According to the major news outlets the other day, parents are up in arms about Ambercrombie and Fitch's new tween swimsuit featuring a padded bra. I would be up in arms about this, too, if I was trying to outfit a tween in swimwear.
But I haven't even gotten to swim season yet and it's not because Flat Rock Creek Pool will be closed this summer for the much anticipated major renovations. It's because I am struggling to help my teenage daughter locate a dress for Confirmation that doesn't showcase cleavage, have straps thinner than uncooked angel hair pasta, and pass as a skort without the shorts.
We have two weeks left until the big day and I feel like I am stranded on Slutwear Island. We have duly trekked to all of the major department stores in our metropolitan area from high-end retailers to discount houses and every chic boutique inbetween and found absolutely nothing. Nada. And we are pretty desperate. Meaning we would have been willing to make do---if only there had been anything plausible to make do with.
We began the search the instant sweaters went to clearance post-Christmas and patiently waited for the signs of spring to show up on racks in stores. The signs that turned up all appeared to be destined for dances---satiny, glitzy, strapless, and ridiculously short. By ridiculously short, I mean barely covering the tush, the buttocks, the lower vertebrae. I mean scant as in an absence of fabric below the torso: a deficit skirt, so to speak.
The dresses this season are divided into two camps: slutwear for dances and slutwear for church. All are cut from the same cloth--literally. They offer the same cleavage-spilling, butt-hugging features, just in different fabric: polyester sateen solids for dances and 100% cotton floral for church.
My daughter was perfectly willing to don a shrug to cover the pencil-thin straps, but we couldn't find a dress that didn't first require a tank top to mask the bare chest. Makes me wish we could supersize her First Communion dress.
Never have I been so disappointed by the retailers I count on most. Yes, Macys, Dillards, JC Penney, Kohls, and even Nordstroms, whose clothes usually offer some respite from the in-your-face Junior wear at the other stores, I'm talking about you.
As if adolescent girls don't have enough to deal with in regard to body image and media influence and the daily cult-of-celebrity child-star rehab meltdowns.
And I will admit I might have seen this coming. When I sought clothes for my son as a preschooler years ago, I noted that the boy's clothes then looked like miniature adult clothes. I remember wishing they had more of a sense of play. When time came to purchase clothing for my daughter as a preschooler, the choices for her wardrobe were far more fanciful and frivolous and fun. I started wondering then about the gender implications of these trends.
Then my daughter hit the tween years and the differences between boys and girls clothing leapt off the rack at us. At least that's when we noticed a seismic shift in the apparel selection. For girls aging out of the traditional girls' sizes, clothing options became highly sexualized. Suffice it to say it took us about 10 minutes to find my son a suitable jacket and slacks for his Confirmation.
Around that same time Kohls made the egregious error of supporting Brittany Spears as the spokesmodel for a longtime Junior brand that baby boomers might recognize, Candies, now making a comeback. Really? A substance-abusing, has-been pop star mother of two in sexed-up costumes is the best role model you can find for teenage girls? Remember this was shortly after her very public episodes of bad behavior and the custody of her children was called into question.
My husband wrote a letter to Kohls denouncing this choice and Kohls responded, defending their selection. We used it as a teachable moment for our kids and boycotted Candies, but saw it for the transparent and exploitative act of image-rehabbing that it was. After all, my daughter's generation had no idea who this Brittany Spears person even was which is precisely what made them the the perfect target demographic for just such a marketing ploy.
Thankfully, that campaign recently came to a close, though Brittany was seen just this morning on Good Morning America performing in a black corset with lights flashing on the nipples. No kidding. But give her PR people their due. It worked: aging pop star reinvented. Check.
Our search for a stylish, comfortable, church-appropriate dress has not ended. And before you dismiss me as a prude, think again. I rolled the waist band of my plaid uniform skirt with the best of them when I chafed at the nuns' dress code for my all-girls high school back in the day. And, frankly, last year we had no difficulty finding some decent stylish dress choices for another religious event in which my daughter participated.
Even our church seems fairly modest in its expectations for this important religious ceremony in two weeks: straps less than two inches wide require covered shoulders ala shrug or cardigan and dresses should be above the knee (NOT the thigh).
But buyer beware: you may find Easter dress shopping tough sledding this year. And department store professional buyers beware: the pending glut of unsold slutwear which begs the question, "What were you thinking?"
As a consumer, I'm disgruntled and disheartened. As a feminist, I'm terribly disappointed. As a mother, I'm beyond frustrated. And as a woman, I am deeply distressed by what these trends signify about the status of women, especially young women, in our culture.
AN EPILOGUE OF SORTS:
Hallelujah! I believe we may have a happy ending, or at the very least, some kind of divine intervention. Who says God doesn't hear the plaintive cries of a frantic mother? After I wrote this post and complained bitterly to my sister who is my daughter's Confirmation sponsor, she suggested we look at an upscale store well off of our beaten shopping path where some of her friends had had luck in the past. I had never been inside this store, but my daughter had visited it once with a friend, so she was game to give it a shot.
We walked into Von Maur and my daughter instantly spotted a deep turquoise green dress with a black belt and two-inch-wide straps that she really liked. She gathered some other possibilities in her arms from the array of choices she actually had here and took them all into the fitting room.
Her first choice stood out in the mix of styles, though all met the church guidelines, and due to the partial open back, she selected a darling black shrug to cover her bare shoulders. I was pleasantly suprised to find that all of these dresses were competively priced with those in the other department stores we'd searched. I paid $5.00 to have the straps altered to fit her perfectly.
I had an interesting conversation with the college-aged sales associate while my daughter tried on clothes. She was dressed stylishly and asked what the occasion was for which we sought this dress. I explained and she nodded knowingly, commenting that she remembers searching for her own Confirmation dress.
She also mentioned that this year would prove unusually difficult for such searches as dress styles did not lend themselves to such occasions. She also noted that she had observed an enormous shift in styles when she was a senior in high school and dresses suddenly became predominantly backless and strapless. Since then, she said, well...
So relief is mine until the next need for a dress arises and I'm grateful now to turn my attention to the less challenging---or so I pray--- hunt for black shoes.
Flat Rock Creek Notebook: Memoirs of the Here and Now
More from living