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It's time we stop ignoring modest fashion influencers

Friday April 5, 2019
By Meghna Sarkar

A headscarf from designer Hana Tajima's collection of modest wear. Getty

Last week, Japanese brand Uniqlo teamed up with British Muslim designer Hana Tajima, designing a range of functional outerwear and accessories, including hijabs and headscarves. Somali-American supermodel Halima Aden collaborated with Turkish modest fashion e-tailer Modanisa and is set to release a collection of 27 headscarves, end of April. Recently, Farfetch invested in the The Modist, the first ever luxury modest fashion destination. Once considered a ‘trend’ by many, modest fashion is going mainstream, all thanks to a group of diverse women embracing their unique identities on social media.

A simple search on Instagram shows there are 1.3million posts with the hashtag #modestfashion and a whopping 22.3million posts with the hashtag #hijaber, alone. A lack of authentic content highlighting modest fashion inspiration and the underrepresentation of women from minority cultures in the blogosphere, are some of the many reasons behind the rise of modest fashion blogs. One of the foremost curators of modesty on online media, Jennifer Loch, the founder of Jen Magazine says, “When I started in 2004, there were no blogs, no bloggers, no modest fashion bloggers with hardly one or two stores selling modest clothing. Three years after I started, fashion blogging became a thing.” The American influencer identifies herself as a Mormon, belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

A former model, Loch’s inspiration behind starting a blog stemmed mostly from her professional and personal experiences. “While attending shoots, I was always asked to wear clothes that were not modest according to my religious standards,” she reveals. “I thought, ‘Is it okay just because I am being paid for it?’” Being a woman with an adherence to the LDS faith, Loch found it hard to ignore her religious restrictions just for the sake of fashion. “In LDS, we are issued special undergarments instead of the regular underwear, which are supposed to remind us of our inner commitment to God,” she elaborates. “The top resembles a camisole with a short cap sleeve and the bottom is a pair of shorts. Most of the clothing offered to me as a model made me uncomfortable as my undergarments continuously showed. It was then that I realized, wouldn't it be cool if there was a magazine filled with all things modest, perfect for an LDS woman?” That’s how Jen Magazine was born and then five years later, crossed over into an online retail range, Jen Clothing. Designed by Loch herself, the label is dedicated to LDS women like her.

Staunch religious cultures often hold prejudices that strongly oppose the representation of women in the public eye. A repressive environment then becomes a seedbed of creativity–an idea that resonates deeply with renowned Kuwaiti Muslim Blogger, Ascia Al Faraj. An integral part of the modest fashion blogosphere for the past six years, Al Faraj has 2.6million followers on Instagram and manages a blog called The Hybrids with her husband, Ahmad. “The blog began for two reasons,” she says. “Firstly, I was tired of the notion that women should shy away from the media in our region, posting only photos of an eye or their hand and keeping strict anonymity. Secondly, it was frustrating to see tons of international fashion bloggers and try to adapt their style keeping in mind our cultural and/or religious guidelines. There was a niche, and it needed to be filled on this end of the world.” Owner of a slew of small businesses like the kids wear line, ‘Desert Baby’, with names like TAG Heuer and Kenzo on her portfolio, Al Faraj makes a mark, as does her artfully directed social media posts.

Blogger Ascia Al Faraj Ascia Al Faraj

The family of modest, fashionable women is only growing. Other than creating an awareness about the modest market and fostering open discussions about faith and fashion, they also provide a sense of community, solidarity and support to their ardent followers. Not to mention, influencers have transformed the meaning of modest fashion. Often labelled ‘frumpy’, ‘dowdy’ and ‘boring’, it has mostly been seen as too orthodox. Today, expertly photographed and photoshopped images, tastefully curated posts and thoughtful copywriting has altered the general consensus, so much so, that modest styling now inspires religious believers and non-believers alike.

“When people realize I am an Orthodox Jew they are really surprised with the way I look,” says Rachelle Yadegar, who has 27.9k followers on Instagram and offers major Jewish style inspiration on her blog Not Without My Heels. “What they don’t understand is, I don't need to be provocative to be cool.” For some, like Summer Albarcha–founder of the blog Hipster Hijabis in 2012–who loves to dress up in wide-legged pants and bold tucked-in blouses, curating a modest look remains a fun challenge. “My style is definitely more refined and limited to certain choices,” she says. “It actually gives me more creativity when working with everyday trends and trying to tie them together with my own values.”

Summer Albarcha Summer Albarcha

Modest fashion influencers have proliferated mainstream media thanks to the relatability, authenticity and the sense of ownership in their content. The compelling Instagram stories, real-time live chat sessions and effectively marketed posts are directed towards building a lasting relationship with one’s followers, where transparency is the most effective trump card. “My audience is varied, but I try to be as genuine with them as possible, even on the worst of days,” says Al Faraj. “I let them know when I'm feeling self-destructive, close to shutting down my social channels and just disappearing into the abyss for mental health reasons. Then, we have an open dialogue about that. I'm not trying to be relatable: I am relatable. We all have to be willing to drop the facade of careful curation and show people that life is challenging for everyone, but, for different reasons.”

We are at a day and age when Libyan-American Muslim Journalist Noor Tagouri has appeared on Playboy Magazine and California-based brand Mattel has launched the first-ever hijab-wearing barbie to honor Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad. Modesty has been growing from strength to strength and modest fashion bloggers, being at the thick of it all, are the ones to watch.


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