For years, navigating my lifestyle as a modest dresser was not the same experience I have today. Stores were not filled with the decadence of floor-length dresses and oversize silhouettes. Instead, I often had to take items to be tailored, adding extra fabric or sewing slits together. There's no doubt that the industry has moved in a more positive direction—designers are releasing collections that I can wear with no tailoring needed, and awareness has been rapidly spreading throughout media platforms everywhere. As someone who's a modest dresser and has worn the hijab for almost eight years, I have an experienced perspective I can add to the conversation.
Despite the industry's best efforts, it's not uncommon for brands to twist how they display the notion of modest dressing to fit their terms or preferences rather than appeal to the women who actually follow the lifestyle. While "modest" pieces can go in and out of style for some, that's not an option for those who incorporate them into their everyday wear. There's a lot to unpack in the realm of modest dressing, which is why I created a little guide to help you out. Whether you are a modest dresser yourself and need a little assistance or you just want to learn about the style, keep scrolling.
What is modest fashion?
There's not a single definition to it because everyone has their own varying explanations of what modest fashion means to them, so it's a broad idea that gets very narrow inside those two words. Shortly, modest fashion is the act of covering up on purpose. The decision to do so can be religious/ethnic fulfillment or to attain a certain aesthetic and level of ease. To me, it's a choice that I've made to commit to my faith, and everything about it gives me a sense of freedom in how I choose to display myself.
What's missing from the modest-fashion industry?
We've centered modest fashion around a specific type of woman that fits the media's obsession with eurocentric ideals. In reality, there's no cookie-cutter image for how a modest woman looks. Modest dressers are not attached to one religion, size, or race. If you're going to create a conversation around modest fashion, you need to acknowledge that first and foremost.
What are some tips for dressing modestly?
1. Don't shy away from layering.
I know—no one wants to look like Joey from that one episode of Friends where he wore all of Chandler's shirts, but there are so many ways to layer without going overboard. Whether it's a cardigan under a blazer or wide-leg pants under a midi dress, don't be quick to shy away from pieces before experimenting with layering.
2. But also, invest in pieces that don't require a lot of layering.
I promise I'm not contradicting myself! While I think it's important to have layering pieces on deck, I also think it's equally as important to have modest pieces you can just throw on and go, like a maxi dress or jumpsuit.
3. Accept that you don't have to try every trend, and that's okay.
Instead of focusing on trying to incorporate every new trend into your wardrobe and trying to fit everyone else's expectations, shift your attention to cultivating your personal style and finding what makes you feel good and comfortable.
3. Pay attention to fabrics
When I spoke to British Japanese designer Hana Tajima, she mentioned that incorporating lightweight fabrics like linen and cotton is the key to feeling comfortable while covering up. Once I started paying attention to the fabric of pieces I was buying, I felt much more comfortable in any outfit.
4. Accessories can take your outfit to the next level
I'm usually so hyperfocused on layering and making sure my outfit covers, I often think that there's no room for additional accessories or elements. Modest dressing does not have to be boring, so feel free to add more dimension to your look with pieces like hats, fun jewelry, etc.
What are some modest-dressing essentials?
I always felt constrained in structured blazers, but the oversize ones hit the perfect sweet spot. They're a perfect additional layer for any shorter tops or fitted pieces and elevate your outfit immediately.
When the warmer weather rolls around, oversize button-downs are my savior. I either wear them as is with a pair of loose trousers or tie them over skirts and dresses.
I know the skinny vs. relaxed denim argument is a big deal now, but I've always chosen to be on the relaxed side. They're versatile and easier to wear, as I can pair them with either long or short tops.
Midi Skirts + Dresses
I know you might think maxi length is the way to go, but I actually often sift through the midi skirts on sites just because they look more flattering and are more versatile in terms. of styling. My favorite way to wear them is with a pair of knee-high leather boots.
I have a collection of solid-colored fitted tops that work great for layering underneath dresses that may have a deeper neckline or are sleeveless.
I mean it when I say the right bra can change the way your entire outfit looks, especially if you're looking for less definition while wearing more "fitted" items.
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