Sooner or later, every American woman with an eye on fashion has to make a
conscious decision, based on factors such as religion, personal preference, work
rules, age or shape: Who do I want to prom dresses 2015
like — Bella Hadid or Kate Middleton?
Nowadays, more women are choosing to wear "modest fashion," and the always
impeccably turned out — but never exposed — Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, 33,
is one of their icons.
That's no slam against the young-and-lithe Hadid, 19, who last month at
Cannes grabbed eyeballs and camera flashes "dressed" in an Alexandre Vauthier
silk gown that amounted to a large red scarf artfully draped around her
If you've got it, flaunt it, right? Maybe. Now some women who've got it are
saying: No way.
Duchess Kate of Cambridge in London June 12, 2016 Bella Hadid in Cannes May
(Photo: AFP, pool, Arthur Edwards, Mike Marsland, WireImage)
Their reasons vary; often it's to comply with religious traditions and laws
for women to dress modestly, as among Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and
conservative Protestants and Catholics. But others just don't want to walk
around with so much skin exposed, even if it's summer and everyone else is.
"It takes intestinal fortitude to go against the culture," says ex-lawyer
Zahra Aljabri, co-founder of Mode-sty, a multi-brand modest-fashion online
boutique that has taken off in the last three years selling affordable clothes
that feature longer sleeves, higher necklines and hemlines below-the-knee or to
the ground. "Consciously dressing modestly every day means you really have to
believe in it. And before, you weren't always happy getting dressed."
Now she and a growing community of modest-fashion bloggers, designers and
retailers — most of them young, religious and refugees from other professions —
are trying to make dressing a happier affair for modest fans by offering
Western-style clothing (dresses, s******ts, tops, scarves, even swimwear) that is
trendy and more covered up than, say, what your average Kardashian might
Melanie Elturk, CEO of modest-fashion site Haute Hijab, models a hijab ($20)
and a floral s******t ($115) she sells. (Photo: Haute Hijab)
Despite coming from different cultures and religious traditions,
modest-fashonistas share some things in common: They use social media and the
Internet to channel their passion for fashion into designing and marketing the
modest styles they love, and they've been successful in building businesses,
ringing up sales, enlisting equally passionate followers, and living their faith
The newcomers are tapping into an old aesthetic, one that has been mined by
Western fashion designers for decades, says fashion historian Patricia Mears,
deputy director of the Museum at FIT, New York's Fashion Institute of
"If anything it's gaining more traction (now)," says Mears. "Many women do
not want to walk around in a bandage dress or show their midriff — the Real
Housewives look that has permeated the workplace."
"It's been insane to see how popular it is, but it's not going to grow if the
actual designs are not good or compelling enough for any woman to wear," say
Mimi Hecht, 30, and Mushky Notik, 27, Orthodox Jewish sisters-in-law and
founders of three-year-old Mimu Maxi.
"Night in Paris" lace dress, for bridesmaids especially, at modest-fashion
website Dainty Jewells. (Photo: Thia Photographie)
They grew up religious and keeping to Jewish standards of modesty (covered
elbows, knees and collarbones) but struggled to balance fashion and faith. Now
they have customers who aren't religious but believe dressing modestly is a way
to assert female empowerment and self-confidence.
"People are seeing that covering up can be super-fashionable," says Hecht.
"It doesn't mean dowdy or your fifth-grade teacher or dressing biblically."
Mimi Hecht, left, in the Moses Dress ($128) and Mushky Notik in Smock Dress
($88). (Photo: Mimu Maxi)
Charity Jewell Walter, 23, is the CEO of Dainty Jewells, the Oregon-based,
Christian-oriented website where dressing modestly is seen as "bringing glory to
God," and young women are encouraged to keep themselves "pure for their future
"My goal is to introduce modest fashion to as many ladies as I can," she
says. "Many people think of modesty as something frumpy or ugly, but Dainty
Jewells has upset this stereotype. It's amazing how many people love modest
fashions and don't even realize it."
The trend is here to stay because modesty is an "enduring" style, says
Jocelyn Watt, the social media manager for Mikarose, a 10-year-old Utah-based
website that started out catering to Mormon women and aims to "reinvent"
"It’s a way to look your best and be self-confident," Watt says. "I don’t
have to worry about anything showing because I know that I’m covered. I feel
more comfortable and confident in who I am, knowing people are looking at me as
a person, not because my s******t is too short."
Melanie Elturk, 31, the Muslim founder of Manhattan-based Haute Hijab
(especially admired for headscarves) and a contributing writer for Elle, has
been in business since 2010 and has made around $700,000 in revenue, with about
6,000 customers, she says.
"The last 10 years in fashion has been especially body-conscious, with
shorter hemlines, super-tight tops," she says. "Women who prefer not to walk
around looking like Kylie Jenner want something appropriate for their age, but
they don't want to look like the mother-of-the-bride at a wedding."
Models on runway during first Modest Fashion Week in Istanbul, Turkey, May
13, 2016. (Photo: SEDAT SUNA, EPA)
Measuring this market for modesty is tricky; the overall U.S. women-and-girls
apparel market amounted to about $179 billion in 2015, according to Commerce
Departmentstatistics, and the modest fashion niche so far is just that — a niche
so small it's not measured by government or commercial economic analysts, at
least in America.
But Muslims around the world spent $266 billion on clothing and footwear in
2013, according to a report on the global Islamic economy from Thomson Reuters,
and the figure is expected to surge to $484 billion by 2019.
Model poses in s******t and top from modest-fashion website Mikarose. (Photo:
There are signs of growth in the USA: Besides bloggers, retailers, and social
media mavens,, there are online fashion magazines covering modest fashion, such
as Jen Magazine, for young Mormon women, and Cover Magazine put out by the
Islamic Fashion & Design Council.
Fashion historians, such as Reina Lewis of the London College of Fashion,
have studied the trend, in her book, Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style
Cultures. The Western-style runway extravaganza at International Modest Fashion
Week inIstanbul, the first-ever, featured 70 designers and was covered in the
Besides Duchess Kate, modesty fans admire the street style of actress Olivia
Palermo, the chic of Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism after she married an
Orthodox Jew, and the always-covered-up designing Olsen twins, Mary Kate and
Ashley, and their The Row line which features loose, over-sized clothing and
some dresses to ankles.
"You never see them in body-revealing (attire) and they're savvy worldly
young women," says FIT's Mears. "It’s a sense of strength and empowerment the
other way — you can’t objectify them as a *** symbol."
Couture houses have been selling luxury modest fashion to wealthy women from
the Middle East for years. Now A-list designers and mass-market retailers are
taking notice of this market — such as DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta,
Monique Lhuillier, Zara, Mango — by producing one-off collections for the
Islamic month of Ramadan.
H&M featured a Muslim model in a hijab in one of its video ads last
September. Japanese fashion chain Uniqlo launched a line of hijabs with designer
Hana Tajima this spring. Dolce & Gabbana also released a collection of
hijabs and abayas in January.
Meanwhile, online retailers such as Aljabri and Mode-sty.com expect their
business to continue to expand in the USA.
"There are more (online boutiques) popping up all the time because there is
more demand, more women who don't want to sacrifice style to 2016 prom dresses
more conservatively," Aljabri says. "A lot more people are saying we're tired of
this, we shouldn't have to choose."