On learning how to be not-that-fashionable

Mar 8, 2016 by

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There comes a moment in every female Mennonite’s life when she needs to take a stand and decide what it is that she wants to wear.

For some women, that decision is around cape dresses or head coverings. For me, it was about blue jeans.

Well before considering membership in my local congregation, I was a young adolescent girl trying to navigate the treacherous waters of denim fashion. This was the late 1970s, and designer jeans had only just become a thing. More to the point, the local department stores had started carrying jeans designed and sized for girls.

This created a ripple of enthusiasm in my public school and all the middle school girls of my acquaintance began rushing to the mall to buy a pair or two of Roadrunner jeans. Except, of course, for the girls who were required to wear cape dresses, or whose families disapproved of fancy jeans. Those girls glowered and complained about their parents.

I refused Roadrunners on the grounds of them being faddish. Instead I wore a brand that fit poorly and made no fashion statement whatsoever. I was still figuring things out.

By high school, Roadrunners had run their course but there were still choices to be made in the denim aisle of the department store. I attended a Mennonite high school with no conservative Mennonites and so denim was as much a uniform there as it was at the local public secondary school.

Though, if you looked carefully, you’d see a difference.

At the Mennonite high school, there were a lot more of what my friends and I referred to as “Mennonite jeans.” Such jeans were the antithesis of designer jeans. They were practical, affordable, and not in any way sexy. Mennonite jeans were, in short, the precursors of the now-famous Mom jeans.

I refused to wear them, while also continuing to refuse either the expense or faddishness of fashionable jeans and spent most of my adolescence and young adulthood in old-fashioned Levis, pretending I was making a fashion statement. This was a strategy that continued to work for a number of years even as I wandered in and out of the Mennonite world.

These days, jeans have become something of a symbol of modest, down-to-earth practicality in the Mennonite world. When a Mennonite woman tells you she wears jeans most of the time, she doesn’t mean designer jeans or even the ripped up hipster jeans that wander through the cooler parts of the city. No self-respecting Mennonite fashionista or anti-fashionista would be caught dead wearing $200 jeans, ripped or intact. And if she wears skinny jeans, she feels conflicted about it.

She probably wears some version of Mennonite jeans. (Or, if she’s as old as me or older, she wears Momonite jeans). The most virtuous Menno denim consumer will have bought her denim at the thrift store. She will feign indifference and pretend to have just grabbed whatever pair was her size. As if. She waded through the racks and racks of denim there for a pair with just the right amount of fashionable unfashionableness.

She might have shopped there with her brother, husband or male friend. Denim is one of those pieces of fashion that cross the gender line. I’ve been denim-viewing at Mennonite relief sales for several decades now and have seen very few low-riding gangsta jeans or skinny, skinny hipster jeans on the young male Mennos in attendance. They maybe don’t talk about their wardrobe dilemmas as much as their sisters, but that stoic silence can’t fool me.

As for me? I don’t wear jeans all that often anymore. It’s just too hard.

Sherri Klassen is a writer living in Toronto, Ont., where she is a member of Toronto United Mennonite Church.

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