“What if we’re the only ones that show up in our pyjamas?!”
Mary laughed as she merged onto the highway. “I don’t know!! I have this irrational fear that everyone else is going to come in normal clothes.”
“We’re so stupid!” We glanced at each other and laughed again, anxiously.
Luckily, most of the others came to the Highschool Girls’ Night in their sweats or “jammies”. It was hilarious to see each of us nervously walk into the room, look at everyone’s clothes, and let out a sigh of relief.
Every once in a while, my church councillors host youth group at someone’s house, separating the guys and girls. For the longest time, I was frustrated by the separation because it often meant that the girls talked about dating. Or abstinence. Or chastity. We came, leaned back in the plush couches of so-and-so’s basement, and listened to a talk about why relationships in high school kind of suck.
This time, however, the girls walked through the door cautiously optimistic and very, very giggly. The week before, a flurry of texts were sent between us, asking if what we heard about the event was too good to be true. Could we REALLY wear our pyjamas? Should we wear our cute PJs or the ugly ones that you actually sleep in? NO WAY, we’re going to paint our nails? I HOPE THERE’S SNACK FOOD!
Besides the rumours of awesome food and girly stuff, a number of us were ecstatic about the topic of conversation: how to dress modestly. Now wait, I know what you’re thinking. WHY would I be excited to talk about covering up? That seems like a lecture waiting to happen. Allow me to explain.
In July, the youth group took a trip to the best city in the entire continent of North America: Chicago, Illinois! (I bet you couldn’t tell that Chi-town is my hometown.) Each room at the hotel consisted of four kids and a councillor, and I was really excited about my room. I had the councillor I hoped for and a group of girls I adored. As the trip progressed, I noticed that every single morning as we were getting dressed, a similar set of questions flew around.
“Are my shorts too short?”
“Do you think this sleeve is okay?”
“Man! I hate this shirt. It ALWAYS needs a tank top underneath.”
“Should I wear a cardigan over this, or naw?”
It was a daily battle. We struggled to alter our clothing so that we weren’t pushing the limits. Yet, no one wanted to be the dreaded f-word: frumpy. No one wanted to fit the stereotypical “modest church girl” description. I mean, ew.
One day, we were late for breakfast (okay, that happened every day) because I had changed my outfit like seven times. One of us sighed…it was probably me. “I don’t understand why it’s so hard to find cute clothes that aren’t, you know, trashy! I go to the store and see two choices: I have to dress like I’m in the Arctic or walk out the door in my underwear! It’s really annoying.” Our councillor looked at me and said “You know, you can find clothes that are really cute yet still appropriate.” I internally laughed. Yea, right!
“No really,” she said, “look at my shorts. I got these for four bucks!” Her shorts were really cute. It was the denim kind, yet I was surprised to note they stopped a few inches above the knee. “You just have to go to the right places. It really does take a lot more discipline and work to find stuff like this. It’s not impossible, just hard.”
I went through the rest of the trip very conscious of my clothes. It irked me that all of my “cute-conservative” clothes were only conservative because they were three sizes too big for me. That way, they were long enough and loose enough. But, I still had to do a lot of maintenance to make them fit kind of well. What was I supposed to do? Wear a burlap sack outside? Oh wait, it would probably be too short or something.
The conundrum of modesty stuck with me for the remainder of the Chicago trip, and it followed me home. I think it followed all of my group home, because when topics for the Girls’ Night were requested, we all went “MODESTY!!”. So when we were finally sitting down in our PJs at the event, I was very excited to see what I could clarify. I realized that I didn’t know where to turn for standards on how to dress. It all seemed so subjective. After all, what is considered modest in North American culture could be considered disgraceful in other countries. Even as I analyzed my own experiences, I realized that I had been exposed to several definitions of modesty. Those definitions are heavily influenced by cultural norms. Many times, all I thought I had to do to appear more conservatively dressed was show less skin than the girl to my right. I now feel uneasy about making that my guideline.
Back to the girls’ night. I leaned back in my chair with my Bible and a fistful of snack mix as I listened to the start of the discussion. I remember feeling a very specific vibe in the room that night. I seemed like all of the girls felt the same way I did: frustrated. After all, we’re just trying to be good, pure, noble, honourable women of God. The fashion industry has made life very difficult for young women in our shoes. If we want to feel fashionably relevant and well, cute, we have to sacrifice our morals and standards. How can I devise a set of standards regarding clothes when I feel as though I have no alternative to immodesty? Since God has placed the idea of modesty on my heart, it takes me half an hour to pick out an outfit every morning. Why is that? I look through my clothes, think “Hey, that might be really nice!” I put together an ensemble in my head, piece by piece. A necklace to bring out the colour of my shirt. Dark-wash denim jeans to give it the right vibe. Then, I put it on.
“UGH.” Once again, the picture I had in my head doesn’t translate successfully into real life. Fabric pulls where it shouldn’t and rides up where I don’t want it to. Why? Because my clothes were designed to show more skin than I am willing to show. That is what I have concluded after many years of dressing myself. There are many fashion trends I wish I could rock. Yet, when worn in the intended context, the clothes are overwhelmingly revealing.
This post is inconclusive. I can’t end with a warm and fuzzy phrase about how I discovered a solution because I haven’t. If, one day, I do find a way to honour God with my clothing and still express myself, I will be shouting it from the rooftops! Until then, I am left with the day by day struggle that many other Christian women on this continent face. How do we strike a balance? There must be one. After all, I believe that my clothing should be fashionably relevant while still being appropriate. It’s an idea I have received from my mother. Many times, she has told me something along these lines: “When I walk out into the world, I am a representative of Christianity. I want to be modest, of course. I believe that I still need to use my clothes to show that I know what’s going on in the world, though. Why? Because otherwise, people will look at me and make the assumption that Christians have to be totally detached from society, which is false.”
Very wise of you, mother. I am a priest’s daughter who worships at church every Sunday. Yet, I watch tons of Youtube and I know many lines from Mean Girls (“Oh my gosh, Karen. You can’t just ask people why they’re white”). I firmly believe that the Bible is the true word of God, and I still get really excited when I see patent leather pumps on sale. I want my clothing to reflect both of those sides of me. Yes, being a teenage Christian may have a certain stereotype, but I can tell you it’s not true. We don’t all have long, flowy hair and wear long, flowy skirts. (Okay, so I do have long flowy hair, and I can’t resist a maxi skirt…still, hopefully you see my point.)
In my search for the wellspring of fashion know-how, all I have learned so far is that the key is balance. A balance between modern and classic. A balance between modest and relevant. A balance between caring about my appearance and obsessing over it. God is beginning to let His standards for me fall to Earth in little clues, like bread crumbs behind Hansel and Gretel. One day, I will know why this has been laid so heavily on my heart. Until then, I plan to keep you updated on the war against my closet.
After all, you’re probably fighting it too, soldier.