Reflections on Teenage Modesty

The most intriguing part of the story developed when Nordstrom and many others in the fashion industry promised that this fall’s styles would do just that. Have fashion designers suddenly developed a moral conscience? Maybe not. Apparently, it’s still all about following fashionable trends.

“Trends are cyclical,” says Catherine Stellin, vice president of research and trends for Youth Alliance, a trend forecasting company based in New York and Los Angeles.

“So when everyone at the mall is wearing a belly-baring shirt and ruffled mini, it’s just really the next evolution in wearing what’s new to cover up a bit more. I also think people are feeling a little more uncertain in the world and they want to cover up a little bit and present themselves in a little more serious way.”

So did frustrated parents and teens notice a shift toward more modest styles during this year’s back-to-school shopping season?

“I actually did notice that the girls’ section was more appropriate this year,” says Sherianne Ricks of Seattle, WA, mother of 10-year-old Danielle. “Last year I really had to search to find clothes that wouldn’t show so much, but this year we found jeans that weren’t so low and tops that were long enough to cover her belly. No spaghetti straps anywhere to be seen. We even found some floor-length denim skirts.”

Others, however, were not as impressed.

“When I first heard that the trends were leaning toward more modest styles I thought ‘Uh-oh, what am I doing here?’” says Charity Miller of Salbrook, California, proprietor of a newly-established online clothing business ( aimed at providing teens and young women with fashionable, modest alternatives to current skin-baring styles. “But then I realized that the looks they are calling modest are wool sweaters or tweed blazers paired up with teeny tiny mini-skirts. They are only half-way there.”

A dearth of modest fashion options for young women was what propelled Miller to start her business and many of her current customers are young women and parents who are unhappy with the fashion industry’s definition of “modest fashion.”

Indeed, when asked about this year’s more modest styles, Gigi Solis Schanen, the New York-based fashion editor for Seventeen magazine said, “If modesty is what you are looking for, it’s going to come full force in the fall. The '50s sexy librarian look is in.”


“This is just what the Holy Father was talking about when he referred to a ‘Culture of Death,’” says Father John Gerth, a teen mentor known as “Fr. J” on the website of the Catholic youth group Life Teen.

“We need to move away from a popular culture that turns people into objects. Lately there’s been a rise in the acceptability of magazines like Maxim and FHM that promote immodesty and the objectification of human beings. The culture takes a living, breathing human being and turns her into an object. When we dress immodestly, we do that same thing to ourselves. Other people are not seeing our humanity, only our form.”

Father Gerth believes that when it comes to encouraging young people to make appropriate fashion decisions, parents are more powerful than they realize.

“Be convicted,” he urges parents of teens. “Our young people will probably never say it, but they really do want strong parents. There are so many other voices in the world that are trying to steer them away from the truth. Peers and television tell them ‘Wear this’ or ‘This product will make you happy,’ but parents are the voice that young people need to hear the most. Catholic parents should not be afraid to take a stand against things contrary to their faith.”

Theresa Kuhar, a mother of six in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a shining example of the effectiveness of convicted parenting. To begin, she does not allow her teenaged sons to wear the t-shirts with offensive slogans or suggestive pictures which are popular with their peers. As an open and involved parent, Kuhar welcomes her sons’ friends in their home, but she is clear that family guests must also adhere to the standards she has set for her own children’s attire.

“If any of the guys who come to spend the weekend come in with inappropriate clothing, they are offered one of the boys’ t-shirts and a room to change in. If they decline, they are asked to leave and shown the door. In general, they know the rules and are glad to obey them in return for a comfy couch, a stocked fridge, and a full complement of video games.”

When her children make requests for inappropriate clothing, Kuhar has a unique way of helping them to recognize a potential poor choice on their own. When her 15-year-old son recently asked to purchase t-shirts promoting alcohol use, she asked him if he would feel comfortable wearing them to Mass. He admitted that he wouldn’t, and he didn’t buy them.

“I almost always frame my answer in the context of Mass, and it solves the matter on the spot. If you can’t be seen in church wearing it, it doesn’t belong in our house.”

Father Gerth applauds mothers like Theresa Kuhar who take a strong stance on the importance of appropriate dress, but he emphasizes the importance of a father’s involvement as well, particularly with regard to a daughter’s clothing choices.

“So much about what is wrong with women’s fashion has to do with women seeking to meet the expectations of men,” he explains.

“A dad is so important because he can give his daughter a male perspective on the matter. He can tell his daughter what he remembers about the ‘type’ of girls who would dress immodestly when he was younger. He should tell her, I don’t want you to be a ‘type’ of girl. I want you to be a child of God.”

Ultimately, according to Father Gerth, a person’s fashion decisions and outward appearances matter because they are a reflection of who a person is on the inside. As a result, he finds the current trend of slogans and brand names plastered across t-shirts and even the rear-ends of girls’ shorts particularly distasteful.

“Why be a walking billboard for Company X?” he asks. “We are called to be a walking billboard for Christ. Don’t strive to be popular — strive to be saved. Don’t worry about making lots of friends — worry about leading others to Christ. Sometimes that’s as simple as changing your clothes.”

Danielle Bean is a freelance writer and mother of seven. Her newly-released book is My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom. Read an excerpt, order your copy, and read her daily musings at:

(This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.)

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