Is “pure fashion” an oxymoron?

Modesty is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, an outward sign of God working within us.  As with other fruits like patience and charity, modesty is manifested in what we do — in our works, the actions we seek to perform that help us recognize the presence of God.  It’s not always easy.

Anyone who strives for modesty and also has a daughter over size 6X will lament with me the lack of appropriate clothing choices at most mainstream shopping venues.  You see, I adhere to the sensible modesty guidelines set forth by Pure Fashion.  Most retailers do not.

I discovered Pure Fashion when my oldest daughter was five.  As we began to venture into the size 7 – 16 clothing section, I was relieved to have found practical guidelines that other Catholic moms use with their daughters.  Pure Fashion’s emphasis on modest clothing is a huge step in the right direction for our culture, and accolades for developing a system for clothing selection are well deserved.

But as I gained more exposure to the organization, I realized that the “fashion” aspect showcased at its events showed an incomplete understanding of the multi-faceted virtue of modesty.  A girl on a catwalk, no matter how pristinely clad, is still a girl on a catwalk—expecting eyes centered on her, seeking the attention of the crowd, and imitating an industry that emphasizes appearance as the sole measure of a thereby disordered femininity.

While Pure Fashion aims to teach girls to be poised, graceful, and confident, they do so through modeling.  Poise and grace do not celebrate self.  They are humble.  And as Catholic women, we should beware the phrase “self confidence.”  Our confidence, the “bold confidence” of the Little Way of St. Therese, should remain solely in Him.

There is much to like about the Pure Fashion philosophy and its desire to teach girls to value modesty in dress.  Adult leaders explain modesty as it reflects on the dignity of the human person using the CCC as a resource.  But the program’s final celebration, the fashion show, reflects an emphasis on a narrow definition of modesty.  Modesty as a virtue is much larger than clothing selection.

Fashion, by its very nature, is of this world.  Without extensively defining the virtue of purity here, to me the phrase “pure fashion” seems an oxymoron.

Copyright 2013 Sharon Rayner


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  1. I am not familiar with how they show what they promote (I have heard of Pure Fashion). I think it’s a fantastic and much needed concept, and it’s hard to get this message out there without showing girls modeling the clothing, demonstrating the difference. I’m reading the biography of Dolores Hart right now and I deeply respect how she remained modest and humble when she was in photo shoot after photo shoot and movie after movie. She was a real witness to those around her in that industry.
    I would think the mothers of the models must be cautious, and confident that her daughter’s formation and spiritual maturity, and possibly her natural “bent” in terms of humility, were solid and she would remain a good witness, knowing the true purpose of this work. Leah Darrow is a great speaker on this whole topic. This work needs to be done to counter the culture and offer an alternative (in fashion and entertainment), but it’s a scary thing to the degree that you are “in” that world to varying degrees.

    • Thanks for commenting Amy – this article was accidentally listed with my bio but the author is actually Sharon Rayner. I will notify her about your comment. I agree with what you’re saying – I’ve heard Leah speak as well, and she’s phenomenal. Thanks for commenting.

  2. How is one supposed to advertise one’s fashion line without the use of models? CGI characters? Inert mannequins?
    I don’t like the modeling industry at all. And selling modesty immodestly is breathlessly hypocritical. But honestly, is there a better way?

  3. I went and looked at the fashion show…sigh. I see now that they are not selling clothing so much as an idea. Modesty paraded down the catwalk. Of course I want my daughter to dress this way. But my mother wanted me to dress like Grandma too and I have to tell you..it didn’t work out so well. To be blunt, these clothes seek to deny and mitigate young girls’ sexuality. Not that this is s bad thing, but there has be a way to do it that is not, so well….boring. Otherwise this is going to remain a fringe movement, with virtually no impact at all on the popular culture.

    Instead of ghettoizing ourselves and fashion designers who share our values (all two of them), perhaps it would be better to just be a designer with Catholic values who works for a mainstream fashion house. I think the impact would greater and thr clothes more interesting.

  4. Sharon, I attended a Pure Fashion show with a friend and our daughters a few years ago in Atlanta, and I found it to be much more than just a showcase of fashion. There were girls who shared their faith journeys, something many adults haven’t even done, especially to an auditorium filled with mostly strangers. These girls showed not only poise and grace but a love for Jesus! I don’t think the audience is there to provide an outlet for their attention seeking, but rather as a community of like minded believers, celebrating that these girls are growing closer to Christ! And in regards to your trepidation over self-confidence, you may be mistaking false humility for true humility. St. Francis de Sales tells us, “True humility makes no pretense of being humble, and scarcely ever utters a word of humility.” False humility is often expressed by one who makes a show of their unworthiness, rather than embracing their gifts and talents and acknowledging God as their source. These young women were able to celebrate their femininity and their gifts of singing, dancing, fashion design, service and public speaking while being humble and giving glory to God.
    Some of these girls may have been attracted to this program because of the opportunity to participate in a fashion show, and were led to something more. And through the fashion show may lead even more people to Him. We are supposed to be in this world but not of it. We can’t send God’s message to worldly people without participating in some worldly events now and then (i.e. a fashion show). I think it’s fantastic that these young women are following the exhortation of John Paul VI contained in his letter “To Women” in which he tells us the time has come “when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.” What could be more pure than bringing Christ to others?
    Mari, I didn’t find the clothing on the girls to be “grandmother-ish”. In fact most of the tops and dresses look like ones any teen would wear with the addition of a cami underneath. I don’t think that covering one’s cleavage denies their sexuality. Their clothes were on trend and the music was upbeat. I also think ladylike dressing is far beyond a fringe movement. As Marilyn Monroe once said, “Your clothes should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to show you’re a lady.”
    I thought Pure Fashion was a fun “girls day out”, and I think it’s kind of a shame to find things to pick on in such a positive event.

    • Thank you for your weighty comment!

      I agree that there is merit to the program as a whole, and I apologize that didn’t come through in the article. I just think there must be better options for bringing the program to a close than a fashion show; for example, a conference designed for girls that mimics the format of the women’s conferences now found in many dioceses. The faith sharing, public speaking, and other good outcomes you mentioned could easily take place in that context.

      I understand your point about false humility, but I don’t think that striving for St. Therese’ bold confidence and childlike trust in God means that one cannot recognize and use one’s talents. As you said, they are after all gifts from Him. However, we are called to empty ourselves completely in order to be filled with and radiate Christ. I think one could spend a lifetime trying to understand how to do that, but the consistent pursuit of the various “selves,” i.e. self-improvement, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-assuredness, etc. can lead to an unhealthy self-reliance that believes in self-sufficiency and then fails to seek God’s will and ultimately forgets to be grateful to Him for those gifts. Given the God-centeredness of most aspects of Pure Fashion, that’s probably not a great risk with their program, but I wanted to explain why I prefer the goal of bold confidence in Him to the construct of self-confidence.

      • Sharon, thanks for your reply. I appreciate your input, and I do see the danger of self-esteem being tied to physical appearance, which does seem to be the goal of a typical
        fashion show. I think this ministry uses the vehicle of a fashion show because some girls are probably initially more attracted to the idea of participating in a fashion show, than they would be a girls’ conference. So maybe this is a better way to reach that particular group of girls. Some girls may be particularly susceptible to trying to keep up with the images that the secular media portrays as beautiful, and this is acts as a bridge to lead them to their inner beauty that comes from Christ’s presence in them.

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