Christine Prosser, Gabrielle Fain and Maribeth Rauh (left to right) as they walk the runway during the Pure Fashion Show in Raleigh, N.C. In these days where fashion seems to find a new body part to expose each season, Pure Fashion is one group of teenage girls moving the other direction. - AP

Girls gone mild

Imagine a home with a teenage girl where the most contentious argument over clothes involves whether it's OK for the lace on a camisole to peek through the top or bottom of a shirt.

That seems to be the case with 15-year-old Morgan Morrissette, whose mother, Shelley, is the founder and organizer of a local Pure Fashion group, a Catholic-based organization that promotes modesty and purity among teenage girls.

"I think it's modest because it's a camisole with lace on it," Morgan says. "And my dad's like, 'you know what the guys think, they think it's underwear with lace on it.' "

It's a small quibble these days, when fashion seems to find a new body part to expose each season — from bare midriffs to cleavage to the cheeks not on the face.

Pure Fashion is one group of teenage girls moving the other direction. At spring fashion shows by 18 affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, teens model clothes that abide by guidelines such as "necklines no lower than four fingers below the collar bone" and pants that fit loosely enough that they can be pulled away from the leg.

Groups such as Pure Fashion could be a mere blip on the fashion radar screen, aided by a poor economy that says hemlines go up when life is good and down when the dollar plummets. Or it might be the start of a movement to excise from public memory images of Janet Jackson's nipple or Britney Spears' nether regions.

Shelley Morrissette of Cary hopes it's the latter. She and Morgan went to a Pure Fashion Show in Atlanta two years ago, attended by about 2,200 people.

"At least for that day, everybody was embracing the message of modesty and purity, and the girls were on board," Shelley Morrissette said of the Atlanta show. "It felt good, I think, to them to know that there were others out there who want the same message."

When Pure Fashion began about 10 years ago, the fashion was cropped shirts with low-rise jeans. Keeping the girls' stomachs covered was the major issue, said Therese Walters, another mother involved in Pure Fashion.

"Today, the shirts are much longer, but now the challenge is the plunge, the cleavage, everything is cut so low and the spaghetti straps," Walters says.

Her daughter, Hannah, is a 17-year-old who attends Cardinal Gibbons, a Catholic school in Raleigh. Morgan is in her first year of public school, attending Green Hope High School, where she says she works at converting friends to dressing modestly.

So, are high-waisted jeans a replacement for the low-rise variety? What do we make of CEO Sharen Turney's statement that Victoria's Secret has become "too sexy" and that the lingerie chain needs to focus on the feminine?

"I think what's happening is that we've reached the limit of the 'if you've got it, flaunt it,' philosophy and we're seeing the power of a little mystery and glamour," said Wendy Shalit, author of 1999's "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue" and 2007's "Girls Gone Mild."

"When exhibitionism becomes the norm, the fact is, it gets boring," Shalit wrote in response to e-mail questions.

Pure Fashion is an outgrowth of Challenge Clubs, groups for girls in Catholic churches. The local group's membership is about 60 percent Catholic and about 40 percent other Christian religions. But modest clothing has roots in many religions; Shalit, for example, is Jewish.

National Pure Fashion director Brenda Sharman, herself a model who's signed by Elite Model Management in Atlanta, says that while Pure Fashion has guidelines for how to dress, fashion has too many variables for hard and fast rules.

"I think we're trying to remind our kids that certain outfits are appropriate at some times and not appropriate at some times," Sharman said. "I think that women need to examine their intentions when they're getting dressed. Getting dressed with the intention to be pure is different than getting dressed with the intention to lure. Out in public, people will get an impression about them, and they need to be aware that their clothing sends a message about them."

Pure Fashion does have its "modesty guidelines," including that "undergarments should never become outer-garments." Still, Shalit says reporters enjoy portraying "the modesty movement as if it's some kind of dress code (or soon will be), and that's because everyone hates someone who tells them what to wear. It's a clever way of trying to make the movement seem really unappealing, without ever honestly examining it."

Instead, she says, she believes "that for there to be meaningful choices for girls, being publicly sexual cannot be the only way of being empowered. We've got to allow for alternatives — both in dress and in behavior."

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