Last month, I visited the de Young Art Museum in San Francisco to see the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibit. Dynamically curated, and first ever of its kind, the presentation explores the theme of modesty and garments like the burkini. It also examines local fashion revolutions taking place among younger, more digitally connected Muslims, such as the incorporation of the head scarf in sportswear. But, the most interesting topic highlighted was the advent of modest fashion.
Thanks to social media and institutional support, the ignorant notion that Muslim women are fashionably repressed is finally beginning to fade away. The more accurate reality is that many of these women dress modestly with a deep sense of pride and identity. From a purely design perspective, the challenge of coverage presents the opportunity to get creative with what you put on and how you wear it. Modest fashion transcends what it means to be a modern woman. If an outfit requires more fabric, then more thought goes into pairing accessories, color accenting and the overall silhouette. All is soft sculpture; less about bodies and more about clothes. And a similar sensibility underlies today’s modest fashion landscape.
An actual sector of the apparel industry with its own fashion weeks in major capitals and market analytics, modest fashion is a mode of dress heavily associated with the values of the Muslim culture. Sleeve and dress lengths considerations, layering of garments, skin revealed minimally and conservative necklines are all identifying components. Did you know that there are Modest Fashion Weeks now taking place in Dubai and London? I didn’t, until now. What’s delightfully glorious is that all this movement unfolds under the “for us, by us” mantra. In the Muslim world, fashion freedom is being brought to women by women. The image created by Western media of Muslim women as dark floating figures is being replaced by symbols of modernity, social progress and cultural inclusion, one amazing look at a time.
Muslim women represent an enormous global market and regardless which societies they call home, their fashion inspiration connects them with design aesthetics on a deeper level than what might meet the eye. This is how Algerian entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez started an online modest fashion retailer The Modist—with a sophisticated yet postmodern approach to style, packed with enough substance for its very own article. Stay tuned as I plan to delve into Guenez’s story and project later.
Women pursuing appearances of their ideal imagination are by definition empowered and I am excited at the chance to share more relevant points from the exhibit with you in future posts. If you are in the Bay Area, don’t miss this one before it is taken down in January.