The women’s clothes from the Texas polygamist compound call to mind both Little House on the Prairie and prison garb. Yet there’s something elaborate, or even flamboyant, in the carefully crafted styles that set these women so distinctly at odds with modern culture, writes Robin Givhan in the Washington Post. In a sect that uses cell phones and sneakers, why not jeans and zippers?
Because fashion may be the clearest way to set a community apart, says Givhan. Fashion designers borrow from everything, from tattoos and mini-skirts to Shaker-inspired bonnets. Modesty taken to an inconvenient (and largely unattractive) extreme is the easiest way to craft a distinct cultural identity—enter the ankle-length prairie dresses, bishop sleeves, puffy shoulders, and swooping, coiling, sculptural hairstyles.