NEW YORK — A few years back, Chelsea Rippy was a frustrated shopper. She would go out once a week looking for new clothes and would come back empty-handed. Racks of cleavage-baring tops and low-rise jeans were leaving the stylish young mom with few options for clothes she felt comfortable in.
Ms. Rippy, a Mormon, finally decided to fix the problem herself. Last fall she launched her own line of stretchy T-shirts and camisoles that can be worn under today's most revealing clothes. She's been surprised by the reception her shirts have received - and by the diversity of customers who buy from her online and at home parties.
"I knew that if I needed [these shirts], someone else did. But I had no clue as to the magnitude of it," says the founder of Shade Clothing, from her home in American Fork, Utah. "I originally started it thinking I would appeal to other members of my religion, but it's gone far beyond that now."
Fed up with the revealing clothes popular in recent years, some in the Christian community have chosen to design their own or modify what's available. They've launched successful Web-based businesses and are hosting fashion shows for teens.
In some cases, groups have received the cooperation of - or at least the ear of - department stores like Nordstrom and Dillard's. And there's some indication that it's not just churchgoers who are taking an interest in dressing modestly.
News from the runways last fall highlighted a return to styles that included lower hemlines and ladylike sweater-sets. Although it typically takes months or even years for runway trends to trickle down to mass-market buyers, some of that modest spirit is informing spring fashions. Tops are still low-cut, but they are longer, as are skirts, thanks to the hippie chic motif. Layering is popular, too.
"You don't have to show all the skin. It's definitely an on-trend thing to layer," says Tara McBratney, fashion director at CosmoGIRL! magazine, who notes that girls and women are wearing spaghetti-strap tops over T-shirts and skirts over white khakis.
Women of faith may be the most outspoken about recent styles, but more women and mothers - regardless of religious affiliation - are saying they, too, would like to see the trend in skimpy clothes reversed.
Rose Anderson, a friend of Rippy's who is also a young mom, is a good example. She says she's not ultramodest, and doesn't share her friend's religion, but would like to see options that don't show lots of cleavage, for example.
"We're young, and we try to be hip, but we don't want to be that hip," says Ms. Anderson, who lives in Seattle. "It's hard to find things that are fun and cute but still a little modest."
Sparking conversation about modesty is one goal of the Pure Fashion show, put on in early May in nearby Bellevue, Wash., by an affiliate of a national Catholic girls' group.
Challenge girls clubs around the country have been hosting the shows for a handful of years, but this was only the second time the Seattle-area teens had sashayed down the runway in clothes they found at stores like The Gap, Limited Too, and Macy's.
Their crowd grew to 350 this year from 250 last year - growth the organizers find particularly significant, considering that last year they had national media coverage of a member who had written a letter to Nordstrom asking for a wider variety of clothing for girls.
"It has struck such a chord for people," says Pam Gunderson, the adult head of the Greater Seattle Challenge Club, and mother of Ella, the letter-writer. "It's just a natural inclination to want to be sufficiently covered up. It doesn't take faith to realize that, but sometimes I think it takes faith to move people to action."
The girls she works with - ages 10 and up - are not looking for dowdy styles, but want to be stylish and feminine. Sometimes they alter the clothes they find - adding waistbands or layering shirts.
Still, some teens find that it's difficult to be fashionably modest with what's on the racks.
"Clothes today are too tight, too sheer, and too revealing," says Sarah Kator, a Meridian, Idaho, teen, in an e-mail. "I always have to buy shirts a size or two larger than they are designed to be worn, and I'm not a very large girl."
Ms. Kator, a senior in high school, recently won a contest to design a modest prom dress sponsored by the Modest By Design Clothing Co. Her prize: Her black pinstriped creation was made for her to wear to her recent prom.
Like Rippy, she is Mormon, and prefers clothing that has sleeves, appropriate coverage, and is not clingy.
As the modesty movement, as it's been dubbed, gets more publicity, there is some debate about its necessity. Recently, two columnists for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution considered that point, with the "left-leaning" writer taking issue with her counterpart's claim that such a movement is crucial, especially to avoid things like early sexual activity.
"The modesty movement may seem like a wholesome trend, but it is probably one of the oldest forms of female control," writes critic Diane Glass, who has a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School. She argues that some religions have dictated women's clothing for ages, and adds that less emphasis should be placed on women's clothing and more on men taking responsibility for their ability to control themselves.
"If I had a teenage daughter, I would want her to dress modestly also, just out of a sense of her own safety," she adds in an interview. "But ... the problem is the cause or the origin of what the modesty movement is about."
Some of those involved in the movementtake issue with that assessment. Heather Gist, one of the owners of Modest By Design, disagrees with the idea that those calling attention to more demure styles are the oppressors.
"Aren't we allowing ourselves to be controlled by mindlessly accepting the trends put forth by the fashion industry?" she writes in an e-mail. "Aren't we allowing ourselves to be controlled when we buy into the attitude that we are only pretty or desirable when we wear clothes that leave us open for all to see?"