The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

The Ethics Of Clothing – How To Dress For Polygamy

Posted by mscate on July 3, 2008

So, you’re down with the No Sweat shoes, you don’t wear fur and you like buying fashions that are ‘refashioned’ or ‘upcycled’ as all the entrepreneurs are calling it. Clothing that is made by small businesses, not factories with a nod to history. Well, you now have another option.

Women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have released their own fashion line and online shop. You may recall the FLDS, a polygamous sect in Texas where over 400 children and teens were taken into custody The children were taken into custody after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. Officials said girls were being “groomed” to accept sex with their middle-aged “spiritual husbands” as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, but disturbingly no arrests have been made.

So what kind of fashions might they provide?

According to The Age:

The austere dresses with long-sleeves and high collars, loose-fitting pants, long-johns and modest blouses worn by members of the sect are reminiscent of 19th century American pioneers and highlighted the sect’s isolation.

They are starting with children’s and babieswear. The website is painfully slow to load, but news media reports a significant interest in the clothing as it is ‘modest’ and well made. A lot of feminists (myself included) are horrified by some of the ‘tweens’ fashions out there. From tiny bras and g- strings to t shirts like these from Jay Jay’s:

(which promoted a campaign at Australian Women Online).

Doing a quick internet search, there appears to be quite a fashion line in Mormon clothing. Some examples:

from Cafe Press

You can get these from Modest by Design which has the slogan “Clothing your father would approve of” (No, I’m not joking).

I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with choosing clothing which is based on styles which correspond with your personal ethic. Loads of women prefer long skirt and jeans to short skirts. And many of us would like to be judged on our actions not our appearances. But by ‘supporting’ the clothing of the NDLS are we helping women create their own enterprise (which may one day help them to leave the religious sect) or are we in fact, providing money for the containment of more young girls to one day become polygamous brides? Has children’s clothing become so sexualised that a counter-culture can be the only solution rather than a moral code by designers (and retailers) which governs how children are clothed? Or would this inpinge too much on personal choice?

I don’t have any answers, but I’ve plenty to think about.

4 Responses to “The Ethics Of Clothing – How To Dress For Polygamy”

  1. Mel said

    You know Cate, the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about the NDLS shop was that fashion designers would actually appropriate these styles, considering that it’s such a distinctive look. I have already read blog posts talking about how amazing and ‘fierce’ the hairstyles are; can’t you just see models dressed in deconstructed versions of these garments, or hipsters wearing them ironically at parties?

    My own personal reaction is not to buy the clothes because it’s supporting a group whose beliefs I find repugnant, but you do also have a point that it may lead to these women’s self-determination. At the very least the online aspect is a step away from the “isolation” that these women are supposed to endure.

  2. I have severe misgivings about FLDS groups. It’s one thing to raise your child in your faith but quite another to make sure she has a baby by 18 and can’t leave. I don’t think I would want to purchase from them even if I thought I would look good in Little House on the Prairie frocks at 44!

    On the brighter side, the British designer, Laura Ashley, sold similar fashions in recreated Victorian prints very successfully into the 1980s (when the line modernised drastically). If marketed with enough romance and a less workaday image perhaps it could be fashionable again. I remember having some gorgeous cambric blouses and a black velvet coat that I would certainly buy again today if I could.

  3. katesaltfleet said

    I just had a look at Modest By Design and surprisingly there were some quite nice designs on there. However I would buy similar designs from a store that was not supporting the Christian Right.

    The point about children’s clothing is an interesting one too, I am sure that I am not the only person who feels uncomfortable with eight year olds wearing crop tops and make-up.

  4. This phrase ‘sexualisation of children’ seems to be joining the ranks of ‘alcopops’ and ‘working families’ as things that don’t really mean anything but represent a vague idea of society’s preoccupations.

    I certainly agree that children are exposed to a lot more junk these days that is adult in nature, but I think it’s a misnomer to talk about the early sexualisation of children. Children ARE sexual. What they aren’t is adult, so their own sexualisation occurs in the way it always has, through exploring with each other, playing doctors and nurses, pretending to be grown ups and so forth.

    The problem with children’s clothing and products is that it assumes an adulthood in them that presents one thing to the world but that they obviously don’t understand.

    I think we need to come up with a different term to the ‘sexualisation of children’, because it assumes this kind of indoctrination is only damaging to children and not to society in general. Apart from that, it’s not even about ‘sexualisation’ because sex and the exploration of it (even if you are a child and you are exploring it with other children through kissing or playing or whatever) is not in and of itself a bad thing.

    The problem is that the particular kind of sexualisation pervading society now is intensely misogynist – but rather than saying that, lobby groups and so forth just bang on about this vague generic sexualisation because nobody wants to admit that we are all in our own way propping up a society that still ultimately sees women as being mothers, wives, mistresses, girlfriends, daughters – but never just women.

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