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Friday, May 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

More modest clothing, please, girl asks Nordstrom

By Nick Perry
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A letter from 11-year-old Ella Gunderson reached the retailerís executives, who promise fashions for young customers wanting more fabric over their skin.
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Ella Gunderson became frustrated trying to find something fashionable — yet modest — in a world where she seems to be surrounded by low-riding jeans and tight, revealing tops. So she penned a letter.

"Dear Nordstrom," she wrote. "I am an eleven-year-old girl who has tried shopping at your store for clothes (in particular jeans), but all of them ride way under my hips, and the next size up is too big and falls down.

"I see all of these girls who walk around with pants that show their belly button and underwear," she wrote. "Your clearks sugjest that there is only one look. If that is true, then girls are suppost to walk around half naked. I think that you should change that." (sic)

Ella's letter was relayed all the way up to Pete Nordstrom, an executive vice president and president of Nordstrom's full-line stores.

Fashion show


The "Pure Fashion" show runs from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Wintergarden, 900 Bellevue Way N.E. Keynote speaker is Dr. Coleen Mast, a chastity activist. Tickets are $25, including dessert and coffee. For more information, call Connie Chapin, 425-822-8879.

Two Nordstrom executives wrote back, promising the Redmond girl the company would try to educate both its purchasing managers and salespeople on the range of fashion choices that should be available to young people.

"Wow," wrote back Kris Allan, manager of Nordstrom's Bellevue Square store, where Ella shopped.

"Your letter really got my attention ... I think you are absolutely right. There should not be just one look for everyone. This look is not particularly a modest one and there should be choices for everyone."

It may not be long before Ella's peers begin to look more like she does.

"If modesty is what she is looking for, it's going to come full force in the fall," said Gigi Solis Schanen, the New York-based fashion editor for Seventeen magazine.

"The '50s sexy-librarian look is in."

Schanen said that 'tween and teen girls can expect to see fuller skirts, higher waist lines and more "layering" of tops.

The exposed belly look made popular by such singers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera is on the way out.

Ella's mom, Pam Gunderson, isn't waiting for fall.

She and other concerned mothers have organized a "Pure Fashion" show in Bellevue on Sunday to highlight more modest fashion options. A capacity crowd of 250 is expected at Bellevue's Hyatt Regency for what Gunderson hopes will become an annual event.

"You see girls doing a lot of tugging. They want to be covered, but they are not having the clothes cooperate," Gunderson said.

"The girls want to look feminine and they want to look pretty, but the only look the stores offer is sexy," she said.

As warmer weather hits, concerns about skimpy fashion trends are resonating with many teachers, fashion observers and parents.

At Mercer Island High School, Principal Paul Highsmith said a dozen girls have been told to dress more appropriately so far this spring.

"It's a problem for us. There is so much skin and cleavage, it's clearly a distraction to the (school) process," said Highsmith. "We want to be more businesslike and less clublike."

Many schools have fashion rules — including Rose Hill Junior High School in Redmond, where tank tops are permitted only if the straps are at least three fingers wide.

Pam Gunderson hopes she can show there are clothing options for girls ages 10 to 16. She helped arrange for Ella, a student at Holy Family Parish School in Kirkland, and 37 other girls, all part of a Catholic Challenge Club network, to go on shopping sprees around local malls and stores. The girls will parade their outfits on a catwalk Sunday.

Annie Sparrow, owner of Seattle women's boutique Tulip and a trend watcher, said women in their 20s and 30s are also tiring of the skimpy look.

"People are saying 'I am a woman, I've had babies and I have hips. I can't go around showing my booty to everyone on the streets,' " Sparrow said.

Ella said she was surprised and happy Nordstrom took the time to write back and to educate staff. She is hoping Sunday's show will open some young eyes to fashion alternatives.

"I hope they will see there is a way to look really cool and cute but still not show your body more than you have to," Ella said.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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