Over the past few years we have seen the hijab (headscarf) merge into British culture with more women wearing the headscarf entering the public domain, such as Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain. And now there is a new trend on the block called modest wear diversifying the face of contemporary fashion.
Ten years ago as a hijabi (headscarf wearer) I faced the constant battle to find clothing that looked good and didn’t compromise my religious beliefs. My wardrobe often consisted of plain boring oversized tops, straight leg denim jeans, neck scarfs that would make my makeshift hijabs, and a mountain of skirts that I care not to count. Layering different types of clothing was a must if clothing was sheer. I yearned for a long time for modest clothing which was easy to wear and didn’t include bundling up all of the time. It’s fair to say I was a walking fashion disaster, so much so even Trinny and Susannah would probably refuse to help me out because I looked so much of a mess. However, since then modest fashion has taken the fashion industry by storm and is now becoming widely celebrated.
Yesterday we saw the emergence of the UK’s first ever London Modest Fashion Week set up by UK-based modest fashion company Haute Elan. The event took place in the iconic Saatchi Gallery. Featuring more than 40 brands from around the world, London Modest Fashion Week is far from Muslim exclusive but simply adheres to Muslim values – or anyone of any faith who wishes to cover up more.
Muslim fashion designer features hijabs at New York Fashion Week
UK high streets are also bucking the trend with Debenhams soon to become the first major UK department store to sell hijabs as part of a new range of Muslim clothing. The selection will offer tops, dresses, jumpsuits, kimono wraps, caps, hijab pins and headscarves. London-based clothing brand Aab, which is behind the line, describes itself as selling “contemporary modest wear” for women.
It’s important to note that while modest fashion is great news for Muslim women, by adhering to Muslim dress codes, it’s not just targeted at Muslim women. Over the years we have seen many celebrities sporting modest fashion, even on red carpet events. For this year’s Grammy Awards singer Adele wowed in an olive green floor skimming Givenchy Haute Couture gown, with a checkered bodice and delicate beaded sleeves. Her gorgeous gown hails from the autumn/winter 2016 collection, which featured the dress with no arms – however Adele had the dress customised and added long sleeves for her to wear.
In 2016 France had introduced a burkini (full body swimwear) ban which was later overturned. Since then the burkini has remained a controversial topic. Whilst some people look at this piece of modest wear and say it’s an oppressive piece of clothing for Muslim women, the reality is very different. The burkini was first brought to UK public attention when TV chef Nigella Lawson wore the head-to-toe three-piece garment while holidaying in Australia in 2011. She explained the outfit allowed her to not reapply sunscreen after swimming.
Modesty is not to be forced on anyone and means different things to different people, while remaining a choice for a woman.
Last year Marks and Spencer launched a burkini as part of its summer and spring 2016 collection. It quickly sold out and proved popular with British customers. Aheda Zanetti, the Australian-Lebanese designer who created her first burkini more than 10 years ago, insists the burkini has little to do with Islam and was intended to give women more freedom, not take any away. She claims that over that over 40 per cent of burkini sales are from non-Muslim women.
Modest wear is being introduced to add variety to UK fashion industry and doesn’t just mean the introduction of hijabs – it means more clothing that offers more coverage which can appeal to a wide range of women from different cultures and religions. Fashion should be inclusive and should be empowering by being a form of self-expression. By introducing modest fashion into shops, designers are offering a bigger variety of clothing to all UK women – not just Muslim women.
We have also seen more diverse faces included in major fashion campaigns. Most recently Kanye West featured hijabimodel Halima Aden in his New York Fashion Week presentation. Aden stood out as a young woman who was committed to her beliefs and willing to challenge industry ideals.
Mariah Idrissi has also revolutionised the fashion industry by being the first hijab wearing model to be signed to one of the top 10 modelling agencies globally – Select Models. After being scouted by a global fashion giant she featured in H&M’s Close the Loop campaign last year, becoming the first model to wear a hijab in a major fashion campaign. She also recently modelled for clothing brand Aab. The London-based public speaker champions the freedom to wear modest fashion for all women and wants to become a positive role model for young women, regardless of religion.
Mariah claims: “There is certainly a growth in the interest in modest fashion from both the Muslim and non-Muslim community. Within the UK we have a large amount of modest fashion influencers who have certainly been pillars in this revolution and since the H&M campaign we have seen acceleration in the involvement of modest fashion. Modest fashion is not only bridging the gap between Eastern and Western fashion culture but also creating far more diversity within the fashion industry.
“I don’t feel there should be a distinction between modest fashion and modern fashion as modesty is religionless. Modesty is a personal choice the same way you would choose flats over heels or vice versa.”
There is no doubt that with demure being more in today’s age for some, the hijab and modest wear is entering popular culture and should therefore be looked at as a celebration of the inclusion of diversity in modern fashion. To see Muslim women and popular fashion brands leading the way to provide more choice for all women is truly inspiring.