Standing on the street corner

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. – Matthew 6:5

In American culture, it’s more likely for a young girl to be dressed like the other profession that stands on street corners, but when discussing modesty – especially for children – I think the two extremes need to be kept in mind.

Hopefully Mom in the Shoe doesn’t mind my pinging off her comment at Cane Caldo’s thread on pants, but I wanted to bring out this in particular without derailing or going down a rabbit trail at Cane’s place. “My daughter is now beginning to notice that she stands out and sometimes gets ridiculed. I get stared at, too, but my husband likes us dressed this way very much, so who cares. But it is getting hard on my daughter to be made fun of.”

Combined with the styles of the clothing Mom in the Shoe links, I’m not surprised at all. That style of clothing looks a great deal like what I see in Mennonite communities – where they’re all dressed like that. In Mennonite communities, the children, particularly young girls who are likely to be extremely sensitive to peer ridicule, don’t face ostracization for their parents’ clothing choices. 

As a young woman this sort of thing probably wouldn’t have bothered me, since I didn’t have any friends or a peer group to offer ridicule. (I’m naturally a weirdo like that. Comes with its own difficulties.) But my sister was quite unlike me growing up, and let us just say that imposing someone else’s morality on her in a legalistic fashion backfired spectacularly and caused many years of grief to our family, and has left her with some scars of rebellion from God that she’ll bear for the rest of her life. Therefore, my feeling is that if you want to dress your children like Mennonites, you should probably go live with Mennonites, go to their schools and churches, etc. Community is important, especially for children.

As for a child facing ridicule, here’s my personal thought on the matter. I don’t have kids (yet!) so everyone should feel free to ignore me if they so choose. However, I’m gonna stick my two cents out there and see how they do.

First: virtue shames vice simply by existing. That means a girl who always wears modest clothing is definitely going to receive at least a little pushback from her peers. My understanding of the tween and teen fashion scene, while extremely cursory, is basically that girls of a certain sort are always going to find something to criticize as part of their in-group/out-group intrasex status jockeying. So avoiding all negative comments is not a realistic goal, and preparing your daughter to face those critiques confidently is important.

However, if your daughter would rather not dress like a Mennonite and stand out like a sore thumb in the typical crowd of her peers, she’s not going to be able to stand up confidently when people criticize her for her style of dress – because it’s one that’s been forced on her, not one that she’s chosen herself. If she does choose it, even in the face of ridicule, that’s a hard path that takes a lot of character to take, and she’ll need all the support her parents can give her. (Like moving to a Mennonite community.)

Okay, I’m actually kidding about that last bit. Mostly. However, if your children don’t decide to do the whole homesteading thing complete with sewing all their own clothes or having mom sew them, it would probably be a good idea to teach them to choose modest wear from what’s commercially available and within budget. This will mean quite the ordeal of passing on all the blatantly inappropriate clothing – but it is, in fact, possible to find long skirts and modest tops at bargain clothing outlets.

Now, I do know that the junior’s department is a howling wasteland of radioactivity when it comes to quality of clothing. I think the manufacturers do this on purpose, so that you have to wear three layers of everything just to reach basic coverage and not freeze to death in winter – and the clothes will wear out in a single season so you have to buy more, or something like that. Think of it this way: you’ll be teaching your daughter to hate shopping for clothes. This is also a valuable life skill. She might well decide that it’s way better to dress like a Mennonite and save her time and energy for more interesting or productive pursuits.

But my sense on the matter – for anyone – is that you should not set yourself up to be standing out on a street corner, whether it’s as a streetwalker or as someone ostentatiously displaying outward piety. By all means, let us pursue modesty – but not by putting children in the eye-catching equivalent of a nun’s habit instead of training them to make good choices from among the same kinds of clothing their peers are wearing and adapting it to the needs of virtue.

People make snap judgments about strangers based on how they dress. So if the goal is to be dressed as a modest young woman, putting on hand-sewn clothing based on uncool* patterns in the middle of a modern community is not going to be signaling “modesty.” It’s going to be signaling I’m a weirdo, tease me. “Your momma dresses you funny” is an insult, after all.

*I’m sorry, but the Mennonite look is just Not Cool. Maybe someday it will be, but until then, don’t put sensitive girls through the wringer by having them stand out as Uncool among their peers unless they’re personally in love with the look. And if you personally love that look, go for it – you’re the one who has a shot and carrying it off so well it’ll come back in style!

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About pancakeloach

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5 Responses to Standing on the street corner

  1. Excellent post. As a 20-something I really want to emphasize *how badly* wearing that clothing would go. And I don’t think wearing that particular form of ridicule is suffering for Christ’s sake. It’s suffering because your clothing looks ridiculous. There is an in-between option between “slut” and “Amish”.

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