Bratz no more

Are "tame tweens" really embracing modesty chic?

Published April 7, 2009 5:18PM (EDT)

As the mother of a pre-pre-pre-tween girl, which I believe is what they're calling toddlers these days, I was tentatively pleased to see this headline in the L.A. Times: "Tween style takes a modest turn." The claim: "Off-screen and in the real world, the 'tame tween' phenomenon is already making itself felt, with both retailers and trend researchers noticing a general shift away from the edgy."

Researchers say (paraphrase): "Today's tweens want to please their parents, which may have a lot to do with the sweet 'n' sensible styles they're opting for." Retailers say girls are eschewing the super-tight and the super-skin-baring.

Right, but farmers say that, until recently, it was winter. This (or maybe it was the use of  "’n’") was where I started to get suspicious. Maybe the story was part of some sort of perpetration by the turtleneck lobby -- or the creepy conspiracy that is chastity chic?

So I checked with some experts on teens and fashion. Their general conclusion: "tame tweens" = lame journalism. Here's my short (but not "skimpy") roundup.

Mikki Halpin, former deputy editor of Seventeen magazine and author of "If It's Your World -- If You Don't Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers":

"I don't buy this at all! The lede about 'the new modesty' isn't supported by the trend research, which merely notes things that teens and tweens have always done: customize their own looks from trends. The stuff about pleasing parents and family first is interesting, but I note that she doesn't cite any research saying that it is substantially different from previous generations. Even the Weather Underground, when they went on the lam, consistently said the hardest thing for them was upsetting their parents, and they wanted to overthrow the government."

Melissa Walker, young adult author, former teen magazine editor, co-founder of

"The 'teens are getting more conservative' thing is something that comes around over and over. Former 60s teens were saying that in the 80s/90s, that the kids were apathetic and had no passion (but that apathy stance WAS passion). It's a common older generation label put on youth. (I see it at reunions all the time. "Oh, when I was at Vassar we were so much more unique/rebellious/cool/ it looks so conservative and jocky." But EVERY CLASS SAYS THAT.) And fashion cycles reflect this shift. I mean, older women were wearing baby tees too, back in the day, and now they're not. We're returning to higher-rise pants and longer shirts and maxi dresses -- it's a normal cycle."

Kara Jesella, co-author of "How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time": 

"It's funny to attribute some of this to Miley Cyrus [as the piece does] when just a few months ago everyone was up in arms about how the pure Hannah Montana star had posed in a whole variety of sexy, skin-baring photos. Kids saw those pictures, too, which makes it a little suspect that they would take their fashion cues from Hannah Montana but not from Miley.

"In other words: I think this article is a round-up of quotes from retailers who want to see their names in an article, what has become common knowledge about tweens/teenagers whether or not it is true (they care what their parents think!), and some fun cultural references (mention the Goonies in an article and I will totally read it). My favorite line is about how girls are all wearing Chuck Taylors, Doc Martens, ballet flats and Vans. That is what we wore in college in the mid '90s and what girls wore my first year at Teen Vogue, sometime around 2000 -- i.e., classics.

"Oh wait, maybe my favorite thing is the woman saying that kids no longer have an 'us vs. them' mindset -- and then realizing she is talking about TEN YEAR OLDS. Seriously, they could become the Weather Underground Part 2. Just give them a few years."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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