My family looked like everyone else when I was little. Mom liked to be comfortable so she wore jeans a lot, but she also sewed her own dresses and liked feminine details like ribbons and lace.
Then my parents attended Bill Gothard's seminars. In the Advanced Seminar, Gothard and his buddy Jim Sammons explained why women shouldn't wear trousers. The accompanying textbook went into a lot more detail, warning against long necklaces, sundresses, false eyelashes, dangling earrings, open-heeled shoes, and t-shirts with "written messages".
So Mom got rid of her jeans and started wearing only skirts. For a while I was still allowed to wear pants to school, on Wednesdays when my class had P.E., but Mom homeschooled me the next year and got rid of my shorts and jeans. I tried to take it in stride, but I did miss those pink seersucker shorts dreadfully. I thought about them every summer.
And speaking of summer, swimsuits became an annual adventure. When I was four, I wore a pink bikini to the neighborhood pool. Later I had a blue one-piece with a little whale on it; I remember wearing it at the lake. The next year Mom had me wear a cotton romper in the water. It tied at the shoulders and had elastic around the legs (remember the 80's?). I was 8 or 9 when Mom made me my first "swimdress": dark red floral calico, full skirt gathered at the elastic waist, puffy sleeves, a little ruffle at the elastic neck, and matching red bloomers. I stayed with my grandparents for a week that summer and Grammie wanted to take us to her pool.
"Did you bring a swimsuit?" she asked.
"I have a new swimdress," I said dubiously.
"Same difference," said she. But I doubted she understood.
I spread the red outfit on the bed for her to see. Grammie tried to cover her dismay as graciously as possible. But we didn't visit the pool.
|Swimwear, late 90's|
The beach was a tricky place anyway. We generally went when nobody else wanted to be in Lake Michigan: early mornings when it was still cool, or overcast days. Though we were safe in our full-coverage outfits and the boys kept their shirts on, at the first sighting of a woman in a real bathing suit, we were packing up our beach toys and heading for the car. I bought my first retail swimsuit for my honeymoon.
|From Gothard's Advanced textbook|
We bought cotton mesh polo shirts from Land's End, because they were the only knits we were allowed to wear by themselves. Jersey knits like turtlenecks and t-shirts could only be worn under jumpers, sweaters, or vests. Blouses usually needed a tank top or camisole underneath to disguise any bra straps. Bras could not be lined with any kind of padding--I wore this style until I started breastfeeding. We all wore full-cut briefs, and long homemade bloomers under our skirts. Girls wore nightgowns (sometimes with matching bloomers), not pajamas.
When I got bold enough to buy sweatpants and a pair of loose cotton capris, I sometimes wore them under my jumper on the trampoline. I also started wearing pajamas, being careful to cover up in a robe when I left my room. At the University of North Dakota, I wore shorts and a sleeveless shirt for swimming instead of my old dress.
For years, the boys could only wear shorts to the beach. I nervously went out in shorts for the first time in 1999 when I traveled with two younger brothers to visit my grandparents. I was nearly 24. It was terribly awkward, sitting in the middle of Bebop's backseat being blinded by my white thighs. But it was a hot day and I was determined to try shorts while I had the chance.
Besides dressing carefully ourselves, hiding the JCPenney catalog, and periodically asking to be removed from the Victoria's Secret mailing list, we were cautious about immodesty slipping through in other ways. Dad would preview VHS movies in his office, then show them to us with entire scenes blacked out. The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, and Chariots of Fire were all edited for modesty.
|The offensive dress|
At the time, I thought my family held unusually high standards, even for conservatives. Now, thanks to the Internet, I can now read how the modesty principle worked out practically in another fundamentalist family. And another girl's story of how churches use "modesty" to shame women. I can laugh with other ex-ATI daughters about lingerie and zealous mothers as clothing police. But, like gazing at my swimsuit in the bathroom mirror, it's a strangled laugh.