The Modesty Roundup

by Little Miss Attila on May 21, 2011

I promised my friends from “Peter I Da TechGuy” that I would provide a set of links for girls and women who want to increase the “modesty quotient” in their wardrobes.

I expect this list to be most useful for those who are, say, 12 to 22 years of age: that is, those who are beginning puberty, those who are entering junior high, girls in high school, and college girls. That sounds like a huge range, and it encompasses several rites of passage. Trust me, however: from 50, one can pick out a few thematic distinctions between teenagers and young adults. So, no offense–and please press on.

This is not a guide for starting your career and acquiring a work wardrobe, which is a more specialized subject. Rather, we’re talking about what they call “sportswear,” which has become, in department-store speak, a term for casual clothing. This is also not a resource for how you should dress at church, or in your temple or mosque. (Although I would double-check the cut of your slacks, and put an overshirt or silk cardigan over that tank top; if the air-conditioning is working, there’s no reason to show a lot of skin during a church service. You know what I’m sayin’?)

And a lot of the standard modesty advice will not apply–as I see it–to what you wear when you work out, or during athletic events or heat waves. Nor should any advice for girls and women be construed as taking responsibility away from men and boys for their own behavior, which should be non-exploitative and thoughtful of others.

I’m also not interested in giving ammunition to females who are just out to be catty–or men who are just out to be sexist.

All that said, it can be a huge challenge for young women to find the resources they need to dress properly, and if your family background is not strict Roman Catholic, evengelical Christian, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, or Mormon, you may not be getting pointers at your place of worship, or from your school. So see if some of these links help you to find your own style in a way that won’t make you self-conscious.

Getting Started:

The best article Roxeanne de Luca I were able to find was actually at eHow, of all places, and contained a set of common-sense suggestions for making one’s clothing just a bit less body-consious, and showing less skin than the dominant culture often suggests: “How to Dress Modestly and Still Be Attractive.”

My own second-favorite was this next article, which is written from a Christian point of view, and may be slightly more conservative in its approach than I advocate–but it discusses the basics very well, and reminds girls that backlighting will change the overall effects of what they are wearing: “Practical Helps for Modest Dressing.” The relentless hunt for panty-lines and bra straps is less appealing to me, but these issues are, by definition, personal.

The Pure Fashion folks have an entire culture built up around helping girls to figure out how to dress without strutting their stuff or looking like dorks; they even provide resources for those who want to hold fashion shows (and Wendy Shalit’s second book has some tips for this as well, as one of its exercises; more on that in a moment). Again, there is a huge preoccupation with making sure that one’s underwear can’t be discerned, which always makes me giggle: after all, some of the most extreme advocates of modesty in dress condemn “flesh-colored underwear,” lest the casual observer deduce that it isn’t there. Of course, the Pure Fashion folks are also out for a subdued variation on “runway chic,” so watching one’s panty lines and bra straps makes sense in that context.

Modestly Yours is a widely quoted idea-exchange forum that is linked to Ms. Shalit, who has done some good work on helping girls resist the hookup culture.

The Good Girl Revolution is Shalit’s second site, and is less theoretical and more pragmatic. She continues, there, to tirelessly document the abusive aspects of today’s world as they relate to women and girls.

Fashion Belle has some links for those who are more entrenched in the modest lifestyle.

Abbi’s got some thoughts on casual chic.

Going Shopping:

Jen Clothing is a mail order resource for girls and women who want to dress well and look great.

Zarmina offers custom-made fashions influenced by South Asian wardrobes.

Shade Clothing is a treasure trove of simple, long-cut T-shirts and other staples.

FunkyFrum is another online retailer that offers some clever layering options.

Kosher Casual also has some cute pieces.

Press Coverage:

The Wall Street Journal documents “A Modest Rebellion.

Los Angeles Times smirks about “False Modesty” (get it?).

The Seattle Times points out that the less-skimpy trend is often driven by preteens and teenagers themselves.

Roseanne de Luca discusses “slutwalks” and lingerie parties.

Wendy Shalit on how we might be on the verge of admitting that there is a problem.

{ 8 trackbacks }

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

alwaysfiredup May 21, 2011 at 12:01 pm

The “jen clothing” link assured me that the dresses meet “LDS (Mormon)” guidelines for modesty. I laughed.


Little Miss Attila May 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Yeah; a lot of the most aggressive marketers of modest clothing will be Mormons, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews, with a few Christian groups from the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist wings weighing in (though if one gets too far into fundy land–or too deep into the Roman Catholic subculture–one will run into the “skirts only” fanatics).

And there are plenty of people out there who mindlessly equate V-necks with plunging necklines, not even realizing that a non-V neck will often emphasize a buxom woman’s breasts; presumably, that isn’t the intent.


alwaysfiredup May 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm

It’s interesting that certain women’s lib and fundamentalist religious groups can agree on clothing guidelines, with completely opposite rationales. Personally I’m trying to find casual wear for professionals, which also tends toward the modest. Camis are terrifically versatile things.


Little Miss Attila May 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Yes. Also, shells and the type of silk (or microfiber) tank that can be worn under a blazer or light jacket.

The more strident modesty advocates will tell you that knit fabrics are too clingy, but knits are much better at accommodating monthly weight fluctuations without creating weird gaps, or making you look like your breasts are going on the attack.

The trick there is getting them clean without spending a fortune on dry cleaning. Try hand-washing (or gentle/cold in the washing machine) and drying flat–or hanging them upside-down, from the hem instead of the top.


Roxeanne de Luca May 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

The more strident modesty advocates will tell you that knit fabrics are too clingy, but knits are much better at accommodating monthly weight fluctuations without creating weird gaps, or making you look like your breasts are going on the attack.

My first thought when I read that was, “I never have to worry about my breasts looking like they are going on the attack.” Then I thought, “Isn’t this something that works for some women and not for others?” That is, the “no knit tops” rule is something that might work better for some women than others, and what downplays certain features in one woman plays them up in another. The v-neck thing, all over again.


ponce May 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

What? No Christian swimwear?

Allow me to rectify this oversight:


alwaysfiredup May 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm

That’s some funny stuff there, Ponce, although I’d say it serves Muslimas as much as Christettes.


Little Miss Attila May 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Yeah–and I thought I’d specified that athletic wear is, for those unrestricted by religious rules, probably outside the scope of modesty guidelines. Few women, after all, are going to need to cover neck-to-knee while running a marathon . . .


ponce May 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Yes, but the swimwear highlights the silliness of the whole modesty “movement.”

Kinda like daddy daughter chastity balls did in the “purity” movement.


Roxeanne de Luca May 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

…and how Barack Obama highlights the silliness of leftism, the progressive movement, the Democratic Party, and post-racial-utopian ideals?

Darrell May 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Yes, exactly like that, Roxeanne.
Of course ponce linked to that site, not LMA.
So he/she is burning his/her own straw woman.
Wrong on so many levels.
And from a Leftist pushing AGW at that.
What a pathetic….ponce. As good an insult as any.

Libby May 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I have a son, so I can’t put this to use. But I’m glad to see there are businesses and websites available to girls who prefer modesty. I’m always amazed when I see young girls in such revealing clothes (little tank tops, micro minis, tiny bikinis, etc.). What really surprises me is when it is an especially, uh, curvy girl. Part of me thinks that it’s great she’s not so self-conscious/weight obsessed that she’s wearing me a tent, but the other part of me wonders if she has any sense at how inappropriate it is to wear clothes not designed for her body type (such a rolls of flesh hanging over a low waist band).


retriever May 22, 2011 at 10:51 am

As a mother of two college aged daughters who do NOT dress like sluts, and who are very attractive, I’d say the main difficulty when they’re younger is helping them finding clothes that more or less blend in without screaming “PRUDE” or “DORK”. Obviously underwear that wasn’t translucent or too revealing under a Tshirt.

An initial struggle was to convince them that they didn’t need to wear things skin tight, like their peers. One thing that really helped was that they bought their own clothes after they were 15 (we would match them dollar for dollar) with their earnings from a Saturday job. This sent them to the thrift shop rather than to Abercrombie or the Gap or the mall. They developed a taste there for higher quality second hand clothes rather than cheap “fashionable” stuff. Now they are just as quirky and stubborn as I am about what they wear. They look good, ignore fashion. Men like their looks. But they don’t look like they earn their living on a street corner.

I don’t think you have to get stuff at specifically “modest” or religious outlets. Just go preppy, and classic. Even dull and expensive stores like LLBean, Brooks Bros, Ralph Lauren, Talbots, and J. Crew have some stuff that teenagers like, albeit at a price. The thing is to get it at an outlet (preferably online or in New Hampshire with no tax, preferably on sale).

One of the reason so much that is sold to young people now is so tacky is that it’s cheap fabric, skimpily cut to save money. Also, cut badly because made in China and not designed to fit people who live here very well. Unless one is anorexic. So many girls will insist on wearing a size 4 as a point of honor, whereas if they would just wear an 8 or 10, the top or sweater or pants would look nice and not tacky at all.

The other piece of advice I give my kids and my young friends at church is that if you’re going to wear something a little bit racy, make sure the rest of your outfit is tame, to balance it out. So, if you just HAVE to buy those hooker shoes at the thrift shop, wear them with a mid calf skirt and a modest blouse. Show off some ankle, but don’t mortify yourself by wearing a red lycra tank dress with them….unless playing Mary Magdalene in a modern chancel drama.

Of course back when I was young and the dinosaurs roamed the earth, we bought men’s straight leg Levi’s and didn’t whine too much about the waists being too big. I remember wearing size 28, leg 30 and the style was for them to bag a little, NOT look as if they were painted on….


Zilla February 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

This is a terrific resource you’ve put together, I am going to keep it handy for the next time my teen niece comes over. I still have some time before I need to for my daughter, as she is seven, but already she prefers her dresses with pants on under them.


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