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Why So Modest?

Why So Modest?

By: Nusaiba Mohammad

Sheer is in but that doesn’t mean you have to show skin to be cool. Modest doesn’t mean meek. And covering up isn’t all about staying warm.

#Mipsterz first started trending in 2012 when the short film Somewhere in America, created by Sheikh & Bake, featured modestly modern-dressed Muslim girls (all wearing hijabs or head wraps of some form) in everyday scenarios, doing things you would expect any cool teenager to be doing. The film cleverly captured a group of strong, creative Muslim women from all back- grounds and lifestyles, showcasing their similarities to their fellow Americans. Most importantly, oppression doesn’t exist for them, contrary to common misconceptions. Mipsterz is derived from the term “hipsters” — frequently used to describe a group of individuals who follow the latest trends and fashion, often regarded as those who enjoy interests outside of the cultural mainstream.

Against the grain and expectation at the time, my personal Instagram images became synonymous with the #mipsterz movement. After taking some time to understand my new “label”, I felt flattered that people would associate me with the independent Muslim women the video had portrayed. Who wouldn’t, right? Rapidly, I became an emerging influencer with the most diverse and largely loving followers. They followed me, praised me, hated me, questioned me, and helped support the opportunities that came my way.

Modest fashion’s profile has risen dramatically ever since and now features in most people’s wardrobes, thanks to progressive religious millennials, whose viewpoints on trends, covering up, and being glamorous are all in sync and showcased as... cool. Social media is a hotbed of creative tips and campaigning, thanks to smart, confident young women such as Kuwaiti blogger Ascia AKF; British blogger Dina Torkia; US blogger Talya Bendel; Indonesian designer Dian Pelangi; Saufeeya Goodson @hijabfashion; and the Orthodox Jewish duo Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik, co-founders of Mimu Maxi.

The existence of modest wear dates back to the birth of all religions. In medieval times, it was revered as a symbol of class. One could say it went hand-in-hand with chivalry. Today, it exists as a kind of Kardashian antidote: modest is about style without flaunting bare skin. One key point in the debate is if there is more oppression being defined by your (semi-) naked body, as evinced by Instagram bikini culture, than being covered up... Perhaps by staying dressed we have more chance to be defined by what we say, think and present.

Modest wear does not focus only on scarves, long skirts or long dresses. Every piece of clothing counts towards the look, worn mostly loose and always layered. So, even if you love an off shoulder top and imagine it only worn on its own, well, it can be paired with a long sleeve turtleneck (I’m all about the turtleneck) to turn it into modest wear. Typically, to be dressed modestly, your entire body is covered, leaving only the face, neck, hands and feet visible, and, for some, their hair. Modest wear is fashionable. It requires a lot of attention to styling to create that perfect modest look. There aren’t specific outfits for modest fashion, but it is magic and power in your hands to match the products of regular retail to the requirements of modesty.

Modest fashion has become lucrative, corresponding with the boom in outspoken trendsetters and growth in the Muslim population in the West. Uniqlo collaborated with Muslim-Brit-Japanese fashion designer Hana Tajima to create the LifeWear collection, which included “flowy dresses” and “iconic hijabs”. H&M showcased the first ever Hijabi model Mariah Idrissi in its campaign video. Dolce & Gabbana also launched an abaya collection (loose, full length Middle Eastern cultural clothing), and a range of luxury hijabs. Marks & Spencer launched its Burkini range in March 2016, which is a diving suit designed to cover the body from head to toe, worn by Muslim women at the beach. International designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuillier have cashed in on this new consumer profile by launching one-off collections specifically catering to modest wear — and to coincide with the celebrations of Ramadan and Eid (when consumer expenditure spikes every year). Not stopping there, modest wear is now visible at high-street brands Topshop and Zara.

But there is not one universal, liberated voice for women to wear whatever they want modestly. Indeed, we are bombarded with mixed messages about what modest really means. For instance, why do people specifically relate modesty with Muslims? In the case of the French government banning the Hijab in workplaces and banning the Burkini in the south of France, this has played into the fallacy of covering up as oppression.

Dressing modestly still draws sexualised commentary online, as many people see indecency in the merest hint of the female form. They are quick to advise you that your trousers are too sexually appealing, or “your skirt is hugging your bottom.” Yet every magazine rack, every day, we come across celebrity slimming diets, airbrushed photos and tips on “how to look hot”.

These extreme societal and/or religious pressures confuse the hell out of most of us. One thing we, women, should not be told is how and how not to dress. Modesty is a choice, a form of expression, a non-verbal message that speaks to women across the globe in various ways. Modesty, in my humble opinion, helps many women showcase their inner self without indulging societal pressures.

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