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.