Newsweek: Girls Gone Mild: Modest Movement

A new ‘modesty movement’ aims to teach young women they don’t have to be bad, or semiclad.

By Jennie Yabroff | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Consider the following style tips for girls: skirts and dresses should fall no more than four fingers above the knee. No tank tops without a sweater or jacket over them. Choose a bra that has a little padding to help disguise when you are cold. These fashion hints may sound like the prim mandates of a 1950s “health” film. But they are from the Web site of Pure Fashion, a modeling and etiquette program for teen girls whose goal is “to show the public it is possible to be cute, stylish and modest.” Pure Fashion has put on 13 shows in 2007 featuring 600 models. National director Brenda Sharman estimates there will be 25 shows in 2008. It is not the only newfangled outlet for old-school ideas about how girls should dress:, and all advocate a return to styles that leave almost everything to the imagination. They cater to what writer Wendy Shalit claims is a growing movement of “girls gone mild”—teens and young women who are rejecting promiscuous “bad girl” roles embodied by Britney Spears, Bratz Dolls and the nameless, shirtless thousands in “Girls Gone Wild” videos. Instead, these girls cover up, insist on enforced curfews on college campuses, bring their moms on their dates and pledge to stay virgins until married. And they spread the word: in Pennsylvania, a group of high-school girls “girlcotted” Abercrombie & Fitch for selling T shirts with suggestive slogans (WHO NEEDS BRAINS WHEN YOU HAVE THESE?). Newly launched Eliza magazine bills itself as a “modest fashion” magazine for the 17- to 34-year-old demographic. Macy’s has begun carrying garments by Shade clothing, which was founded by two Mormon women wanting trendy, but not-revealing, clothes. And Miss Utah strode the runway of the 2007 Miss America pageant in a modestly cut one-piece swimsuit. (She didn’t win the crown.) According to Shalit, whose new book “Girls Gone Mild” was published last month, this “youth-led rebellion” is a welcome corrective to our licentious, oversexed times. But is the new modesty truly a revolution, or is it merely an inevitable reaction to a culture of increased female sexual empowerment, similar to the backlash against flappers in the 1920s and second-wave feminists in the 1970s?

Shalit has made a career of cataloging the degradations of our culture while championing crusades of virtue. Her first book, “A Return to Modesty,” argued that chastity was hot—and informed readers she intended to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Shalit says she was inundated with letters and e-mail from girls dismayed by cultural pressure to be “bad.” She began a Web site,—there are at least a dozen similar ones today—and started collecting information from 3,000 e-mail exchanges between 1999 and 2006. “There’s a dawning awareness that maybe not everyone participating in these behaviors is happy with them, so let’s not assume everyone doing this is empowered,” she says. She blames …

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