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Ella Gunderson: a champion for modest fashions

It's August, a time when girls start thinking about new clothes for the coming school year. But due to a lack of age-appropriate fashion choices for 'tweens and teens, moms and dads often approach the topic with somewhat less enthusiasm than their daughters.

This bare-all craze in girls' fashion has, in fact, been a thorn in parental backsides for some time now. But it was 11-year-old Ella Gunderson -- our ParentMap hero this month -- whose letter to Nordstrom made the prominent retailer stand up and take notice.

"All of [your jeans] ride way under my hips," Ella wrote. "Also, your shirts are way over the belly button. With clothes from your store, I would walk around showing half my body and not fully dressed, it seems." Nordstrom got the message: "Wow," replied Kris Allen, the store manager of Nordstrom Bellevue where Ella had 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 a particularly modest one, and there should be choices for everyone."

Loretta Soffe, Central Merchandising Manager for Nordstrom's Brass Plum and t.b.d. departments also read Ella's note. "We will take your concerns and suggestions seriously," she replied, "and I will personally contact the appropriate buyers of the departments that you might shop in here at Nordstrom to let them know."

ParentMap recently spoke with Ella, whose story struck a chord with people nationwide. The shy Redmond girl even traveled to New York this spring to interview with CNN and NBC's Today show. She also participated in Bellevue's first "Pure Fashion" show, put on by the Catholic girls club "Challenge," in an effort to help promote more modest fashions among preteens and teenagers.

Q. Why has your story generated so much interest?

A. I think that a lot of people agree with me, but they didn't want the attention, or didn't have the courage to speak up.

Q. What made you think to write the letter?

A. We were on a shopping trip and my sister was trying on a pair of jeans. My mom told her to try the next bigger size, and the sales clerk said: "You want the smaller size so that you can have 'the look.'" I decided then that there shouldn't be just one look.

Q. Why do you suppose there aren't more fashion choices available to kids?

A. A lot of people like those kinds of clothes. But you don't have to look sexy to look cool.

Q. What kind of clothes do you generally wear?

A. I wear comfortable clothes: jeans and that type of thing.

Q. What has the reaction to the story been among your peers?

A. They have all been agreeing and saying good job. Some of my friends were in the Pure Fashion show, so they got to be on T.V.

Q. Tell me about the fashion show.

A. This was the Challenge Club's first time doing the show in greater Seattle. Our goal was to have 200 people at the show, and we sold about 280 tickets. We went out to shop and found clothes that were in different categories, like "Summer Chic," and "All-American," and then we modeled them. I walked down the catwalk. It was pretty fun.

Q. Have you come away from this whole experience a wiser person?

A. Yeah -- I've learned that if you write a letter, people might listen. Laura Fine-Morrison is a mother and a Seattle-based freelance writer.

Looking for modest fashions locally? Try:

Maggie Rhodes An April Cornell Boutique Redmond Town Center, Redmond 425-885-0185

Cotton Caboodle, Inc., Outlet Store 203 W. Thomas St., Seattle 206-352-3763 "Extra Credit" is their 'tween/teen line

Times and Seasons Modest prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses and wedding gowns 14 Auburn Way S., Auburn 253-952-0372 (Ask for Char)

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