Whether it’s for religious reasons or personal preference, dressing modestly is a choice many Americans make every day—and it means something different to everybody. Though not everyone understands this decision, many companies are taking notice. In recent years, Sports Illustrated featured its first “burkini” model in the annual swim issue, Nike released a hijab made for athletics, and retailers like H&M created dozens of looks catering to those looking to cover up. In the end, how you dress is only up to you. But one thing is for sure: Modest fashion can be just as stylish as anything else on the market.
Living in the Miami sun, it’s probably hard to think of covering up. But, there are as many ways to dress modestly as there are people who choose to do so, as each has their own definition and comfort level. Modesty doesn’t necessarily mean covering ones hair or face, or only revealing the wrists and ankles, but simply using more clothing to cover the body as they see fit.
Modesty is often associated with religion or cultural values, and while these factors can influence an individual’s fashion decisions, for many it is simply a matter of comfort, privacy and control over what they wish to show the world.
Essentially, modesty relates to an attitude and a different perspective on self-image. For Hafsha Rahman, a junior double majoring in health science and religion, “it’s about privacy. I don’t think it should be anyone’s business what my body looks like underneath,” she said.
“Modesty is relative,” she continued, “In schools, the dress code is for showing your shoulders. That’s modesty to them, but for me, it’s not showing my entire arms or legs.”
“For me, dressing modestly doesn’t have to do with religion. It’s more about the culture I was raised in and my comfort,” said Geethika Kataru, who majors in political science and motion pictures.
From high-fashion houses like Dolce and Gabbana to fast fashion like SheIn and many brands in between, retailers have paid new attention to this demographic over the past few years, rolling out specific lines to cater to them. However, retailers interest in this style isn’t always so steady.
“On one hand,” said Nebil Husayn, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Miami, “a retailer will cater to modesty-minded consumers because, ultimately, these companies worship an important god—the dollar. Appealing to an untapped market can be lucrative financially and in terms of branding (i.e. in celebrating diversity). On the other hand, when this desire is performative or profits do not meet expectations, catering to such consum-ers will fall out of fashion.”
“Dressing modestly is sometimes not seen as fashionable or in trend,” said Kataru. “And worse, sometimes I even see people saying that dressing modestly is anti-feminist.”
“In modern, secular societies,” explained Husayn, “there will be some tension in respecting a person’s autonomy in choosing how they present themselves in public, while opposing or critiquing pre-modern structures and assumptions that have historically oppressed women.”
It’s no secret that fashion choices, especially those made by women, have been shaped, shamed and policed for years across many cultures and societies. But whether an individual wants to show it all off, cover up or somewhere in the middle, the most empowering and stylish choice is the one they are most comfortable making.
“One thing hijabi girls do so well is color coordination with their outfits,” said Rahman. Whether it’s by rocking contrasting, complementary or monochrome colors, rotating palettes is one way to put outfits together with minimum effort.
Layering & Fabric
Adding layers underneath items like low cut shirts and crop tops is a simple way to get more coverage without sacrificing trendiness. Rahman said she has gotten used to being asked about is whether dressing modestly gets too hot. “I know what I’m wearing,” she said. “Usually the fabrics I choose are breathable, but still cover me up.” These include linens and cotton. If you have a little more to invest, silk is a great alternative.
Patterns & Accessories
Some may choose to stick to solid colors for coordination and simplicity purposes. But patterns and graphics on clothing let you showcase your personal style. Adding jewelry, scarves, shades or a pair of statement shoes can also alter the vibe of any outfit.
words & photo_daniella pinzon. design_lizzie kristal. model_hafsha rahman
This article was published in Distraction’s winter 2021 print issue.