Something Sweaty About Summer, Discontent, and Knee-Length Shorts
I saw a stupid clickbaity article the other day, “The Race for the Song of the Summer 2020!” Can you even imagine something so pointless at a time like this. The song of the summer is sirens and fireworks and our own anxieties moshing it out in our pea brains. But last summer, before *waves arms wildly* all of this, the song was “Hot Girl Summer,” which I really have no business referencing. Like TikTok, some things are just for the kids (and for the Chinese to steal all the data).
I observed “Hot Girl Summer” from afar, as I am self-aware enough to know that the only thing hot about me during the summer is that I am radiating ten degrees hotter than the rest of the hot girls because I wear knee-length/cap-sleeved religious garments beneath my accordingly sweaty people-facing clothing. There’s a reason why Mormon women who’ve weathered yeast infections on their yeast infections, swampy and pitted out, have been excluded from this narrative. It’s not cute or fun or hot at all, but also the very hottest, temperature speaking.
I began my training to become the hottest girl when I started attending Girls Camp at 12 years old at a state park in Santa Claus, Indiana (really), home of Holiday World, an amusement park I must implore you to visit if you ever find yourself in southeastern Indiana, at which point I have other questions for you. Holiday World has everything. Free parking. Free sunscreen. Free fountain drinks. Free tetanus.
Unfortunately, Girls Camp wasn’t in Holiday World, but of Holiday World, just down the street. I showed up after dutifully checking each item off the packing list — a few sets of knee-length shorts included. I had never considered my own thighs as things to be hidden. We must not let others know the lengths of our femurs! In the literal sense, modest is most certainly the hottest — a phrase I can hardly type without rolling my eyes so hard they get stuck in the back of my head.
I saw a sea of other girls like me with braided hair wearing cutoff or homemade knee-length shorts; some were patchwork and handsewn, but somehow the manufactured shorts were the homeliest of all. This was circa the year 2000 afterall, and baggy cargo shorts were one of the only store-bought offerings. In my 12-year-old naivete, I didn’t even consider that many of the adult leaders were wearing an extra set of knee-length fabric underneath, saturating with sw’ass by the second in June’s humidity.
I can’t imagine the Mormon pioneers missed the humidity when they got to Utah, and I think they must have forgotten to tell their many, many progenitors about what it feels like to be sweating from your shins even after the sun goes down. Some of our most foundational, culturally-significant youth activities that have proliferated across the global church started in Utah, where camping is a thing that can be pleasant to do in the summer. I don’t know if God intends those of us who live in the Southeast to camp. And if They did, we’d be working with a different style of sacred underclothing.
Girls Camp was my seminal experience with knee-length shorts, although now after 20 years, we are much accustomed to each other, despite some discontentment. This is not a commentary on how modesty is addressed in Mormon culture (yes, it’s a problem), and it’s not a commentary on why I’ve chosen to make wearing garments, colloquially speaking, a part of my religious observance as an adult. But it is something about a very specific item of clothing that I imagine other women in my very specific demographic also have an intimate relationship with.
Knee-length shorts have been with me from Girls Camp to BYU (where I got turned away for too much thigh in the Deseret Towers dining hall), to working out in the MTC, and are now a part of my regular summer-time wardrobe.
There are a few pairs of knee-length shorts I’ve had for longer than my children, and then there are some variations on the theme. I gladly invite any flowy, linen-y pant to the party, and the loose jumpsuit has been a welcome addition. Of course you can go with no pants or shorts at all — not to Winnie-the-Pooh it — but dresses, house dresses, caftans and the like add a necessary component of breathability to the equation. But there are times you can’t escape the need for a pair of homely-ass knee-length shorts.
I’m writing this while quarantining in Nashville with my parents where we’ve been since March, which is why wearing knee-length shorts in 100 percent humidity has been on my mind. When we arrived here winter was just beginning to thaw, and now it is very much not winter. Because the world is a clusterCovid, we thought we’d be here for maybe a month and we didn’t haul our summer wardrobes with us, and thus, I’ve been compelled to purchase a few more pairs of knee-length shorts, adding to my quiver of BYU-approved leg wear.
On one of these recent searches for longer-length shorts, I found myself in one of the epicenters of sad places: the Costco clothing section. Do tables full of piles and piles of rifled-through clothing count as a section? In that case I might be able to call my laundry pile the same thing. Why is Costco using half of all their usable square footage on these disheveled tables? No one goes to Costco to intentionally buy clothes — and if you do find yourself drawn to a particular table, you can’t look like you got there on purpose. Costco clothing finds you in your moments of weakness, which is why I bought myself a pair of very clearly old-lady shorts right there in that Costco.
They’re not good, but they’re not the worst pair of knee-length shorts I’ve ever owned. They have an elastic waistband — a huge plus — but they’re also very voluminous in the hip area, which is not exactly what you want. The brand according to the tag is “Gloria Vanderbilt,” who passed away last year at the age of 95 and is definitely the vibe these shorts are giving. Big Grandma Energy. They’re relatively breathable and I’ve been wearing them often, after I leave on my workout shorts long enough to offend so many people with my post-workout glow that I must shower and put on real clothes.
Beyond the realm of shorts, I’m really looking forward to crop tops phasing out of fast fashion. I’ve been on an internet shopping crusade trying to find shirts to wear in the summer to no avail. I know it sounds so simple it’s stupid, but let me assure you, a good light t-shirt is hard to come by. What happens every year is I buy a t-shirt or two, wear them into oblivion and destroy them with kid stains and pit stains, and then throw them out at the end of another very sweaty summer. What do other mom-women wear in the summer, particularly of the Mormon variety who wear magic underwear? This has been a great conundrum throughout my adult life. I don’t believe there are answers, just solidarity.
I’ve sometimes thought about my non-Mormon friends who have observed me wearing knee-length shorts every summer. Do they think it’s just my style? Do they know about the Mormon underwear thing? Do they think I’m on a quest to be the sweatiest — to be the hottest girl of the summer?
I don’t have much to say about reconciling myself with “modest” clothing, except that it’s become much much easier over the years to find clothes that work with garments. I’ve been able to connect with women from other conservative religious backgrounds, friends who are practicing Baptists, Orthodox Jews, and Muslim women who wear hijabs, and that solidarity and practice in talking about my own religious clothing has been an exercise in faith and camaraderie.
I am at a point of acceptance with my knee-length shorts and the like, like something you used to be self-conscious about as a teenager that eventually you just accept as part of yourself and your experience in the world. They’re just as much a part of my growing up as learning acceptance itself.
What I can recommend for other women out there navigating a swampy-assed summer is to invest in some Monistat and avoid wearing real clothing as much as possible. As my mother taught me and as I have passed down to my own daughters, you gotta let it breathe.
(Design: Joshua Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)