How I Used To Dress (with Illustrations)

I recently looked through some old photo albums from my teenage years. Oh, the memories that brought back. Clothing in the conservative Christian homeschooling subculture, especially the quiverfull variety, is quite the topic. I want to use some pictures to illustrate some points here, but I blog under a pseudonym so I really can’t use my own pictures, and I don’t want to violate some random person’s privacy by dipping into google images. So instead I’m going to use some pictures of the Duggars as illustrations, given that they’re already quite public.

First point: Matching homemade outfits. This is quite common in the circles in which I grew up, and was something my mom loved to do—she would sew us girls matching dresses, always quite modest, and color coordinate the boys outfits with ours. We frequently looked, well, a lot like this:

While this look is cute, and there’s technically nothing wrong with it, I would point out that the whole matching outfits thing completely does away with individuality. This doesn’t always matter so much when the kids are little, but once children reach their preteens they’re generally longing for some sort of differentiation. I liked wearing the matching outfits even then, but one of my sisters absolutely hated it. It’s funny, too, because my parents always said that being homeschooled allowed us to be individuals, while if we were in school we’d feel pressure to conform and dress like everyone else. Um. Right. Today this rather makes me laugh.

Next we need to talk about jumpers and prairie dresses. The thing is, this fashion often looks just fine on younger children. It’s as the girls get older that this starts to change. Note the way the older girls are dressed in this picture, for instance:

I stood in those girls’ shoes. Seriously, I dressed exactly like those older girls.

Again, those dresses can be cute on girls when they’re little. It’s when girls in these circles hit their preteens and teens that things start to get a bit odd. The oldest Duggar girl in this picture has to be at least 14 or 15. Think how out of place she’d be among a group of mainstream girls her age. Let me put it this way: very. I remember. In retrospect, I wonder how much of my fear of public schooled children my age (even the evangelical ones) stemmed from how I dressed. A fifteen-year-old girl dressed in long sack-like jumpers or baggy, wafting prairie dresses definitely sticks out.

As a teen, my wardrobe consisted of jumpers, prairie dresses, other modest (read: baggy) dresses, and baggy T-shirts with jean skirts. If you look at the four older girls in this picture, you’ll have some idea of how I usually dressed:

Actually, the Duggar girls in the picture above actually look a lot better than I generally did. Two of the girls are actually wearing shaped blouses. As for me, one of my most common combinations was a long shapeless skirt and an oversized, baggy T-shirt. As I look at pictures of myself now, I am struck by how shapeless and out of place I look. I would say I dressed like an elderly woman, but that would be a serious disservice to elderly women. Other frequent styles included jumpers (like the one the third daughter wears in the image above) and dresses fashioned by sewing several yards of cloth haphazardly to the bottom of a baggy T-shirt.

Recently, the Duggar girls have become more stylish. I’m honestly not sure why—has their fame made them want to fit in more? It’s not just the girls themselves, it’s also that their parents are clearly okay with their more stylish look. Regardless, I’m only including this next image as an example of how I didn’t dress. Jinger, second from the left, is wearing a skirt quite a bit shorter than I would have ever dared, and all of the girls are wearing shirt or jackets that are actually stylish, as compared to my shapeless baggy T-shirts and shapeless sweatshirts. The skirts worn by the two girls on the right are familiar—I would have worn those, though they would have been homemade and slightly longer.

To be perfectly honest, I wish I’d developed a style like some of the Duggar girls in the picture above. Jinger especially shows that the modest uniform required can be done with an eye toward  style. I wish I’d done that.

Why didn’t I try to find a way to be modest and fashion conscious? Several reasons. First, I saw looking stylish as something worldly, something to resist. Second, I was terribly afraid that if I dressed attractively I might cause the young men around me to stumble (i.e., they might lust after me). Third, I had an extremely a low body image, partly as a result of the purity teachings. In the end, it’s not surprising that I just gave up and opted for extremely hideous and shapeless clothing.

Any conservative Christian homeschool girl you see wearing obviously modest clothing—even if it’s fashionable, like Jinger’s outfit above—has to struggle with her clothing choices, and with how they make her feel. Sure, there may be a few exceptions, but I don’t think I’m generalizing too broadly when I suggest that the pull between parent-enforced modesty, a desire to be attractive and beautiful, and a belief that being fashionable is “worldly” is fairly common and perhaps even nearly universal among girls growing up in conservative Christian homeschooling circles. There will of course be variation—I gave up on my looks entirely while other girls still seek to be attractive and beautiful in part in an attempt to attract a potential mate, sometimes pushed by their parents—but it’s a shared struggle.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • NeaDods

    So many thoughts, so little time to type right now… So I’ll just talk about the first picture, the one that strikes me the most for two reasons. 1) Kids who wear public school uniforms get to take them off at the end of the school day. But kids shoved into a family uniform don’t. 2) What is supposed to be modest about “Look at how distinctive my clothing is, you worldly lost”? Especially if it’s a not-very-subtle fire engine red? 3) I notice that Dad is *not* required to wear the family uniform. He’s barely even wearing the color du jour. It makes me think he thinks he’s above all that.

    The second picture isn’t so jarring, prarie dresses notwithstanding, but the first is really jaw-dropping.

    • Christine

      That’s what was bugging me about the first picture! I thought it was just that it seemed unfair to the kids that they had to wear something that made them stand out so much, but the immodesty is a large part of why it bugged me. It’s like people who decide in this day and age to wear plain dress, and then dress like the “plain” folks, who are wearing what used to be plain, and get to keep the title because they haven’t changed. (I had a really great conversation about this in fourth year with a casual friend, who I wish I’d had more chances to talk about religion with, because she had some really cool insights.)

      • D Lowrey

        Living in Southern Idaho…I get to experience Mennonite and Amish persons who actually live in “plain clothes”…but not in so garish ways to call attention to themselves. At least with the ones I know…you dress like these fundamentalist “freaks of nature”…you get brought down and told to follow what everyone is doing to fit.

    • tsara

      And with school uniforms (in my experience) have a decent amount of freedom with shoes and hairstyle and jewelry and backpacks and coats (depending on the strictness of the dress code), plus there’s some wiggle room with the uniform itself (different combinations of articles, different ways of wearing things, and it was pretty common at my school for people to get their uniform items tailored). They’re significantly less individuality-sapping than people tend to think.
      It’s strict rules, not group signalling.

      • NeaDods

        Exactly! Whereas the family uniform is more “We are Borg. Prepare to ae assimilated.”

      • Plutosdad

        Not at our catholic schools. Change one of those and not only do your parents have to buy new ones, but you get spanked by your parents too for costing them money.
        But again, the boys had a choice. They boys just had to wear brown pants and a brown tie and “dressy” shoes. Very easy to conform to the rules. The girls could at most change the white collared blouse, to a different white collared blouse. that’s all.
        That’s pretty much most schools that I’ve seen. Not sure what school allows alterations to uniforms.

      • tsara

        It might be that my school was a private school, not a religious school. Everyone except for a couple Muslim girls got their kilts hemmed, because the campus store sold ankle-length kilts and the dress code said you could have up to two inches above the knee. You could also wear white button-down dress shirts from anywhere, as long as the collar was the right shape to wear a tie with and it at least gave the impression of being the right starchy fabric, and anybody could wear nice grey cords or slacks from anywhere, or you could buy them from the campus store (that sold pants with a lot of extra fabric everywhere because they were intended to be tailored). A lot of people also got their blazers tailored — not really altered, just tailored to fit better.

        EDIT: more freedom because not religious, higher average income level because private.
        EDIT II: shoes just had to be black polishable leather, maximum three-inch heels, minimal embellishments. Hair could be any hair colour that naturally occurred as a hair colour, with some leniency with highlights or streaks. Until high school, neither facial hair nor makeup (including nail polish) were allowed, and boys had to keep their hair cut above the collars of their shirts (also until high school); those restrictions were removed for the duration of high school. School sweaters, vests, or blazers had to be worn as part of the uniform at all times, unless permission was given to remove them for reasons of weather. Hats were not to be worn in the classrooms, dining hall, chapel, or at assemblies.

  • Karleanne Matthews

    Just the word “modesty” makes me feel disgusted after wading through this mire growing up. My friends and I shopped at regular stores and such, but often with elaborate or arbitrary modesty rules governing which clothes were OK and which weren’t–like that straps had to be one inch wide to be considered tank tops (OK) instead of spaghetti-strap tops (not OK) or the “four-fingers rule” that determines precisely at what point a neckline is too low. I remember being so confused by the mixed messages of “if you look too good, you might cause boys to stumble” and “you can still look great while being modest!” Your swimsuit post reminded me of this as well–it seemed like every modesty talk I was ever given ended up with “so that’s why you need to wear a one-piece swimsuit. P.S., look how good-looking you can be in a one-piece swimsuit!”

    • Divizna

      Funny. While I don’t understand why anyone would choose bikini over swimsuit, it never occured to me a swimsuit should somehow be more modest, just more practical. Am I very strange if I wear it to swim, not to show myself on the shore?

      I had bikini once, sometime around the age of seven. I used to wear the lower part only. The upper piece would inevitably tangle around my neck if I tried to use it. Luckily, this is Europe, where little girls are not required to cover their non-existing breasts.
      Anyone shocked?

      • Christine

        I’m impressed. Around here you normally need to put a top on girls by the time they’re 4 or 5. (Although I’m putting one on my daughter this summer – it’s long-sleeved for sun protection)

      • Anat

        I always loved to swim. My chosen swimwear was a bikini from age 10 to 35 or so. But I grew up before skin cancer awareness got serious and was proud of my skin’s ability to tan without burning (much).

      • ako

        I know people who can swim comfortably in a bikini. I’m always somewhat astonished that they can make it work (it may have to do with my build, but a one-piece is absolutely the best swimsuit for me to actually swim in). I think it might have to do with differences in body type?

      • Christine

        It’s less the people who can swim in bikinis who really astound me, and more those who can swim in tankinis. I always expect to those to start floating up from the belly when you get into the water.

      • Deird

        I find them way easier to swim in than one-piece bathers.

      • The_L1985

        Ditto. It’s hard to swim when you have the mother of all wedgies.

      • Christine

        I get that if they fit better they’re easier to swim in, but they look like they should fly up over your face when you break the water. My mom has one, and it’s yet to happen to her. It’s a miracle of illusionary fashion.

      • The_L1985

        The bottom band, under the breasts, is actually pretty secure if you fasten it tightly. Especially if you have largish breasts that can’t just slip under there.

      • Christine

        That made sense to me. What amazed me when I saw one in action was that the part over the tummy stayed in place. It’s not that I would be horrified if my tummy showed (you lose that very quickly after having active kids, if you ever had it), it’s that loose fabric seems like it could impede your arms when you swim, or just create unpleasant drag.

      • onamission5

        Heh. I have to wear a tankini if I want a swim suit that provides the sort of coverage I prefer and doesn’t ride straight up my ass when I walk or swim. Or, conversely, get dragged down under my boobs. I have short legs and arms but a tall person’s torso along with being bottom heavy, which makes for an… interesting… fit when it comes to articles of clothing that run from stem to stern. The tankini is pretty much my only available compromise.

      • alwr

        It is totally the difference in body type. I am short waisted and tiny between the bustline and hips. One pieces do not fit me and never have. I haven’t worn or owned one since I was forced to at church camp when I was ten.

      • ZeldasCrown

        If i’m just there to hang out, maybe go in the water just to cool off, I’ll wear a bikini. if I’m going to swim (as in laps-I swam competitively for many years in my youth, so I’d like to think that I know a lot about swimwear haha) it’s one piece all the way. I’ve seen some two-pieces for working out, where the top is more like a sports bra, but I’ve never worn one to check out how well they work.

        But really, it’s more about whatever the individual is comfortable in/how intense the swimming that they are doing is. I couldn’t care less what somebody else is wearing, as long as it is comfortable for them (and they made that choice for themselves and weren’t forced into it).

      • aim2misbehave

        I always like the wide halter top and boy shorts cut – the boy shorts fit me pretty well, and if I tie the halter straps securely, they aren’t going anywhere. Actually, it worked better than a tankini, because I bought one, then lost a little weight, but you can’t tighten the back of a tankini :-(

      • lana hobbs

        Too tall for a one piece (at for a cheap box store one) my most recent swimsuit was athletic shirts and an athletic tank top, for modesty. It wasn’t very comfortable in the water. I more recently have left that culture and have two new bikinis because they are so comfortable. Wish I’d worn them before my abs had undergone two pregnancies though ;)

    • Scott_In_OH

      This is a good point, Karleanne:

      I remember being so confused by the mixed messages of “if you look too good, you might cause boys to stumble” and “you can still look great while being modest!”

      It reminds me of the NFP talk: It’s both the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and totally open to pregnancy.

      I’ve never tried to lay out how many of the mutually contradictory evaluations permeate Conservative Christian beliefs…

    • MyOwnPerson

      Wow, tank top straps only one inch wide? You guys were liberal! I was only allowed sleeveless shirts at most, and the sleeve holes had to be really tight so my bra didn’t show anywhere around the opening. So that basically meant I always had to wear sleeves no matter the weather.

    • Brightie

      I’m wondering if looking good versus looking too good has anything to do with the mental divide between aesthetic attractiveness and being hot or sexy, with a taboo on using the word “sexy”… ?

      • The_L1985

        Very much so. I remember thinking that “sexy” was a curse word because we were forbidden to use it at my school. I also remember in my mid-to-late teens, agonizing over how to look pretty without also looking sexy. This is basically the dilemma. After all, even if you’re asexual, your adult body is going to be sexually attractive to someone. It’s impossible to prevent it, no matter how you dress or what you look like.

    • Rosa

      There are a lot of moderate muslim women around my town, and a lot of muslim girls at my child’s school, who seem like they navigate the modesty stuff with a normal range of style & comfort – girls who wear headscarfs & long skirts with soccer shoes, girls who wear matched pink-with-sparkles outfits, women who cover their hair sometimes but not always, women who always cover but then wear very form-fitting outfits & high heels. It makes me think that the culture-wide message is less of an issue for most people than the specifically counter-cultural “modesty” that’s meant to stand out – some women wear hijab almost by habit, the way most American women wear a bra, and don’t give it a lot of thought, instead of having to agonize over each day’s clothing.

    • aim2misbehave

      It’s like the “modest is hottest” slogan that was going around when I was a teen. It’s like, you’re telling women not to dress in “sexual” clothes because… dressing in a non-sexual manner is something that turns you on?

      It’s literally a no-win scenario: If you show too much skin you cause Christian men to “stumble” but if you wear modest clothes, then Christian men find that “hot” and therefore they’ll probably “stumble” over that, too…

      (Also, every time I hear that language, I have a mental image of men being so distracted by someone’s bare shoulder that they literally are tripping over the pews or chairs in the sanctuary)

      ETA: It’s also telling women that the primary concern in how they dress should still be what men think of them.

  • Darkling

    I agree that the first picture is creepy. It just seems to create this image where the Father is the only individual there and the wife and children are simply extensions of him. Can’t be heathy.

    • Richter_DL

      The Army of God.

    • Dawn

      The father IS the only individual–at least until the boys grow up a bit. The Bible says (paraphrased) “A man shall leave his mother, and a woman shall leave her home, and they shall become one flesh”…and the MAN is the ONE! It’s merely a statement to the fact that women were (and in some instances still are) considered property, NOT people! It’s sick!

      • JohnH2

        Your paraphrase is bad: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

        If you note in the verse it says that the man and women are to be one; using the exact term that is used for God and Jesus being one, or us and God being one. Meaning then man and the women are both one, being companions united in purpose and in some sense being, property has absolutely nothing to do with this verse as it is talking about the individuals joining to become one, both literally and symbolically as they form a new life and new family together, joined as one and apart from that of their parents.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        That’s not how it’s used in ATI or Christian patriarchy tho

    • grindstone

      Suits, ties, jeans, shirts…..the boys would *never* stand out. Only the girls. Only ever the girls. This is what makes me gag on my usual attitudes of “live and let live”, and respecting others’ choices, that the girls are the ones paying. I know the boys experience scarring from all this as well, I do. And I do not minimize that. But look again at the top picture and tell me that the boys wouldn’t fit in anywhere, while the girls look like extras for a high school revival of Oklahoma.

      • Christy

        I know – that’s always bugged me about modesty culture. The boys, while not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion, look relatively normal, while the girls look like refugees from another era.

      • staceyjw

        Its like all aspects of fundyism- females pay the highest price.

      • Timothy Collett

        Well…part of the reason for that is that if you looked at men (or boys) who *were* “refugees from another era”, they’d mostly look pretty much at home here. Male fashion just hasn’t changed as much over the past few centuries as female fashion has.

    • Basketcase

      Quiverful in a nutshell right there Darkling. Nice to see you here :)

  • Mel

    My mom made it a point never to dress my identical twin and I alike when we were kids so that people could tell us apart and so that we could develop our own personalities. It’s even creepier when you do this with entire sibling groups.

    The red jumpers gave me a flashback to the uniform of my parochial school. Two major differences: we wore them during the warm months of August, September, May and June – pants were allowed during the cold months and we stopped wearing jumpers by second grade.

    I only disagree with Libby Anne on one thing: prairie style dresses don’t look cute on anyone – even little girls :-)

  • Squire Bramble

    My mother collects late 19th century prints from English and French magazines. The Duggar girls never look “modest” to me.

    Their dress is identical to that of the lower-class prostitutes of the 1870s and 80s: tanned skin, obvious make-up, skirt showing ankle and a bit of calf, loose bodice, front hair piled up with long, greasy, unwashed locks flowing behind. They don’t even wear stockings in the television episodes – this was the hallmark of the unsuccessful drab, who would be run out of the theatre districts by other women who wanted to attract a wealthier clientele.

    Never see the four or five oldest girls without thinking their parents have got them up ready to go against the wall with a soldier or dock worker (ten minutes for tuppence).

    • ako

      Do you really need to go into such creepy detail in order to make your point? Sharing the details of how you like to visualize certain young women and teenage girls as prostitutes on account of how they dress is not helpful.

      • The_L1985

        “Like to?”

      • ako

        Okay, sorry, that bit was unfair. The tone and level of detail came off to me as savoring the image, so I threw that in when, in retrospeect, I shouldn’t have.

    • Tracey

      It just illustrates again that purity culture draws lines that aren’t there. For one group or time period an outfit is scandalous. For another it’s modest.

  • lana hobbs

    I wore jeans (but frequently mom jeans because the stylish jeans with flares were immodest low cut jeans) but I was also afraid of looking too stylish or too pretty. I wore a modest (so far as it covered everything) but attractive outfit to school (college I mean) once and several guys watched me walk past. I was mortified and felt so ashamed I had accidentally dressed for attention. I never wore it again.

    • Cristi

      I was in this camp too – mom jeans with a baggy t shirt. I didn’t try to look attractive because everyone knew that would have been wrong and I wasn’t good at thinking about taking a little step closer to attractive. May as well avoid the whole thing. One of the few times I did try, my dad called me a slut.
      Now when my friends today talk about all the different clithes they have, I just sit baffled because I feel so “normal” having my two pairs of flaired jeans and some tops that aren’t quite baggy, mom clothes.

  • “Rebecca”

    Sometimes i feel pretty fortunate that despite the fundamentalist/evangelical homeschooling background I had, we did avoid some of the weirder trends in the movement like the obsession with modest clothes. I wouldn’t say we always dressed like the public-schooled kids but we were allowed to wear a variety of clothes, pretty much whatever we wanted as long as it wasn’t “too slutty.” My parents allowed me to wear punk clothes and color my hair, for instance. I still remember looking down on girls who wore short shorts, spaghetti-strap tops, or tight t-shirts. (Now I wear all those things, ha).

    The interesting thing about the jumper/dress-wearing homeschooled kids was that even though I was homeschooled, I felt weird around those girls, because I worried that they thought I was sinful for wearing pants instead of skirts. In some families, the boys wore awkward high-waisted pants with their shirts always tucked in, and that always struck me as weird too. Did they think I was a slob because I wore worn-out jeans and my shirt wasn’t tucked in? It seems like the “modest” or overly “well-groomed” styles of clothes can serve to alienate homeschooled kids not only from public-schooled kids but even other homeschoolers. That strikes me as perhaps not the best idea.

  • oywiththepoodles

    I have read theories on other sites that suggest the Duggars are allowing the children to dress more “wordly” for the TV show, because they know that dressing in the creepy uniform style will alienate viewers. They want to use the show to spread their lifestyle and make it look attractive. Matching jumpers on late-teenage girls is not the way to attract a television viewer and make them think the family is somehow “normal.” I think this theory makes a lot of sense and while I can’t know their motivations personally, it does seem likely to me.

    Libby Anne, have you written about your experience with exploring the wide world of clothing once you went to college? I remember reading that you changed your wardrobe in an effort to connect more with those you were witnessing to, but I think it would be interesting to hear about the experience of re-learning to dress yourself. Did friends help you shop?

    • Ortin

      This could work out as a positive change for xtreme homeschooling though. If the Duggars are supposed to be the bar, then anyone keeping their teenagers in jumpers and baggies has to deal with “but Mom, the Duggars wear clothes like these!”

      • Sally

        “But we’re not the Duggars. If their example is leading you astray, you may not watch them anymore.”

        Just sayin’.

        But I do appreciate that the Duggars are now modeling (almost literally :)) how to dress with whatever your standards are but without looking like you’re wearing costumes. I remember hearing Michelle Duggar (the mom) say something like, “We dress modest, but modern.” At the time, they were dressing like Libbey Anne’s 3rd picture above. I remember thinking, they may think they’re modest, but that ain’t modern. I took it to mean they’re not dressing “Amish,” though. However, I agree that the last picture is mostly truly modern. I think they’re dressed in a way there that would not stand out in our society today. There’s been kind of a skirt revival in casual wear for women in general (having nothing to do with religion).

      • Johanna

        Yeah, I wouldn’t call that “stylish.” Just not-so-baggy, and not a Little House on the Prairie costume. Of course, there was a phase I went through when I thought that was stylish.

        Also, I think homeschoolers imitate the more conservative styles of the 90s. They’re not super trendy, but read a little more modern. Or maybe that’s just my memories of jean everything.

      • The_L1985

        Oh gods, I remember when American Girl first came out with modern dolls. They had the cutest little denim outfits, and I coveted them. I also wanted the child-sized denim sunflower hat for myself, because it looked so happy and summery.

        By the time I got one, though, the default “meet” outfit had changed to the “First Day” outfit, which is a nightmare in neon and way-too-thin pinstripes. In short, everything the 80s and 90s did wrong WRT color-coordination.

      • Leigha7

        If she said that, maybe that’s why the girls were allowed to change what they wore. I know next to nothing about them, so I’m not sure how isolated they are, but if they don’t spend a lot of time around the general public, maybe they really thought they were “modest but modern,” and now they know they weren’t and have updated?

    • Brightie

      Christian homeschool graduate, here–I don’t know about the Duggars’ reasoning, but the most conservatively dressed kids in my homeschool group were still closer to the last photo than the first. It’s not impossible that the parents just let them update their fashion sense. :)

  • Lisa

    Jinger’s skirt in the last picture: You bet my mother would have sent me upstairs to change if I waddled around in a skirt without a proper hem. She would’ve torn it off me, I’m pretty sure. “You’re no boho, what makes you think skirts with no hem are nice?!” hehe. well, it would’ve have been too short anyway.

  • smrnda

    The uniform one bugs me the most, just since it seems to be like turning your kids into a wholesome, ‘Biblical’ version of the Borg from Star Trek. It reminds me of families where the parents pressure the kids to be extra extra close and to do everything together and where ‘family first’ turns into ‘you aren’t allowed to have any friends.’

    I also recalled the Mormon missionaries, since they also wear a uniform.

    • aim2misbehave

      Scientologists, too.

      It’s less obvious immediately, but once I was in the subway in Hollywood, and a small group of their female minions were going up the escalator in front of me, all in grey pants and either their latest t-shirts or white collared shirts.

      I was reading the backs of the t-shirts and caught a glimpse of the rear of their pants and thought “wow, those are really badly cut” and then “poor girls don’t have pockets either” and then I it dawned on me, wow, they’re not just wearing a specific color of pants, but they’re all wearing the ~exact same pants.~ So I started looking closely at their white shirts, and once again, they were ~exactly the same.~

      I mean, I’d always known that the Scientologists more or less have uniforms. If they’re doing sidewalk proseltization, they’ll wear a t-shirt (although the slogans change and are often cryptic, after a while you recognize the specific font and shade of blue they use right away) and jeans or whatever to look “cool” and the ones you see wandering around their buildings always have white shirts and dark grey or black pants. But I never realized before that they made all their minions get their clothes from the exact same manufacturer…

  • busterggi

    Basically baggy clothes are Christian burkhas.

  • Gillianren

    Now, I freely admit that wearing the “right” clothing was important when I was in elementary school. I even admit that I had a hard time in those days, because we were poor and couldn’t afford designer clothes. However, by the time I was in high school, no one cared. At least, not in my social circle. Most of us just wore jeans and T-shirts. If you looked particularly nice, people would compliment you, but they did not in general comment otherwise. Of course, in my social circle, we were too busy obsessing about grades.

    • sylvia_rachel

      That sounds exactly like my social circle in high school. I did not, in fact, wear the same pair of Levi’s 501s every school day for the entire three years of high school (I had several pairs, including the pair with so many holes that my mom made me wear tights underneath), but I think I could have and nobody would have cared too much. It was a huge shock to me when I went away to university and found that unlike students at the uni in my hometown, who also mostly wore Levi’s and Birkenstocks (with wool socks as necessary) and Warthog Ale t-shirts, my classmates wore nice clothes and makeup.

      • Gillianren

        I still don’t know much about wearing makeup, and I graduated from high school nearly twenty years ago. Of course, my mom wore the same shade of pale pink lipstick (that was a really bad colour on her) until she was in her forties at least, so there’s that, too. And I, too, had several matching pairs of jeans–and they weren’t even brand-name, as I recall. Since I moved well over a thousand miles away and into a relatively rural area for college, I was going to stick out no matter what. And because of where I was from, they would have believed me implicitly if I’d just told them that what I was wearing was a fashion that hadn’t reached them yet, I think.

  • sylvia_rachel

    The girls in the last picture (with the violins) look like the Modern Orthodox girls I see around my neighbourhood (and my MO friends and their daughters): their skirts cover their knees and they never wear low necklines or sleeveless tops, but their outfits are flattering, often colourful, and seasonally appropriate (e.g., they wear bare legs and sandals in the summer when it’s hot). Some of them will even wear pants in some circumstances where wearing pants makes more sense (e.g., for hiking or long-distance driving). Then there are the really frum girls, who wear opaque tights and long sleeves all summer, whose skirts are often so long you can’t see their feet, and who frequently wear all black. Their mothers dress the same but also cover their hair whenever they leave the house (which my married MO friends mostly don’t).

    I’m not sure there’s a difference in intent between these two styles of dressing, but there sure is a difference in the effect they create.

    • AztecQueen2000

      You don’t live in Brooklyn. Here, even the MO wear long sleeves. And no married woman would been seen with uncovered hair.

      • Conuly

        3/4 sleeves. And striped shirts, for some reason I’ve never quite grasped.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Yes, 3/4 sleeves very popular here too. (I actually like 3/4 sleeves. They don’t hang down over my hands :P)

      • sylvia_rachel

        Nope, Toronto. I have heard that about Brooklyn.

        Here, there’s much less difference in dress when everyone is dressed up for Shabbat or yom tov; everyone covers their hair (although again, you’ll mostly see the charedim wearing wigs, or wigs + hats, instead of snoods or bandannas, and the MO women wearing hats instead of nothing), and sleeves are longer, and everyone is much more soignée.

  • BobaFuct

    My parents, my mom in particular, definitely mellowed out with age as far as the superficialities were concerned…while she was never as bad as the Duggars, she was definitely frumpy, but has started dressing more “modern” since I was a teenager. My sisters, who are several years older than me, got the brunt of it my parents conservatism, from clothing to dating, but fought for some individuality. By the time I became a teen, however, my parents had pretty much given up and gave me waaaaay more freedom than my sisters had without me having to put up a fight. I think they realized that they had to rethink their admittedly arbitrary boundaries.

    Admittedly, some of my freedom was because I was a boy, but even my oldest sister had stricter limits placed on her than the younger sister.

  • Jolie

    Its quite fascinating how one object (in this case, a skirt) can be used to express many things/identities- and how it makes me see it comes down much more to the “uniform” element than to how much skin you are actually showing. I have a long denim skirt exactly like Jana in the second picture, and one like the girl with cream jacket and green shirt in the last-one; plus a few cotton or chiffon ankle-lenght flowing summer skirts.

    A girl like the Duggars, who wears- let’s say- a long denim skirt with white cotton socks, flat loafers, a t-shirt two sizes two big plus a form-hiding jacket, no makeup and no jewellery except for maybe a purity ring is “read” as being traditionally religious; socially conservative, quite likely waiting to have sex until marriage, quite likely opposed to gay rights; quite likely seeing herself as a stay-at-home wife/mother in the future; the kind of person who doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t dance or listen to “worldly” music and who never goes anywhere without her father’s supervision.

    If I wear the same skirt with straw wedge sandals, a flowing chiffon top, a punk-ish leather jacket, a flower headband, bangles and dangling earrings I’m read as “hippie”: possibly spiritual but most likely not religious in the traditional sense; socially liberal, quite likely more or less sexually liberated, quite likely gay-friendly; quite likely aspiring towards a career in NGO’s or in some artistic field; the kind of person who listens to classic rock, might have smoked weed at least once and who backpacks through Europe. So pretty much the opposite…

    The outfit I just described doesn’t really show more skin/look sexier or anything… it just symbolically expresses a different thing.

    • Sally

      Well said!

    • WordSpinner

      Last Sunday I spent most of my time showing no more skin than my face and hands–not even really my neck. What did my outfit say?

      Kayaker (and well-equipped). (Ironically, there were some female inner-tubers going down the river in bikinis and nothing else where I wore five different layers on my core and had my bottom half encased in a water-tight kayak and skirt.) (The layers: swimsuit, rashguard, wetsuit, drytop, lifejacket.)

    • aim2misbehave

      Yep, and if I took the same skirt and swapped the clothes for flip-flops of sneakers and a oversized black t-shirt with a science joke or sci-fi/fantasy reference on it, and went on a college campus, everyone would think “nerd” or “geek” or maybe “gamer” and assume I was in a math or engineering program. Once again, no more or less skin showing, but an entirely different demographic…

  • Sally

    I’ve been thinking about the matching clothes pictures. I agree that in a sense all of the looks (non-matching included) are a kind of “purity” uniform that is accomplished more by how the clothing pieces are put together than by the actual style of *some* individual items as I thought Jolie expressed so well. That said, there certainly are some pieces (such as loose prairie dresses and jumpers) which look like you’re a kindergarten teacher from the 1980s or a religious girl of today.

    But there’s another aspect to this, particularly about the matching outfits. I have observed in some relative’s family (large number of kids) and in an interesting article circulated among conservatives that there is a huge issue of pride in being able to raise well-behaved children. I think among their own circles, that the children are the right kind of Christian is equally valuable, but when they’re out in public, I think their is an actual issue of personal self-esteem related to the public’s awareness that, yes, all these children are ours, and yes, aren’t they really well-behaved. You can barely manage your 2 screaming, whining, little brats? Look, we have 6 ranging from baby to teen that are all a delight to take out in public. I think the matching outfits make it clear that all the children are theirs.

    That article I mentioned was written by a dad who was calling for a recognition that for some, the large well-behaved homeschooling family has become idol worship. I really appreciated the honest introspection the author provided. I don’t know if it changed any hearts out there, but perhaps it did. But I’ve also watched this play out in my relatives. The dad’s complete freak-out and anger when one child stepped too far out of line … it was, to me, so revealing. And then his comments when things went well and someone would complement then. “See, it can be done.” My thought, sure, but at what price?

    I have a family larger than average, but just by a bit. Yet I’ve had to watch myself on these issues, too. No, I don’t walk into a restaurant with a gaggle of religious looking children. But mine were well-behaved in public too. I could feel quite a bit of pride when complemented, so I understood my family member’s aparent pride. I think the problem is when your identity gets wrapped up in how your family appears. For some families, it’s the physical appearance one way or another (it seems some truly lack all fashion sense and end up terribly frumpy), for some it’s more the behavior. But it seems like it comes down to:

    Look at us, see how we:

    Have sooo many children we can control

    Dress in a way that signals we are religious (particularly our girls and women)

    Are so well-behaved
    But if this is how you’re getting your self-esteem, where’s the fulfillment just from being a child of God and being indwelled by the Holy Spirit? Why do you have to create a little tribe for yourself to prove to yourself you have worth?

    • J-Rex

      Those were the comments I always heard growing up. “So many kids! Are they all yours? They’re so well behaved!!”
      We were so well behaved because we were terrified of our parents! Even my mom was always considered the “soft” one when it came to punishment. She took me birthday shopping for my seventh birthday and we went to the bathroom. I went first and then she told me to “Wait outside.” I went outside the bathroom to wait only to realize that she meant to wait outside the stall, not the bathroom. I got spanked when we got home.
      I can’t count the number of times I was punished for mistakes and misunderstandings. We were “well-behaved” because we were spanked if we weren’t flawless.

  • Saraquill

    Mrs. Duggar looks so infantilized in the red outfit.

    • NeaDods

      She’s fairly infantalized in real life, so that makes sense. She has to dress like the little girls even when her hubby doesn’t have to dress like the boys. She has to stare at her husband with dog-like devotion whenever he speaks and let him make all the decisions in her life, including what happens to her body.

      She doesn’t just *look* infantilized.

  • The Rodent

    I know the clothing is the point of this post, but what I find most shocking and creepy is the huge number of offspring… and that the parents think it’s a good thing.

    • The_L1985

      I’ve seen the second photo made into one of those demotivator posters, with a caption that reads “Vagina: It’s not a clown car.”

  • Ursula L

    I suspect that part of the reason why the older Dugger girls are looking more stylish is that they’re fully grown, so they’re aging out of the whole “family wardrobe” where each child just wears what is in their size, and actually picking their own clothes and having an individual wardrobe. Having clothes chosen to fit you, both in physical fit and style, rather than just random stuff that is close to your size, makes a big difference.

    I also remember, from an early episode of their show, that the “everyone wears red” was something they did while traveling, to help keep track of everyone. Which struck me as Doing It Wrong. If you can’t keep track of your kids without dressing them like stop signs, you’re doing it wrong.

    • sylvia_rachel

      Although lots of people who don’t have two dozen kids dress their kids in matching t-shirts, for example, when they’re going someplace crowded, like a big amusement park. The odds of something terrible happening are very small, but the odds of someone getting temporarily separated from the group are much higher, and it’s not a terrible idea to make your kids easier to pick out in a crowd or to be able to say to people, “Have you seen a kid about so high, wearing a t-shirt like this one?” I know when my (one) kid was little, she was always easier to spot in a crowded place when she was wearing a bright orange or turquoise t-shirt than when she was just one of dozens of little girls wearing pink.

      Making your kids easier to keep track of at a distance *can be* (although it isn’t necessarily) a way of giving them a bit more freedom of movement in public places.

    • Things1to3

      I used to do that with my three sons. My kids have always been very independent and prone to taking off once they feel they know the general layout of an area (ie. any place we’ve visited more than once.) They always turn up again because they really did have a good sense of navigation, but it gave me more than one panic attack when they would disappear and suddenly reappear no matter how vigilant I was. Bright colors let me track them from a distance and let them have their freedom to explore.

    • Conuly

      Even if you’ve only got two kids, it’s easy to lose track of them in a crowd, or if they’re allowed a bit more freedom. Once they no longer are of the age where you can stick them in a stroller or on a leash (or justifiably hold their hand ALL the time) it can make sense to dress them the same just so you can tell people what clothes to look for.

  • Lana Hope

    The reason I didn’t dress modest and stylish is one I did not know how, and two we had such a low budget that we only shoped at garage sales and thrift shops. That limits you.

    The first picture is hilarious. We had those exact same red corduroy jumpers and puffy collars, and wore them for a few years. It’s weird. Good point on individuality. One of my FB friends from my university days posted on her FB a few months ago that she ran into a mom, dad and teens all dressed alike. She thought it was cute. I told her that I was constantly put in that position as a kid and didn’t think it was cute. But I had not thought about more homeschoolers doing this.

  • nankay

    I am far removed from this culture so I’m wondering if anyone can explain
    this: I work in a mid sized public high school. There is a family of 5
    (3 girls 2 boys) that I see regularly so they are not homeschooled. The
    girls all wear ankle length homemade dresses/jumpers, their hair is in a
    bun and even their book bags are homemade. The boys, as far as I can
    tell, can wear whatever they want: jeans, brandnamed tennies, store
    bought backpacks etc.

    • Sally

      Sounds pentecostal to me (the bun is the give-away, if I’m right). They’ve been around longer than the quiverful movement, I believe. -Long skirts, tennis shoes (clunky, not cute little ones like Keds), and kinda loose buns like 1900 (just the bun, not the whole look).
      Not sure what to make of the homemade book bags just for the girls except that I’m guessing the girls don’t have to use them but made them as a sewing project and are happy to use them.

  • Coco

    When my second child was in elementary school, the school decided to go with uniforms in order to promote better student behavior. I was vocally opposed, pointing out that the school had a perfectly good dress code that they lacked the backbone to support and enforce. I called the school out on what I saw as laziness.

    Given reasonable guidelines, people ought to learn to dress themselves. Otherwise, like you, Libby Anne, they’re at a loss when one day they are faced with deciding- all on their own- what to wear.

    At my daughter’s school, I told the administration that they were doing the kids- and ultimately all of us- a disservice by telling them and not teaching them how to dress. I feel the same way about families that mono-dress their kids. Of course it’s super creepy, but the real problem is that the children are taught conformity and not to question a thing. I can understand modesty and dressing appropriately for this or that, but people learn nothing when they are told what to wear and not taught how to decide what to wear.

    • sylvia_rachel

      I think this is partly cultural. I’m in Canada, where school uniforms are (a) unusual and (b) strongly associated with expensive private schools, and I kind of feel the way you do about them, but in many parts of the world virtually all schools — private or public, secular or religious — have some kind of uniform and wearing uniform is just part of how school is.

      TBH, when I was a kid I would have welcomed a school uniform, because, I reasoned, if everyone had to wear the same thing, I wouldn’t get teased as much for not wearing the *right* thing. This is kind of embarrassing to admit in public, but one of the things I liked about Guides was the uniform (not the uniform itself, which was royal blue and somewhat hideous, but the fact that there was one and everyone looked equally dashing and/or dorky in it, so I didn’t stand out). What I didn’t really realize, until some Australian friends kindly explained it to me, was that even when there’s a school uniform, there are cool and less cool ways of wearing it — they’re just more subtle: things like how you wear your tie, what you do with your hair, how far you push the boundaries of regulation skirt length, the angle at which you wear your hat …

    • tsara

      I loved having a uniform. Or, well, I was completely indifferent to having it, but I miss it now that I don’t have it. A large part of it is for exactly the reason that you said: I don’t know how to dress myself. (Or, well, I do, but it’s a lot of work, and it’s annoying, and I’m lazy and very much not a morning person.)
      On the plus side, I know how to look after and wear expensive and finicky clothing (dress shirts, ties, blazers, and whatnot).

      • Coco

        That’s a really sweet response to my comment, Tsara. I can see your point, that having a set outfit makes life easier for someone who’s not necessarily into clothing. I once had a job where I did have a sort of self-made uniform (black or khaki pants or skirt, white or plain top) that looked perfectly fine, took a lot of pressure off, and served the purpose every time I went to work. Heck, it works well for men to have a simpler-than-not set of clothes.

        While I think it’s important and is a contribution to society when people can express themselves via their appearance, what I’m particularly concerned about when it comes to students (especially public school students), is that they learn to dress… ah, … appropriately. As in, not like on the “people of walmart” website! What I’m saying is that by not teaching kids in school what is and what isn’t okay to adorn yourself in, our schools are sending the kids forth to make up any ol’ thing. And since much of what people use to guide their decisions is based on television- and since many folks leave the house appearing to have not quite met their appearance goal (to put it nicely), it’d be great if the perfectly good dress code that my local school system has, could simply be enforced. Things like no short-shorts, no super-tight skinny jeans, no flip flops, no low-hanging pants, no considerable cleavage, etc. are reasonable rules for school kids and would prepare them for actual life and public interaction. Instead, we see people who should not, under any circumstances other than fleeing a burning building, have left their house wearing what they have on!

        So I’m sure you see that we’ve both got good points. Never-the-less, I bet you’re not going to catch either one of us wearing a jumper. ;)

  • The Other Weirdo

    What I got from this is that boys can wear different clothes(the pants, at least) while the girls all look the same, like ducks. No offense, but the first thing that came to mind was that picture of a mother-duck leading her flock of identical ducklings across the road. You’re right, of course. It totally erases individuality and personality.

  • perfectnumber628

    I also used to feel like I couldn’t dress attractive because the more beautiful a woman is, the more likely a guy will lust, right? Being beautiful is just me wanting to be selfish and do what I want instead of watching out for the guys.

    Yeah… I’m so glad I’m done with modesty, done with feeling guilty for wanting to be beautiful.

  • Kagi Soracia

    I had to dress like you, too, definitely didn’t have any of the more fashionable options available to me at the time, so I’m a little jealous of the girls in the last picture, just like I was jealous of the non-homeschooled girls at our church back then. I don’t know why it is that this anti-fashionism is particularly virulent in homeschooling, even moreso than otherwise comparable evangelical churches. To be fair, some churches are as bad about it as the homeschoolers, but most homeschoolers seem to be worse about it even in churches that aren’t. I don’t know about others, but I think for us ATI had something to do with it – we only followed their curriculum for a couple of years, but my dad has been a lifelong fan of Bill Gothard.

    Anyway, I definitely hear you on the clothing impacting social anxiety – I was terrified of public school kids, even ones that came to our church, and completely mortified and bitterly shamed any time I had to appear in public, knowing just how out of place and frumpy and stupid I looked in those clothes. Not kidding, this was a not-insignificant part of my emotional trauma from my growing up years. I thought part of the problem was just that we couldn’t afford store-bought clothes, but now I am not so sure, it sounds like thriftstore devoteeism was generally widespread among homeschoolers regardless of income status. Either way, it is entirely possible to dress somewhat in style even if you shop at thriftstores, and these families, and mine, just chose not to.

  • Anonny

    Assuming you’re a similar age to me, although you might be younger, those Laura Ashley dresses were high fashion, aswere denim skirts (with chambray shirt, natch).

  • Oldest of 8

    This was me. Completely. I was molested at 8 and 9, and took the purity culture’s emphasis on modesty as a guarantee of safety if I would follow the teachings- in particular, the teachings I got from my (female) group leaders at Bill Gothard’s ATI conference, and the literature from our church bookstore (Leslie Ludy, Josh Harris, Debi Pearl, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss).
    I wore a long denim skirt with swimming shorts underneath, and t-shirts 2 sizes too big. No shame involved there, no sirree…

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