Pure Fashion Showcases Style and Virtue

What’s in style this season? Bright colors, metallic accessories and polka dots on Bermuda shorts. Straw handbags and light, airy dresses. Dressed-up denim with appliquéd beads and feminine details.

What’s also in style is virtue, and unlike lace on denim, virtue never goes out of style. That’s the message of the Pure Fashion Show, held in Cary April 29 and featuring 41 local girls in eighth through eleventh grades modeling not just fashion but the virtues of confidence, generosity, purity, authenticity and grace.

The impetus for the show – professionally staged and choreographed before an audience of 500 – came last April when a local group traveled to Atlanta for an annual event started seven years ago by mothers who wanted their daughters to see that modesty is not synonymous with frumpy.

Ann Burt, who chaired the Raleigh event with Shelley Morrissette, was in that group and remembers knowing instantly that Raleigh needed to do this. “We were sitting in the audience,” she said, “and we were so inspired, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Raleigh needs this.’”

Just one year later, those women watched as the 41 models, sporting clothes from sponsors Dillard’s and Palm Avenue and hairstyles from Tanas Hair Designs and Day Spa, marched down a runway lit by the donated services of Creative Visions, Inc. with big smiles and girly twists.

Behind the evident self-confidence and poise, though, lurked something more fundamental: The knowledge that beauty does not come from skimpy tank tops and short shorts, but from being a representative of Christ in the world.

The message of Pure Fashion, according to its website at www.purefashion.org, is that “Happiness is...living a life of virtue.” So while the models are trained in runway etiquette, hairstyling and makeup application, color coordination and fashion basics, the end result is not just a fashion show but a months-long process of formation and cultivation of virtues.

To be a model, the girls – both Catholic and Protestant – had to commit to six months of monthly formation sessions.

For instance, the December session featured a speaker on the importance of Advent and the preparation of hearts and souls for Christ’s birth; the next month, the girls were treated to a day of beauty at Tanas that included a hair cut and style and professionally-applied makeup. At other sessions they learned the skill of public speaking, prepared food boxes for the poor in Honduras, listened to talks on authenticity, and had the opportunity to find out directly what guys really think about girls and how they dress.

Kathie Chatelain, a tenth-grade student at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, wanted to model in Raleigh after attending the Atlanta show. But on a grander scale, she wanted to make a difference. “It’s really a cultural thing,” she said. “We need this to happen. Frankly, the fashions in the culture stink. And even if what we do is small, it’s still doing something.”

The April 29 event was anything but small – and the work put into it by a core group of six women was not minimal. The sheer coordination of things – bringing in speakers, finding sponsors, coordinating the prom gown design and essay contest, organizing the silent auction, not to mention recruiting models and devising for them a program of formation for internal and external beauty – took countless hours.

Emceeing the event was Rachel Lee Carter, the first runner-up in the Mrs. North Carolina Pageant in 2006 and a model for clients such as Cover Girl, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY. Her ministry, “Modeling Christ,” draws on her platform as a professional model to share the love of Christ within the fashion industry and to mothers, daughters and youth groups.

Reinforcing the message of modesty and purity were the featured speaker, Mike Long, and Joy Williams, a singer/songwriter with five Dove Award nominations. Long, based in Raleigh, is a pioneer in the abstinence education movement and trains educators and youth leaders on how to help teenagers deal with the problems of peer pressure, alcohol, drug abuse and sex.

He reminded the audience that God created us and he also created sexual intimacy – so who knows best how to use it than God? Encouraging the teens to seek a “path of sexual purity in an impure world,” he underscored with parents their role in helping teens choose modesty and purity in a culture that sells sex.

To the fathers in the audience, he said, “Never let (your daughter) leave without telling her how much you love her and how beautiful she is – inside and out – because if you don’t, someone else will.”

Sponsored and supported by both the Diocese of Raleigh and the local Regnum Christi organization, the Pure Fashion Show included a letter of welcome from Bishop Michael Burbidge.

“It is heartening to know that young people are searching for ways to live in the modern world while retaining Christian values and virtues,” he wrote. “The show will demonstrate how young women can be both modern and modest, contemporary but tasteful.”

By next year, the Raleigh organizers want to double the number of attendees and increase the models to about 75. Girls can apply online at www.purefashion.org starting this summer.

Of those who went through this year’s program, Burt said, “We hope that they maybe have an eye-opening understanding now that they are special and unique and that God created them with a purpose.”

- Dana Lorelle