Tradition, style & controversy: how the cover of your body is a fashion trend was

The modest fashion industry is estimated at a value of forty-four billion dollars. The time is ripe for a conference about the fashion trend, but what does that actually entail?

Modest Fashion Fashion Forum: the photo shoot was made with models of different backgrounds and ages. The clothing is all Belgian brands. Styling /art direction: Farah El Bastani. © Sophie Rata

On 23 november, online platform Mvslim in cooperation with the MoMu in Antwerp is the first Modest Fashion Forum. During this conference, will be guest speakers in the world of modest fashion within a European context to make it clear.

High-cut shirts, skirts to the ground and a covered head. Nay, we speak here not about a journey back in time to the Victorian period, but about the fashion in the streets anno 2018. Modest fashion is a billion dollar industry, but the understanding to explain, is not easy.

Modest can be translated as humble, modest, honorable, modest, humble and discreet. A straightforward translation covers, however, the load does not. In addition, the second part of the term, ‘fashion’, is essential. After all, it is deliberately intended as a fashionable, stylish.


Modest Fashion hits the cover of the body for the sake of personal and/or religious reasons.

On the webshop The Modist, in fact, the Net-a-Porter of modest fashion, it sounds as follows: “We embrace a style of dress that a certain form of delicacy in charge. What ‘modesty’ means, we can define not. We let our customers decide for themselves what it means to them.’

Modest Fashion Forum. Styling /art direction: Farah El Bastani © Sophie Rata

But Shah, head of strategy at Mvslim, agrees to put his finger on what modest fashion exactly means is difficult. “There are so many different interpretations, but the basis of it refers to the covering of the body for the sake of personal and/or religious reasons. With muslim women usually have a slightly higher degree of coverage, but also christian and jewish women cover themselves up to a certain level. It is a very broad concept.’

The motivation for modest fashion wear, so in many cases, of a religious nature, but that does not necessarily need to. ‘Actually there is no age or background related to modest fashion: it speaks to different types of women,” says Shah.

However, the term should come from somewhere. That we are modest fashion in the first instance, linking to muslim women, is not entirely unjustified. ‘Muslim women in a European context, have grown up, they often want to both their traditional values and express it as fashionable clothing to wear. They so choose for a headscarf and the fashion that they are around. The religious values are combined with European fashion trends. This is a very clear form of modest fashion, we here in Belgium also in the scene to see, ” explains Shah.

Social media have played a major role in the growth of the trend. “Using social media platforms to share – often young women such as Dina Torkia, Sagal Shire and Sarah Dimani outfitfoto’s showing clearly that they both demurely dressed as interested in fashion trends and personal style. E-commerce will play again, great.’


Muslim women in a European context, have grown up, they often want to both their traditional values and express it as fashionable clothing to wear.

Since 2015 is modest fashion is on the rise. Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at the London College of Fashion, and wrote in 2015 the book Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures , in which this phenomenon was highlighted. Recently she was invited as an advisory curator of the exhibition ‘Contemporary Muslim Fashions’ in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and she wrote an essay for the book the exhibition guide, entitled ‘Muslims and Fashion Now and Then’. In her work, we read how the emotion of the fashion industry compared to modest fashion in a shift, and the other texts.

‘For a long time, and especially after the attacks on the eleventh of september 2001 in New York, the fashion industry is very opposed to associated with muslims – both with designers and models as consumers and influencers in muslim countries. That customers from the rich gulf states a critical support for European couturehuizen from the middle of the last century, was only known to insiders.’

Lady halīma Aden on the catwalk for Max Mara © ISOPIX

In the meantime, that is completely different. Fashion brands seem to be shaken up and have negative connotations from 2001 left behind. The islamic calendar, practicing the last years of influence on the fashion and marketing surrounding it. There are Ramadancollecties and discounts to be found with different chains during Islamic holidays. At various places in the world, there are now modest fashion weeks, where both niche designers and large brands to their modest fashion collections show. And also the e-commerce could not stay behind. Through web shops such as The Modist and ModLi shopping women who like to be covered dressed to go to the most beautiful looks of (luxury)brands.


According to Lewis, is the visible religious diversity is not something that in a vacuum takes place. “It is part of the – rather late – wake-up call of the industry compared to the lack of ethnic and racial diversity, just as body shapes, gender and sexual orientation. Religion is now in that mix, thrown,’ said the professor of cultural studies. Modest fashion is, in other words the answer to the fashion industry that reflects, or wants to be in the social reality.

Figuurschaatser Zahra Lari for Nike © Nike

Visible religious diversity we see among other things, by the presence of hijabs on the catwalk and in modecampagnes. In 2015, we felt it especially that H&M Mariah Idrissi, a model with a headscarf, recorded in their ‘ Close the Loop campaign. Nike brought out in 2017 then again, the pro hijab, a headscarf for athletes who are not hindered during exercise. Also in 2017 looked for Kanye West – Ye-friends – a diverse cast of models together, including the new it model with headscarf Halīma Aden. In a Kenyan refugee camp born model was also the last fashion weeks are not the way to think of the catwalk and events.

The British-Japanese muslim, and designer Hana Tajima hit since 2015 already several times, the hands together with retailer Uniqlo for a modest fashion collection, although she calls her designs rather ‘understated’. The collections are not only popular with women from islamic countries, but especially in Japan went the pieces and sweet rolls on the counter.

Hana Tajima x Uniqlo © Uniqlo

Not that modest fashion without a blow a place conquered in the modelandschap. Beginning in 2018, the British retailer Marks & Spencer to use the search option ‘modest’ in their webshop and generated so a lot controversy. Not the outfits themselves were rejected, but the term. A lot of women find the styles with long sleeves and high neklijnen nice and comfortable, but some customers gave to not served, of the distinction between ‘modest’ and other styles: it meant that everything that is not in the category of ‘modest’ is irreverent?

Controversy and friction

Marks & Spencer reported that the search term had been entered, because a lot of women via online search engines went in search of ‘modest fashion’. So it was a marketing reflex, that not everyone is equally enthusiastic was received. But Shah explains that the term, however, has no intention to close. “You will always be negative and politically incorrect comments about terms which are linked to religion, but that is no reason to not use them. It is not a trend that demands that all women have more to cover, but an option for women who wish for stylish looks to go shopping.’

Shah compares it with the responses that plussize fashion often provokes: ‘You hear sometimes that people find that plussize models are obesity promoting. That is nonsense of course. Actually the point is that humans are often more critical about things which he does not know. The more people of different sizes, styles, and backgrounds we see in the media and in the streets, the more we just be. It’s not about exclusion, but inclusion. If your modest fashion wants to wear, it is a personal choice, not a requirement for others.”

Modest Fashion Forum. Styling /art direction: Farah El Bastani © Sophie Rata

Also from a religious angle you will have different opinions about modest fashion. ‘There are faithful women who find that the traditional values belied by fashionable to want to be, and that modest and fashion so do not go together. And then there are also women who just want to get rid of the hijab, because they feel suppressed to feel. For the women, modest fashion, however, embrace, is a way to express themselves within a waardenkader. We hope that our forum can help to get to know each other better and better to understand. The more we listen to each other, the less misunderstanding there is.’


If your modest fashion wants to wear, it is a personal choice, not a requirement for others.

But Shah

The Modest Fashion Forum comes at the right time. It is a chance to see the phenomenon from different points of view. ‘Initially, we thought a Business to Business conference, with a focus on retailers and designers,” says Shah. ‘After all, it is very important to know how exactly the target audience should appeal to. Gradually, we wanted the conference to be wider open. It is also very interesting for students, influencers, and people who like to keep up with the latest fashion trends. Not only to inform yourself but also to network with people from the sector where you normally would not so easily have access to.’

The Modest Fashion Forum wants a broad overview, with a different plug. “Belgium is still a bit unexplored terrain for modest fashion retailers, but we are sure of that, Antwerp is the perfect location for our first forum: it’s our fashion-forward and very multicultural,” says the organization.

On the program:

  • A session with Mariah Idrissi airport, the first hijabi model for H&M, about how influencers the modest fashion movement is initiated.
  • A panel discussion, moderated by Kaat Debo, director of MoMu, in the panel, an editor of Marie Claire, co-founder of the Dutch modest fashion brand Nesci and the British influencer Sagal Shire, that the future and the challenges of the modest fashion industry in Europe to discuss.

Info and tickets:

The online platform Mvslim was founded four years ago with positive ana the discourse on minorities to change it.

Modest Fashion Forum. Styling /art direction: Farah El Bastani © Sophie Rata

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