WWJW or What Would Jesus Wear (if Jesus Was a Tween/Teen Girl)?

A friend’s post about fashion and leggings got me thinking about how my daughter and I are navigating the scary yet vaguely familiar world of teenage fashion.

Life was a lot easier when I could go to just about any store and buy a few things for Bethany, stick them in the closet, and pull them out for her to wear with little to no objections. But I don’t know if it was as fun. Life now means going to the mall or Goodwill together and trying to out-do each other’s best buys.

But starting around age 9 finding “appropriate” clothing and avoiding exposed midriffs and butt crack became priority #1. I remember walking into a tween girls’ clothing store and horrified at their underwear display – bikini and low-rise underwear for tweens. What does a 9-year-old need low-rise underwear for? Apparently to make sure her underwear doesn’t show too much under those cute low-rise jeans. Duh.

Bethany isn’t 9 anymore. She’ll be 14 the day after Christmas. And when she tries on a pair of jeans I ask her to sit down in them before I’ll pay for them. When she tries on a shirt I ask her to raise her hands in the air because I care about whether or not the shirt rides up and shows off the spot where she was once tethered to me for sustenance.

But fashion and appropriateness can feel like a moving target. I don’t have big issue with her wearing a bikini, but I may change my mind on that this summer. I think she looks great in those low-cut skinny jeans, but I don’t want boys or men googling her. I want her to see herself as God (and Peter and I) see her – beautiful inside and out. But I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I’m still the kind of woman who likes to look good in what she wears. And I want her to understand that what she wears isn’t as important as her heart, but that it’s OK to appreciate her physical beauty as well as a fabulous fitting pair of jeans. Clothes don’t make the woman, but we all know that at one point or another we’ve judged another woman for what she was or was not wearing.

See? Moving target.

A few nights ago Peter and I were watching ABC’s Nightline when a segment on tween/teen fashion came up. A national program called Pure Fashion was promoting modest fashion for teens. Pure Fashion’s creator and former Miss Georgia, Brenda Sharman says, “The idea with Pure Fashion is very countercultural.” She goes on to explain that the program is for girls with courage, and that is extends beyond fashion to cover proper behavior and actions for Christian girls who wish to remain virtuous until marriage.

But something about that segment bothered me, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s knowing what it’s like to be judged based on appearances and not wanting my daughter or her friends to be judged that harshly…or for them to judge others based on their fashion choices. Maybe it’s because I want to believe that what I wear isn’t all that important but I hold in tension the reality that what I choose to wear can communicate messages I intend or don’t intend to communicate. There’s a reason we call the power suit the “power” suit.

So, should we even be asking the question, “What would Jesus wear if he were a tween/teen girl?”? What have you seen in fashion trends that make you cringe? (Why are shoulder pads coming back? At least they cover the shoulders, right?) What are the lines you have drawn for your daughter or for yourselves as you shop and get dressed? (No belly button or butt crack exposure. That goes for both of us. And I refuse to let her shop at a particular store that insists on dimming the lights and assaulting potential customers’ sense of smell and hearing, but we’ve bought a few of those label’s items at rummage sales.)


  1. Lisa December 7, 2009

    Things that make/have made me cringe: the low rise jeans with showing thong phase. i rejoiced mightily when longer shirts came into style again to cover whatever was low-rise. I prefer low-rise jeans, but sitting is a necessity.

    On the topic of leggings, I think the most awful trend I have seen currently is leggings AS pants. A few NU girls and I regularly discussed how awful it was to see leggings that looked merely like tights worn as pants. Now, with an appropriately long shirt, a sweater dress, or some other long tunic top, I’m fine with it, but otherwise a) it’s really revealing and not any more flattering that a leotard is on a person’s backside b) it looks more like exercise pants c) it just looks ridiculous. I once saw a girl at an NU cafeteria wearing sheer leggings with a short NU t-shirt. Doesn’t seem like a look anyone should try to pull of, but if anyone could have, it would not have been her.

    I think classic is always a good way to go. The say it’s better to use trendy accessories than the whole outfit. Trends that are revealing end up looking ridiculous in 10 years. Right now in California, tween girls in my town are are wearing skirts that just barely cover the butt (like Rachel on Glee wears) and sheer black panty hose. Not the best look for awkward teens.

  2. eliseanne December 8, 2009

    Lisa, I am right with you on all those issues. I work with teens, and boy, do I see all that often.

    My mom used to have a rule that if a shirt I was wearing made those horizontal lines between the breasts, showing how tight it was, I couldn’t wear it. She also made me sit down before I could by pants. And if the pants were too tight that they showed panty lines and necessitated a thong, I couldn’t get them, because she didn’t like thongs on teens.

    I always check the distance from the top of my pants to my belly button and make sure it isn’t more than a finger length, otherwise I know my shirt won’t cover me.

    Investing in long tank tops or camis to wear under cute but short shirts was one of the best decisions I ever made.

  3. Pauline Chiu December 8, 2009

    Thanks for the honest sharing on this topic. I think it’s great that you have that balance between being beautiful in heart and also in how we dress as women. It’s great that you would allow your daughter to grow in finding her own taste but at the same time making sure that it doesn’t go overboard. I hope there are more mothers like you who would be able to find such balance in raising their daughters. I hope I’ll one day be a good and balanced mother if God would give me daughters in the future.

  4. Spiny Norman December 8, 2009

    disclaimer: I don’t have children. But, when shopping with my niece I refuse to buy anything for her that a Bratz doll would wear. It makes her laugh every time and helps me make the point that some things are not appropriate.

    My mom never dealt with me on the fashion front but I remember she used to threaten to sew lace on my brothers’ shirts if they didn’t tuck them in for church.

    I saw this quote on a friends Facebook page: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” -Coco Chanel

    I kind of like the quote except for the fact that it feels like a lot of pressure to dress impeccably. Perhaps the quote works for me if I can change it to “dress your body” (or, “dress your age”) and they remember the woman. Something like that. I like the sentiment that there is a way that a woman can dress that brings out HER.

    • Kathy Khang December 10, 2009

      I should’ve used the threat of lace earlier this week. Elias looked a bit sloppy for the winter sing the other night.

      So many teen girls dress so scantily that there is hardly any “dress” to remember. That is my fear….or rather, I fear that my daughter and her friends will wear so little that others will think little of them. But it seems rather unfair to bombard them with images of models wearing short-shorts, lower-than-low rise jeans and tops that would fit the dolls they just stopped playing with a year a two ago and then expect them to know the difference between fashion and obscene. There are many days when I wouldn’t mind school uniforms.

      And unfortunately it doesn’t get that much easier for us the older we get. You’re right. Dressing impeccably feels like a lot of pressure.

      And if any of you are still following the thread…what about swim wear for you or for the teen girls in your lives? One-piece? Tankini? Bikini?

  5. hopeintheghetto December 9, 2009

    I don’t have kids myself, but through our ministry I spend a lot of time with tweens and teens. I see the girl tweens (ages 12 or s) already shopping at Forever 21. I see the girl teens wanting to fit in and look like their peers, but struggling too with the concept of being a new creation in Christ and learning what it means to be a Godly woman (on the inside and outside). And our teen boys too.. they struggle with this as well, but in a different way (they want to dress and look like thugs because everyone looks like one here). I really like 2 Cor. 5, how it reminds us we are ambassadors in Christ (so yes, we should be asking ourselves WWJW).

    • Kathy Khang December 10, 2009

      I haven’t run into clothing issue with my sons yet, but I’m sure it has more to do with location/demographics. I saw a ton of boys dressed like thugs for Halloween, which made me cringe for a variety of reasons. So far my boys prefer to wear their pants at their waists instead of around their butts, and they’ve laughed at the pajamas as daywear look.

      But I appreciate the POV you bring – struggling with the concept of being a new creation in Christ, godliness inside and out, while living out their teen/preteen years in 2009. The pressure to fit in is real because no one, especially our youth, want to feel or be lonely and excluded based on our appearances.

  6. Sally July 4, 2010

    I like my girls still being in school uniforms. I just hope when thier older they dress reasonably.


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