Nudists Need Clothes (Sometimes)
Her shirts 100% off
Renee Christian knows her wares won't wear out quickly - because she sells them to nudists.
By JODIE TILLMAN
Published December 21, 2006
Twenty years ago, Renee Christian went into what seems a counterintuitive business: selling clothes to nudists.
The work requires an unusual fashion eye. One afternoon not long ago, Christian was having a poolside tent sale at Pasco County's swanky Caliente nudist resort when a customer called out with a question.
Belt or no belt?
The customer, Donna Weerts, was posing in a revealing white fishnet dress, silver high heels, silver earrings. But this silver belt?
"I don't know," Weerts murmured.
Christian adjusted the belt, stood back and looked again. "Too much," she finally announced. "I'd take it off."
A brave thing for a clothing saleswoman to say, especially to this crowd.
Christian's store, Under the Sun, has a permanent location on Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz. Its inventory includes sarongs, linen blouses, minidresses that could double as tank tops. Nothing you couldn't shake off pretty easily.
Christian, herself a nudist, markets the boutique largely through word of mouth.
"Actually, nudists love clothes," she said. "We just like the option of not wearing them."
She runs the business with Tom Thielges, her life partner of 25 years. Day to day, in what nudists call the "textile world," Christian wears loose-fitting pants and tunics, silver jewelry, a Bluetooth. Thielges wears shorts, sandals and Jimmy Buffett-style Hawaiian shirts.
They are hip to the funny things about their livelihood. Thielges likes to say Under the Sun customers are "the best dressed nudists in the world." He came up with his own punchy slogan: "People say it's like selling ice to Eskimos. But even Eskimos don't want yellow ice."
The mere existence of Under the Sun raises a question: Behind the walls of nudist retreats, why do nudists need clothes?
Among the answers:
They get chilly.
They may not like dining in the nude.
They may want to dress up for a dance.
An evening out at Caliente's night club, for instance, might mean men in sheer pants or G-strings. Women sport halter tops or plunging V-neck minidresses.
Which gets us to the heart of nudism: Adherents believe the naked body is not primarily sexual.
So dressing provocatively means flashing a little less skin.
The nudist way
Christian and Thielges, both 57, still have the laid-back ways they learned growing up in Minnesota. He pads into the shop's dressing area to offer mimosas to men waiting on their significant others. She is prone to outbursts like "Holy cannoli!"
Thielges got into nudism first and then persuaded Christian to join. He once talked even his mother into visiting a nudist retreat. For the record, Mom liked it.
Nearly 20 years ago, they moved to Paradise Lakes, another Pasco nudist resort, where Christian did poolside pedicures and manicures.
On breezy mornings, she wore an unusual dress, one that could be shaped into eight different styles.
She was the envy of every woman with chill bumps and fashion sense. She bought a few extra dresses to sell by the pool, and Under the Sun was born.
The shop is the only one of its kind in Pasco County. When it comes to their sales figures, the couple is about as revealing as a trench coat.
But in the Tampa Bay area's most naked county, they say, their sales grow every year.
At the recent tent sale at Caliente, Christian recruited two customers to parade around wearing Under the Sun clothes.
One of the models slipped into a red dress that can be worn 16 ways, depending on how she stretches the cowl. She approached the nude sunbathers near the pool and interrupted their snoozing and reading to demonstrate the highly stretchable dress.
When she finished, she gave a little bow. The nudists applauded politely and went back to their reading. They'd have to think about it.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247. Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.