Cultural and religious reasons may have birthed modest fashion, but today the aesthetic has gone to a whole new stylish place, turning the heads of a young generation of cosmopolitan, social media-savvy consumers.
An Iranian woman might favour a loosely draped headscarf matched to her trousers and jacket; her counterparts in the Gulf often have a fondness for flowing abayas that fuse Western influences with Eastern style. Even within one country, such as Saudi Arabia, there can be regional variations in the style of abaya sported. Far from being a monolith demographic, the Muslim consumer is as diverse in her needs as any other consumer group. The success of brands rests on their ability to recognise and cater to that.
What we’re seeing now is that the boundaries are disappearing and there are no rules as long as the general expectation of modesty is met by the consumer’s demand. The rest of it is a great playground for designers to come up with some fabulous, disruptive ideas.
In a study into the behavioural habits of modest fashion consumers, Romana Mirza, a senior researcher at the Islamic Fashion Design Council, found them to be “savvy” shoppers with established and thoughtful opinions on brands. “The modest fashion consumer shops luxury, mainstream and modest fashion brands to fulfil their demand in this space,” she says. But despite their population size and spending power, they still feel desperately underserved by both brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. International brands, urges Mirza, must listen to this “insightful, articulate and attentive consumer” – after all, it’s their needs that will continue to take the driving seat in shaping this market.
In recent years, Western brands have made tentative attempts to court them. Every season, high-street retailer Mango releases modest-friendly collections of tunics, kaftans and maxi-dresses, and Nike, of course, announced the release of a high-performance hijab. Furthermore, multibrand retailers such as Net-A-Porter promote capsule collections designed specifically for Ramadan by brands including Oscar de la Renta and Jenny Packham. But what about in the region?
Brand’s such as Leem, from the region and designed for the region, ushers in seasonal collections of fashion-first modest wear pieces with global appeal. Specialising in essential staples with an air of luxe that form the building blocks of any modest wardrobe. For example, Leem’s stylish SS21 silhouettes continue to mark the intersection of conservative fit and modern flair, elevating the fashion quotient of its all-inclusive clientele-base, whether they choose to conceal for culture or as a personal preference of style.
An expression of chic discretion, the SS21 collection navigates a landscape punctuated by the ultra-feminine, at no compromise to its modest offering or trend-led styles, think floral prints, prairie dresses, soft gradient hues, swishing pleats and sheer fabrics. The season also sees the interjection of bold trends via eye-catching statements including exaggerated shoulders, vibrant pops of solid colour, studded embellishments, ethnic print accents, photographic prints on jersey and the classic yet striking use of monochrome.
Yet despite the recent publicity surrounding modest fashion, to claim it as a new trend would be to overlook the many women who have clothed themselves like this for millennia. The truth of it is that modest fashion has been around since the beginning of time. And it’s not that the number of modest dressers has increased so much as that we’re finally noticing it. So what’s changed? The intersection between a rapidly growing and remarkably youthful Muslim population of consumers and social-media technology has enabled a wave of influencers, designers and consumers to broadcast their lifestyle to a like-minded audience.