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Online extra: The modesty movement

By Jennifer Garza McClatchy Newspapers Backstage before dress rehearsal, 14-year-old Mary Nye looks at the clothes she will model at the Pure Fashion Show. "I would wear these," said Nye, scanning a rack of blouses and dresses. The recent graduat...

By Jennifer Garza

McClatchy Newspapers

Backstage before dress rehearsal, 14-year-old Mary Nye looks at the clothes she will model at the Pure Fashion Show.

"I would wear these," said Nye, scanning a rack of blouses and dresses. The recent graduate of St. Mel's Catholic School in Fair Oaks, Calif., usually has a hard time finding something to wear.

"When you go to the stores, all they have are clothes that show a lot of skin," said Nye, who is dressed in her usual after-school uniform of jeans and T-shirt over a tank top. "I don't feel comfortable with that."

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A lot of people don't.

Low-cut camis and short dresses may be the rage in fashion and celebrity magazines, but many young women say the styles expose too much, especially during summer.

They've turned to faith-based organizations for help. The modesty movement, as it's called, is gaining support from religious leaders who say it's time to cover up. Religious groups have promoted modest-themed fashion shows and proms, and referred brides-to-be to shops that sell modest gowns.

This month, hundreds attended the sold-out Pure Fashion Show at Arden Hills Resort Club & Spa in Sacramento, Calif. The Friday night show featured local teens from various churches modeling modest fashion from casual wear to evening formals.

The fashion show -- which had a waiting list of more than 100 people who wanted to attend but couldn't get in -- had the support of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, Calif., the first time church leaders have given their stamp of approval to such an event.

"In this day and age, girls are growing up in an environment where it seems OK to dress provocatively. ... We're concerned," said Kathy Conner, who works for the Sacramento diocese.

Church leaders advertised the fashion show at Catholic schools and parishes. "This gives them a different model to follow," Conner said.

The modesty model has specific guidelines. For example, a skirt or dress should not be any shorter than four fingers above the knee, according to Inchi Sugarman, chairwoman of the Sacramento Pure Fashion Show. Necklines should not go any lower than four fingers below the collarbone, and straps on tops should be at least two fingers wide.

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"We want girls to know they can be beautiful and stylish and modest," Sugarman said. "We tell them first impressions are important ... and what does it say if the first impression is showing everything?"

Though this is the first time the Pure Fashion Show has been offered in Sacramento, teens in cities throughout the country have participated in the six-month program. They learn public speaking, manners, social graces, hairstyling and makeup application, personal presentation, and "living a life in accordance with God's will and fostering a life of grace through purity of heart, mind and body," according to the organization's Web site. One of its statements of beliefs is that "our private parts should stay private."

Teenagers of different faith backgrounds from throughout the Sacramento region paid $350 to go through the program, which also included a weekend spiritual retreat and a father-daughter luncheon, and culminated with the fashion show.

"It's definitely been worth it," said Jean Mark, one of many parent volunteers. Her 14-year-old daughter, Jamie, modeled in the show. "This counterbalances all the negative images out there. They're learning that beauty is who you are, not what you're showing."

The modesty movement is small but growing. Believers say it is a way to live in accordance with religious beliefs and also a way to develop a sense of empowerment.

"I feel so much more comfortable when I wear sleeves on my shirt or wear shorts that go to my knee," said Melanie Jones, 17, of Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif. "I don't have to worry."

In the past, Jones has sewn her prom dresses. Many other girls make their own, alter ones they buy at stores or shop online.

Jones, who has been in several pageants, recently was selected to model for Beautifully Modest, one of several Web sites that sell modest clothing for weddings and proms.

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"Modesty is a way for me to show my faith every day," Jones said.

Living that faith can be a challenge for teens who want to attend proms. Pressure to dress and behave provocatively at the high school dances has prompted so-called modest proms sponsored by church groups.

In April, more than 200 California youths from all faith backgrounds attended a prom hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a decorated hall at the temple in Folsom, Calif. The theme was "An Evening in Paris."

"I like being around people with the same kinds of values," said Devin Stoker, who just finished his junior year at El Dorado Hills, Calif.'s Oak Ridge High School and attended the prom.

One of the best parts of the evening?

"It was free," Stoker said. The cost for the prom -- the hors d'oeuvres, the photographer and even a chocolate dipping fountain -- was funded by the church and donors.

"The proms are another way we can emphasize modesty in both appearance and behavior," said Lisa West, spokeswoman for the LDS church in the Sacramento region. The church stresses modesty for women and men.

Proms and fashion shows aren't the only places religious groups are pushing modesty. Many refer brides-to-be to bridal shops that sell modest clothing.

"The typical bridal gown is not modest anymore. They're backless or sleeveless, and cut down to there," said Lisa Durston, who opened A Bride's Dream Come True in Roseville, Calif.

She and partner Randi Peart started the business after Durston's daughter had a hard time finding a dress she considered appropriate.

"We knew there were girls who wanted to be both modest and fashionable," Durston said.

To Durston, that means gowns with sleeves and a neckline that doesn't plunge. Brides-to-be from all faiths have bought her gowns, which range in price from $500 to $1,000.

"I think a lot of women are uncomfortable with the clothes out there right now," Durston said. "For some, it's because of religious beliefs and for others, it's because they want to leave something to the imagination."

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