In the wake of the launching of the first-ever Campaign Life Coalition student-run fashion show benefit, it seems that mainstream media and grassroots pro-life, pro-family groups may be on the same page. And, with back-to-school shopping season upon us, the timing couldn’t be better.

11sidebarIn August, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, an award-winning American radio talk show host whose weekly program boasts over 8.5 million listeners, threw her name behind Colleen Hammond’s book, Dressing with Dignity, in an effort to spread a message of hope for women navigating increasingly more challenging waters when it comes to selecting appropriate clothing for themselves and their children.

Aside from being the only woman ever to win the National Association of Broadcasters’ prestigious Marconi Award for network/syndicated personality, Dr. Laura, who holds a PhD from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, has been a marriage and family counsellor for 13 years. Though some criticize her no-nonsense and sometimes sarcastic approach to battling the culture wars, numbers don’t lie – people are listening.

Of Hammond’s book, Dr. Laura writes, “Don’t be mistaken: being ‘modest’ doesn’t mean dressing ‘frumpy.’ Colleen shows you how to create a tasteful style that accentuates the grace and beauty of your femininity. There is a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract and, with Colleen’s help, you’ll be able to dress fashionable while still maintaining your dignity!”

Dr. Laura’s endorsement of Dressing with Dignity comes just in time to offer guidance to fashion-wayfarers, as designers predict an influx of interest in modesty within the fashion industry in these economically uncertain times. This surprising turn of events is manifested by a sudden, seemingly anachronistic fixation on modesty in dress on the part of the mainstream media.

In a March 2009 article titled, “Retailers widen options, including more modest clothes” a USA Today columnist wrote about the incoming modesty wave thought to be largely caused by, but probably not limited to, the economic crisis.

Though seasoned fashionistas can’t quite say for sure whether the modesty trend is morally or fiscally based, one thing is sure: risk-taking is losing its allure in more than the financial world.

“It’s not because of a moral revival, but about sensibility,” says Ken Nisch, chairman of retail brand and design firm JGA. “What’s provocative has often been ultra trendy and it just doesn’t make sense to buy things you can’t wear for a lot of occasions anymore.”

Even typically “stand alone” designers like Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld are declaring that “the bling is over,” as he posits in an interview with the International Herald Tribune that the state of the economy is prompting a “new modesty.”

In our jadedness, we may be tempted to think that plunging necklines and other such fashion plunders will return when our market itself is no longer … well, plunging. But this is where we must recognize our predicament. We are in an opportune position to tilt the conveniently neutral (for a time) fashion scales. It is precisely at a time like this that we should reward and affirm businesses that have wandered off the beaten path in search of “safer,” yet still relevant, styles for times like ours.

Take 11-year old Ella Gunderson for example. She innocently ramped up the modesty movement platform when she complained to U.S. retailer Nordstrom in 2004 about its lack of modest selections. In a letter to the retail chain, Gunderson wrote: “Dear Nordstrom, I am an 11-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.”

Gunderson’s story went national and Nordstrom immediately responded with higher cut jeans – and more – when it realized hers was hardly a lone cry. “Around that time, a fair amount of people were looking for modest options,” says Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White. Soon after Gunderson’s shot-in-the-dark complaint, Nordstrom responded with a “modesty” category on its website.

Though this designation was later removed, because of too few people using “modesty” as a search term, White says the chain did make sure to keep modest selections, which are still available depending on demand in different regions of the country.

For Gunderson, modesty is a matter of personal conviction. But, in truth, dressing according to one’s worth and one’s state in life is far from being “prudish.” Many say that modesty as a form of self-control (temperance) is the bottom rung of a much larger framework and that, at the risk of sounding dramatic, in its absence, we would see a cultural collapse.

Or at the very least, consider what one commenter on Dr. Laura’s website said: “If clothing is just another form of ‘self-expression,’ well, we all know what sexy clothes are expressing.” The same commenter noted that the clothes a person wears send certain signals to others, including members of the opposite sex. What signals are you sending with the clothes you wear?