Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Women Discuss the Meaning of Modest Fashion

From left, Dian Pelangi, Dr. Ann Shafer and Zahrah Zubaidah at the New York University Meeting Through Modesty fashion symposium. (Credit: Daniel James Cole)
From left, Dian Pelangi, Dr. Ann Shafer and Zahrah Zubaidah at the New York University Meeting Through Modesty fashion symposium. (Credit: Daniel James Cole)

A Muslim, an Orthodox Jew and a religious Christian walked into a room, but it wasn’t a bar and this was no joke. On the contrary, representatives from each of the Abrahamic religions had gathered during fashion month at New York University for the Meeting Through Modesty fashion symposium to discuss something they take very seriously: modest style.

A generous smattering of hijabs, skullcaps and discreet wigs were spread throughout the room, along with Proenza Schouler skirts and Rachel Comey shoes.

“There’s a general misconception that modest clothing is inherently oppressive,” said Michelle Honig, the keynote speaker and an Orthodox Jewish fashion journalist. “But if women in so-called ‘liberated countries’ still choose to cover their bodies, then they have made a choice. They have agency.”

Ms. Honig had layered a Tanya Taylor top and Marc by Marc Jacobs skirt under a striped Prada dress to keep her elbows and knees concealed, in addition to wearing a wig to keep her head covered, per Orthodox custom.

The symposium was just one of a growing number of modest-fashion events in recent months at universities like Fordham, Princeton and the London College of Fashion. The trend in academic settings reflects a broader movement on the internet as devout women use social media to discuss, celebrate and experiment with modest fashion.

Interpretations of modesty differ across religious boundaries and even within them. “Modesty” in a Muslim context may be expressed by wearing loosefitting pants and covering one’s head with a hijab, while an Orthodox Jewish woman may wear skirts or dresses only and cover her head with a wig.

Christian women, like the swimwear designer Jessica Rey, may express their vision of modesty by eschewing bikinis in favor of bathing suits that expose their legs but cover their midriffs.

Still, the shared interest in staying relatively covered up while still looking stylish is enough to connect women across religious, racial and cultural boundaries. Many of them cite devotion to God and a desire to present themselves as “more than a collection of body parts,” in Ms. Rey’s words, as the motivation behind their affinity for modest dress.

“Making connections with other Christians, as well as Muslim and Jewish women, has probably been the most exciting benefit of blogging,” says Liz Roy, a Christian who runs the personal style blog Downtown Demure. “We all have different standards for modesty, but we share this common goal, which can be a bit contradictory to secular standards.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Whitney Bauck

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