Modesty: Rising popularity and accessibility



*Disclaimer: When Muslim women are mentioned in this article, it is not representative of all Muslim women. It refers to the Muslim women who choose to dress modestly/would like to dress modestly*


Can places that fuel terrorism and islamophobia simultaneously cater to a woman’s modest style and fashion? Muslim women have answers to this question, and not all are in favor. “There is much discomfort in where I have been raised; I have been taught to look a certain way, dress a specific way and follow the way of my peers, who did not come from the same background as me. I had to find my way to comfortability, despite not conforming to society’s norms. I could feel stares but I knew deep down that there is a bigger reward for all I am doing.  That is what keeps me going,” says a Muslim woman who wishes to remain anonymous

For Hijab-wearing Muslim women who want to completely immerse themselves into the hijabi lifestyle, it is difficult to find the clothing they find modest. Modest clothing was not as popularized a few years back and is often expensive. While some women may have an unrecognized luxury of being able to dress with fewer restrictions, Hijab-wearing Muslim women also wish to have the luxury of dressing more comfortably.


 The Main Struggles Of Dressing Modestly

Up until a few years ago, the women’s section of a myriad of retail stores did not offer clothing that covered the full body. Now, this is more apparent during the summer months, as people tend to show more skin. Some hijab-wearing Muslims “resorted to the men’s section to find looser fitting clothing.” Men’s clothing departments have and still are more “modest” than women’s clothing departments. This is partly due to the fact that men tend to show less skin than women.  

In NYC, especially the Bronx, modest clothing stores were and still are hard to find. It has a limitation on those who wished to dress modestly but were not in proximity to a shop. The shops that are in proximity to these people do not have an inventory of modest clothing. Zainab Conteh, a Bronx high school senior, states that “[she] will go to Fordham looking for jeans, and it is either ripped or short. It is very difficult to dress modestly in the summer. [she] would find a dress and realize it has an open back or a slit.” It was difficult to find the one good shirt or dress that was modest enough. It was an unnecessary struggle. Could it have been remedied? Yes, and it is now starting to. 

Modest Muslim companies do exist; however, it can be extremely expensive for the average person, making it difficult for them to have a strong customer foundation. Bronx high school senior Hatoumata Fofana states that these modest companies are purposeful in making the clothes expensive: “They’re saying like, oh, if like, if there’s like barely clothing around, like let’s just put the pricing up, like they’re going to buy it from us.” 

It is indeed a popular belief amongst other Muslim teens. An NYC teen, who wishes to remain anonymous, strongly believes that modest companies exploit people.  These companies are aware that there are not many clothing options, so desperate buyers may pay however much to obtain the modest look. The price is also not justified by the quality.  The teen states, “ The cheapest quality will be sold for an average price of $80. This same material and even clothing can be found on other websites for a lot cheaper.” Modest companies should try to make their prices affordable to the many women who want to shop from them. Support will come so much more naturally if the clothing is worth the price!

Expense aside, modest companies have another major issue: body inclusivity. Body type impacts who can achieve the true definition of modesty. Women with a skinner/thin frame have a much easier time finding modest clothing. A skinny hijabi could wear any outfit that covers their body, despite it hugging their body and some would not question if it is modest. 

A woman on the heavier side faces far more scrutiny and overall judgment. These women have a more “nuanced list of expectations and hurdles when it comes to dressing modestly.” It’s conflicting that the expectations are harsher when it is truly most difficult to find clothing that will not obscure a thicker body.

The modest websites further enhance the fatphobia and racial prejudice within the industry. An anonymous NYC teen often browses modest websites and has realized a specific pattern: “ It is the same type of models, Arab, thin and colored eyes. How is this representative of what modesty looks like? ” Inclusivity is a must because everyone should have the ability to dress in the way they feel most comfortable. The teen further states that although she buys from them, she does not support them. Heavier women are left with really one viable option of going to regular retail stores and strategically finding outfits from there. Some modest fashion companies do carry bigger sizes; however, they would not look as pretty or wearable as the others.  Heavier cannot have both – the ability to be modest and feel pretty. 

Muslim social media influencers can be considered the largest supporters of modest fashion because they provide many of these companies with a large amount of revenue. Companies specifically reach out to them because it will draw in many Muslim shoppers who went to achieve a modest look. 

Amie Kamara, a junior in NYC, shares her concern with these influencers: “it is good that influences are wearing hijabs and doing things to diversify that particular industry. I just don’t believe the intentions are 100% there.” The intentions refer to the reason they are doing it and how they are doing it. 

“There are 2 types of influencers: the one who wears clothing from Muslim companies and the ones who take immodest clothing and try to make it modest,” says Zainab.  A great and common example would be the use of crop tops with long-sleeved shirts. There has been a rise in the “streetwear hijab style” where influencers would make trendy and typically skin-showing clothing modest by layering it with a t-shirt, dress, pants, leggings, etc. There has also been a rise in modest clothing made by Muslim companies. People’s opinions differ on which form of modesty mentioned fits into the definition of modesty.

The modest influencers may not always send the right message or properly represent Islamic modesty. These modest influencers are not spokespersons for modesty; however, many young women do look up to them and treat them as role models. Amie believes that if this is what it is going to take to get more Muslim women to dress modestly and wear the hijab the correct way then why not? It truly brings up an important pressing question: what is modesty from an Islamic perspective and why is it so significant?  


 So What Is Modesty? 

The hijab is the prominent component of modesty. Everything else that follows must follow the rules of the hijab. Together, this makes the outfit modest. 

Hijab is a covering and a commandant from God. It is worn as a symbol of devotion to God, Allah. It has many other unrecognized purposes that non-muslims may not be aware of. It preserves the beauty of women and limits your attractiveness to avoid cat-calling. Fatou Camara, a Muslim adult from NYC, states that the hijab serves as her protection. “[She] feels protected because it means God is always with [her] and [she] is constantly reminded of [her] faith”. The hijab is a commitment; a lifelong commitment. Women reported that the hijab has “freed them from the western pressure of dressing provocatively.” 

Kujegy Kamara, an NYU student, addresses the way the hijab was introduced into her life: “It wasn’t taught to me how to wear it.  It was kind of like here is a fabric, put it on your head, don’t take it off. And this is going to happen for the rest of your life.” For some, they were told to wear it without knowing the meaning. This did not discourage them from wearing it, but it made it much more difficult to not succumb to the pressure of removing it. 

Removing the hijab is a choice and not an easy one. Typically, cultural lifestyle and environment sort of funnel women to remove it. Zainab states that “[she] was gassed up and was treated much better without the hijab.[She], however, did not feel any prettier without it.” There is a societal pressure that allows women to believe that they would feel much more confident and self-assured when the hijab is off; however, everyone’s journey is different with the hijab and even modesty in general. One must learn to ignore societal pressures and continue to do what is most comfortable for them.

If people knew more about the meaning behind the hijab, they would appreciate it more and embrace it, says high school senior, Jenabu Camara.  Positive influence is needed in people’s lives and that will help them live their best and be their most confident selves.

“Modesty can be defined physically: your outer appearance, wearing the hijab, covering the shoulders, the arms, the legs, not having the chest out, and covering up your beauty,” says Fatou. It also deals with character and your actions. Are you lowering your gaze (not seeking attraction from the opposite gender)? What is your demeanor like, what tone do you speak in? 

“You should not speak ill of another person and you should be respectful,” says an anonymous source.


Growth of the Modest Fashion Industry And Its Effects

The modest fashion industry has recently seen an uptick in customers. Many brands want to tap into the modest fashion industry and take advantage of this opportunity to lure in Muslim customers. According to Vogue, [muslim women]  have created their own trends and launched their own wonderful companies.

There are 1.8 billion Muslims and counting. The modest industry will only grow expeditiously as Islam has a high likelihood of becoming the #1 religion globally in the next 80 years.

Hijabi streetwear is a popular tagline and even hashtag. Hijabis want to be fashionable but often find it difficult to abide by the rules of the hijab to do so.

The influencers that are deemed immodest often have to sacrifice one thing to achieve another. NYC Muslim who wishes to remain anonymous questions the motives of the influencers: “am I going to be the one who wears fast fashion and exploits workers? Or am I going to wear something that’s not as modest as it should be because it looks good?. This person affirms that one should not follow trends that do not align with their own beliefs and values surrounding modesty. 

There may be trends that are okay to follow and adopt.  Fatou believes that influencers can still be fashionable and modest.  According to her, “[The influencers] might even discover a new way of covering things I never heard of and would love to integrate into my life.” In a way, this gives youth and adults different methods of achieving modesty. One should never think that covering up means letting go of your femininity. It is quite the opposite; “you can still cover up, be stylish and express your femininity as stated by iSchool junior Chantel Bell. 

Local Muslim consumers would love to have American apparel companies incorporate clothing that is inclusive for all. Brands have begun to see the huge profit that could be made by expanding their inventory. Now, several big named companies such as H &M, Zara, and Old Navy have done a good job in adding modest-looking clothing to their inventory! There are certainly more big named brands that can incorporate modest clothing. It will be a win for both customers and company owners. 

Chantel attests to shopping at H&M because the collection is “professional, but stylish at the same time.” Some are sought after more than Islamic modest companies because they are more affordable!  An NYC teen who wishes to remain anonymous shares their experience with shopping at Zara vs Veiled Collection, a Muslim modest company: “I think to go to Zara to pick up long skirts and go to rainbows to get a long sleeve shirt and put that together and it would cost like $30. And if I went to the Veiled Collection, it would be $140.” The teen further expressed not feeling shameful for shopping at unethical brands because it is what they can afford and still achieve modesty. 

Women who have a difficult time shopping on modest fashion websites turn to these large corporations that do tend to be unethical because they will accommodate them. 


Is it Mandatory For Muslim Women To Dress Modestly? What About Men?

Although this article focuses primarily on Muslim women’s fashion, to truly understand the rules and regulations of Islamic modesty, one must think about both men and women. Women’s modesty is talked about the most and is heavily criticized. Men, on the other hand, have more leeway when it comes to modesty. This is because of cultural norms, which expect women to be a very specific way, while the men have fewer restrictions and expectations. Islam does require women and men to dress modestly and follow behavioral rules as well. However, everyone’s circumstances vary and certainly impact whether or not they will dress modestly. 


Muslim Women, Thank You!

Muslim women are to be thanked for this rise in modest fashion because they advocated. They stood their ground, forecasted their own trends, created successful companies, and believed there was better out there.  The world must continue to progress in the right direction. Muslim women deserve the ability to feel comfortable, fashionable, and confident in the clothes they wear outside.

Despite the issues with several modest fashion companies, Muslim women are appreciative of their existence:  

 “With the rise of modest fashion on social media, the runways, and even the music industry, I started to evolve into my own style and put together pieces that were both modest and authentic,” says writer Zeina Aboushaar. 

“I love the fact that there are many shops now that are fully dedicated to modest fashion. 15-year-old me no longer has to worry. I have been rescued and most importantly, comforted,” says a Muslim woman who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Modest fashion will last a lifetime. It won’t become a trend that dies when its popularity decreases. “It is a belief that is embedded in our mindset and is set there for the rest of our lives”. Modest fashion has become included in streetwear and even the runway. It has been used as a way for Muslim women to show off their creative sense in fashion, all whilst showing devotion. There are many styles out there that can cater to all. Muslim women contributed to one of fashion’s biggest markets and  have allowed women to become “fearless and creative with never compromising [their] beliefs and sense of style.”