Harold Gilman "Girl Dressing"My eldest daughter is in middle school, and as with most tween and teen girls, fashion, beauty, and fitting in with her friends are important to her.  When it comes to style, she is no mini-mom.  So let me shock you: I absolutely love shopping with her.

I'm not being sarcastic.  The other day we had an hour to kill downtown, just the two of us; we spent that hour exploring the local shops, trying on clothes, and even picked out a few things we absolutely loved.  It was the highlight of my week.

Does that sound like the impossible dream?  It shouldn't.

Set Standards

One of the reasons we don't argue over clothes is that we've long since agreed on our standards.  Modesty has been a topic on the table since my daughter was a little girl.  “Whatever you think is right” parenting is a dereliction of duty.  Our daughters have parents precisely because they need people to help them learn to make good decisions -- people who love them dearly, and who've gained the life experience the girls themselves just don't have yet.

People will argue over whether modesty is a mindset or a way of dressing – it's a silly argument. It's not an either-or, it's a both-and.  Humans are both body and soul, so modesty concerns both body and soul.

Our daughters need to know both the reasons behind modest dress and behavior, and some practical guidelines for what works and what doesn't.  If you don't understand the importance of your dignity as a woman, the “rules” are meaningless.  Because you have to get dressed every morning, you also need to make concrete decisions about what you will and won't wear.

Spend the Money

When it comes to handing on important values, actions speak louder than words.  We made the decision when our daughter first showed interest in her appearance (very, very, early) that we'd back up our rhetoric with cold hard cash.

It doesn't matter what your budget is. If you're living off hand-me-downs and a few splurges at the thrift store, that works.  The message isn't “You have to spend a lot of money to be fashionable.”  The message is, “I'm willing to set aside a reasonable portion of my budget, and my time and effort, to help you find clothes that work for you.”

Because our daughter is a fashionista, for us that means that most years she gets a card in her Christmas stocking for a trip to the mall, and that's her one big gift.  It's the one time a year when she can pick out fun stuff to spice up the boring basics.  Part of the gift is the agreement that we'll take the time to scour the clearance racks in the after-Christmas sales to help her make the present-budget go as far as it can.

Understand the Difference Between Fashion and Style

Can you dress modestly and still be fashionable?  Not if the fashion is for excessively tight or revealing clothing.  But you can most certainly dress with style.

How do you cultivate an enduring sense of personal style?  The first time my daughter fell in love with a horridly tacky shirt from the hand-me-down bag, I had to make a decision: Who's going to be the style police?  I decided that as long as an outfit wasn't utterly inappropriate, I wouldn't second-guess her tastes.

As much as I cringe over some of her early choices, I don't regret that policy for a minute.  She learned that she, not some approval committee, was the arbiter of what her "look" was going to be.  As a tween or teen, that translates into confidence wearing what she loves, even if it isn't what all the other girls just have to have this year.  Given the freedom to try out different looks without anyone going "Oh yuck!" at her choices, she's developed a style that suits her personality and brings out the best in who she is.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

When I see a girl or woman who feels the need to put her body on display for the general public, I'm almost always looking at someone with zero self-confidence.  If she were confident of her worth and dignity, she wouldn't feel the need to be validated by turning heads in skimpy clothing.  When young women feel the need to slavishly follow every trend, that same insecurity is at work.

Nothing kills a girl's self-confidence like being bombarded with criticism.  Because we homeschool, it is in fact easier for our daughter to fill her life with kind, respectful people.  But homeschooling isn't what determines who her friends are; it's the decision to avoid toxic relationships and value supportive relationships that makes the difference.  What does that mean for modesty? If you want your daughter to be confident of who she is and what she's worth, you have to teach her how to choose friends wisely and how to nurture treasured relationships.

Yes, that's another investment. It means being wiling to drive across town to spend time with a good friend in an inconvenient location.  It means taking time to listen to your daughter talk about her friends – both her young friends and the adults in her life – and help her figure out how to set boundaries and how to tell the difference between ordinary quirks and unhealthy behavior.  It means having the gumption to stand behind her when she needs to end a bad relationship, and then to help her replace that emotional black hole with new friends and interests.

Your Daughter Needs to Know She's Beautiful

Your daughter is beautiful.  Telling her so won't make her vain.  Vanity is a sin of insecurity, an undue emphasis on outward appearances alone.  Your daughter needs to hear from you, over and over and over again, all the ways she's beautiful that have nothing to do with how closely she resembles an air-brushed super model.  She needs it proven to her in the way you smile at her, the way you respect her time and talent and taste, and in the way you delight in doing things with her, listening to her, and seeing what she'll do next.  Cultivate the art of being utterly captivated by the wondrous creature that she is, and she'll know she's beautiful.

You Can't Renounce What You Never You Possessed

Do we as Christian parents risk putting our daughters on a track towards worldliness with all this attention to clothes and fashion?  Does a well-dressed daughter today mean a life of dissipation tomorrow?  Certainly if you make outward appearances your highest value, and neglect your daughter's spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and creative development, that could be the case.

What of the great saints?

There comes a time when many of us are called to set aside what is reasonable in one state of life, in order to pursue a higher good found in another state.  But there is no “setting aside” if we have nothing to set.  We cannot speak of a “sacrifice” until we have something good that will cost us when we give it up.  The virtue of the saints doesn't come from indifference to appearances. A woman's holiness isn't measured by how little she enjoys shopping, or how badly she dresses.  Rather, holiness is measured in her willingness to follow God's calling wherever it leads, in fashion and out.

Copyright 2014, Jennifer Fitz

photo credit: Wikimedia