- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

REDMOND, Wash. — During a recent shopping trip to Nordstrom, 11-year-old Ella Gunderson became frustrated with all the low-cut hip-huggers and skintight tops.

So she wrote to the Seattle-based chain’s executives.

“I see all of these girls who walk around with pants that show their belly button and underwear,” she wrote. “Your clerks suggest that there is only one look. If that is true, then girls are supposed to walk around half-naked.”

Nordstrom executives wrote back and promised Ella that the company would try to provide a variety of fashions for youngsters.

The shy, bespectacled redhead has since become a media darling, appearing on national television during the past two weeks to promote modest fashions instead of the saucy looks popularized by the likes of Britney Spears.

Ella is on to something: A more modest look is in, say some fashion authorities.

“We like to call this new girl Miss Modesty,” said Gigi Solis Schanen, fashion editor at Seventeen magazine. “It’s such a different feeling but still very pretty and feminine and sexy. It’s just a little more covered up.”

Shoppers are starting to see higher waistlines and lower hemlines, and tweeds, fitted blazers and layers are expected to be big this fall, Miss Schanen said.

“It’s kind of like a sexy take on a librarian,” she said. “I think people are tired of seeing so much skin and want to leave a little more to the imagination.”

The Web sites ModestApparelUSA.com and ModestByDesign.com — where the slogan is “Clothing your father would be proud of” — report that sales have skyrocketed in the past 18 months.

Many youngsters are frustrated by the profusion of racy teenage clothing, according to Buzz Marketing, a New Jersey-based firm that compiles feedback from teen advisers.

“There is just sensory overload. Kids are going to say enough already,” said Buzz’s 24-year-old chief executive, Tina Wells. “The next big trend I see is kids are going to look like monks.”

In 2002, a group of Arizona teens submitted a petition to the Phoenix division of the Dillard’s department-store chain asking for more modest clothes. The chain began carrying more conservative styles.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Deniz Anders said the company has been hearing for about two years from customers who want more modest looks, and that Nordstrom tries to carry an array of styles in its stores.

The arrival of the modest look is good news for Ella, who last week participated in a sold-out “Pure Fashion” show in Bellevue with 37 girls belonging to a Roman Catholic youth organization.

Ella, who paraded down the catwalk in a long-sleeve pink top and a shiny pink skirt, hopes that the fashion show — and her letter — will prompt some change.

“There can be more than one look,” the Redmond youngster said, wearing a loose Pure Fashion T-shirt, jeans and hot pink flip-flops. “Everybody should have lots of choices.”

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