reasons.

Sure . . . I'll get right on that.

So . . . the most apparent answer: Maternity clothes from the 1980s. The second most apparent answer: Denim jumpers. Aaaaaa! :D

In reality, I’m not about to give up my beloved blue jeans and sweatshirts. Neither am I going to force my daughters into Mennonite garb* anytime soon. We’re weird enough already, and I’m not sure I’m as brave as those grocery store ladies who wore their confession (whatever it was) outright. Instead, I’ve started budgeting to buy my girls' church clothes from providers like Hanna Andersson and April Cornell, whose products are less influenced by Disney, and competitively priced on the sales racks. And I purchase our play clothes from uncool bargain bins at Goodwill. Overall, I’ve started thinking more carefully about what our clothing communicates to outsiders. Does that skirt scream “Everyone, lookit here”? Or does it confess that, finally, we belong to someone else, that we know something the world can’t understand? Our clothes are the first and, sometimes, the only thing people know about us. I think it’s worth considering what our clothes confess, and being sure that our clothes don’t betray us and our children to our enemies.

Goodbye tighty-T. Sure, I was saved by the efficacious blood of Christ while I wore you, but you didn't do me any favors. I’m sorry I ever knew you.

*Though, consider this: I grew up in capped Mennonite country. All the Mennonite girls and women wore tea-length, home-sewn dresses in calico fabrics. The married women wore their hair coiled in buns and covered in black caps. But knock on a Mennonite family’s door in the middle of the day, and you’d likely find the girls and women in jeans with their hair flying loose. Their “capped Mennonite” uniform was for social purposes only . . . which I think very interesting. Very interesting indeed.


Anonymous said...

Good post Gauntlets, thank you for speaking of this.
I was in town the other day to run a few errands. These errands included dropping off church announcements at the newspaper office. When I walked in there was a woman working at one of the desks. I did not think anything of it until she stood up in response to my statement that I had an announcement for the religion page.
When she turned around I realized much to my dismay that she was dressed in one of the typical female tops of our culture. She was actually wearing two but neither one was appropriate both in tightness and in cut for someone so well endowed. I left the office very horrified and very scandalized that anyone would walk out of the house in such an outfit. Much less a grown woman.

Also, it should be known that Gauntlets' comments about her girls watching what she wears; this applies equally to mothers of all boys. They will someday pick a wife who is like their dear mama.
Under Christ's Blood,
Bibliophile-Ewe's beloved

Rebekah said...

I've been trying to piece together some thoughts on this matter too, although as usual they will not be nearly as graceful as yours. In general, I will say that the conversation (or lack thereof) is sad. We seem to think of ourselves and, moreover, our children as normal people with "Come, Lord Jesus" and church on Sunday tacked on. Sorry, but we don't get to be normal.

Father Bibliophile, it is rather incredible what women of all dimensions will leave the house in. I strongly disagree that women in our culture have a body image problem. The great majority of them apparently consider themselves to look FANTASTIC.

Kelly said...

'Round these parts we don't have many Mennonites, but we've got Muslims. When I see the Muslim women out in the stores I often wonder where they find their clothes. The majority are dressed in chic yet modest clothes that cover everything without being at all dowdy. I am so not into Laura Ashley. It is so frustrating to go shopping and only be able to find things with plunging necklines. I have 2 shirts I can wear to church. My other limited shirts are lower necklines than I would like, but I cannot find anything to replace them with and couldn't afford to right now if I did. Most assuredly NOT crazy, Gauntlets!

Beth said...

Big Sigh Ladies.
I am someone who is just waking up from a fog of self delusion. I was not raised with modesty as an ideal, other than my mother chastizing me "those leggings look like they've been painted on! at least wear a long sweater!"
My DH (poor man) has always encouraged my wearing of what I know see as horrifyingly immodest clothing. It has been very hard for him emotionally (!) as I have let go of my more egregious offenders.
He complains that it's the worlds fault... if the world wasn't so sinful, his wife could wear whatever pleased him and noone would care! er...
Do I completely disregard his feelings, or is there a way to still dress in a way that attracts him to me without attracting unwanted attention?

I have really been struggling with this topic, and really respect the ladies on this blog and your insights.
But I am terribly sensitive about it as well, and afraid of being written off as some silly woman of the world who can't think past her 4" heels.
I really want to resolve this angst I'm feeling, in a way that doesn't push my Husband away.

Rebekah said...

Kelly--totally right on the Muslims. Why do Christians think that it's either Britney or bun-and-jumper? SO stupid.

Beth, for the time being I'll say that I think the Mennonite approach is fine (I believe this also goes on in many Muslim communities--they're veiled in public but not at home). Wear whatever you want around the house. Put on more when you go out or when someone comes over. It will also demonstrate for your daughters the difference between family dress and public dress. I sometimes wear things at home that I don't want to be seen in; I just keep a zip-hoody or other throw-over accessible in case someone knocks.

Dakotapam said...

I've been able to ignore this for so long, but now, being thwapped int he ehad with the vision of two daughters int he near future...I need to think on this. I'm too heavy to be immodest but I struggle with not wanting to look frumpy...there is a fine line between not frumpy and trashy...hard to do. I want to look pretty, and not different, eeek! What to do?

Gauntlets said...

Thanks, Bibliophile. :)

Kelly: I sometimes see Muslim women when I'm in the Big City, and I admit that I wish Christians had something so comfortable and pretty to wear. Denim just isn't it. :(

Beth: You aren't silly at all. I miss my 4" heels, because wearing them was my one great talent. ;D But you are right; there comes a time to put away childish things. Email me over at the CSPP account, if you like. I'd be happy to talk it out with you.

Pam: I think sometimes looking pretty means looking different. . . I always thought my Mennonite neighbors were beautiful, with their simple clothes, fresh skin and untreated hair. If only they would have smiled every once in a while, they would have been radiant. :D

johnqmercy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johnqmercy said...


There, I fixed it.


Gauntlets said...


Thanks John. You're a big help. :D

Beth said...

Gack! thats one of the things my DH says. "We might as well just get you a Burka!" Apparently it's either fishnets or a burka...

Katy said...

Here's a modest clothing business I came across. I haven't actually bought anything from them, but maybe someone will find the site useful.


Rebekah said...

Ok, much as we'd all love to wear burkas :D, I think Kelly was referring to Muslim women who only wear a head covering (hijab?) along with regular, Western-style clothing. But nice, classy clothing. They look great. They are not wearing jumpers and all the other stuff we love to make fun of and be too cool for. The point is that it is possible to find clothes that look nice and normal and still not be provocative. The problem for most of us is affording such clothing.

Kelly said...

Thanks Rebekah :)

No burkas for me either.

By the by, if you are a Land's End fan they are now grouping their clothes by fit. Fit 1 is too tight for me, Fit 2 is a little looser but not loose enough for nursing, and Fit 3 is "traditional", read: ample. And they have crew necks! And there is a sale!

Rebekah said...

Ah, Kelly . . . Coldwater Creek is too pretty for me (or, more accurately, it is for people who are prettier than I am), but the Land's End and LL Bean catalogs are known as Mom's Guide to Coveting around here. :D

april Cornell said...

Hoping I can chime in to the conversation... It's possible to look beautiful, be beautiful and look beautiful and still be in feminine style in good taste.

Rebekah said...

April, keep the sales coming, right? :D