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Modest Fashion Movement: how dressing conservatively is making it mainstream

Ultimately, modest fashion is about personal choice. Its stronghold is in the Muslim community, where women have long sought out ways to combine their desires for religious and fashionable expression in the way they choose to dress. Many misconceptions have circulated, mistaking those who wear the hijab or other religiously affiliated dress for an oppressed or extremist-leaning minority. 

The sector for modest fashion is, in fact, a burgeoning industry both globally and nationally; a bright spot of opportunity for young people in our otherwise struggling economy. As Arabian Business identify, “Muslim spend on apparel and footwear is estimated to grow to $402bn by 2024”, “fuelled by a growing, young and cash-rich domestic Muslim population, the British cities of London and Birmingham in particular have emerged as creative hotbeds for Islamic fashion start-ups.” Additionally, female Muslim activists are using social media platforms to speak out against cultural misconceptions around modesty. Wafa Bulale, a Muslim Londoner who chooses to wear the Hijab, told Stylist magazine, “I can’t speak for other Muslim women, or everyone who wears a hijab…it means different things to different people.” This is the essential point to understand with modest fashion; like any style – it concerns subjective interpretations of freedom of choice and expression. 

But, modest fashion is not just a religiously affiliated style choice. Influencers from a variety of cultures are engaging with the decision to dress more conservatively, bringing the style to the global mainstream. With the recent rise of TikTok and Instagram’s new reels function, many women are seeking to stand out from the crowd with new and innovative takes on fashion. One such way of injecting variety is through layering and experimenting with more interesting textures and silhouettes, abandoning the overdone uniform of crop-top and high-waisted trousers. On fashion-oriented social media, you can barely escape the proliferation of baggy dad jumpers, skate style wide leg jeans, sweater vests, polo necks, and of course, the Edinburgh uni girl classic: the oversized leather coat, a huge contrast to skimpy party-wear that has dominated the winter season in years past.

It seems “modest fashion” is now breaking even further into the mainstream, with fast fashion retailers eager to get a slice of the market. The latest to weigh in are PrettyLittleThing, rolling out a new modest fashion line modelled by Billy Marshal, a 21-year-old modest style influencer. The new line emerges alongside the global fashion e-tailer’s move into the Middle Eastern market, but its engagement with a variety of British models and influencers to promote the line suggests that modest fashion is making a move away from direct affiliations with religion or ethnicity. This claim gains further weight with a few quick swipes on TikTok, where at the time of writing, #modestfashion has 146.5 million views, with content created by women of all religions and none. Singer-songwriter and all-round fashion icon Billie Eilish has also been vocal about her decision to dress modestly in public, claiming resistance to the music industry standard of sexualising young girls like herself. 

Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident has taken on more than its usual importance in these wild pandemic days; working and studying from home has given us all more time and freedom to experiment with what we wear, as well as hammering home the importance of self-expression and physical appearance to our mental health, even when we’re not leaving the house. “For Gen Z, the message is clear: dress up, develop a routine that makes you feel good, act like you’re the main character and find the small joys in your day” (Refinery29). Whether that means covering up or baring skin, we should all feel free to express ourselves and curate a powerful self-image through our style choices.

Image: istockphoto.com