Here’s Why Modest Fashion and Ethics Need to Go Hand-in-Hand

Written by Zahra Khosroshahi

Modesty wasn’t always fashionable, but over the years there has been a bit of a shift
in the fashion industry. When it comes to modest fashion, especially Muslim modest
fashion, the work of Muslim women bloggers and icons can’t be overlooked. They have paved the path for a fashion that is more accessible, inclusive and dare we say – mainstream.

For a lot of Muslim women, the choice to dress modestly is part of something larger
than fashion. It is based on personal, cultural and religious values that many of us
hold dear to our hearts. And for many of us, it is an assertion of our identity – a way
to reject the beauty ideals that are prescribed to us through the media. For me, the
choice to dress modestly also has to do with my stance against patriarchal and
capitalist institutions that want to tell women what is deemed as “fashionable” and

For a lot of Muslim women, the choice to dress modestly is part of something larger than fashion. 

Within this narrative, I don’t think it’s possible to neglect the realities of the fashion
industry. While through resistance and good work we have come to a place where
modesty and fashion go hand-in-hand, we have to also be aware and critical of the
fashion industry at large. We have to be brave enough to look at our clothing items
and interrogate the story behind them. In other words, as Muslim women who seek
to make a case for modest fashion, we need to ensure that ethics are not left behind.

Here are three important reasons why:

1) The Spiritual World of Modesty
The idea behind modesty goes beyond covering our bodies. It’s based on a value
system that rejects materialism as a means of elevating us from the world of
consumption. There is something inherently spiritual about the practice of modesty.

That said, the world of fashion, for many of us, offers an outlet to express ourselves.
It gives us a sense of agency that gets all the creative juices flowing. But there has to
be a balance. The fast fashion industry is part of a wasteful and exploitative system
with one thing in mind – to make money at any cost. The wellbeing of its workers,
the environment, fair wages or quality are not anywhere near its radar. Clothes, as
well as lives, have been made disposable. When we promote modest fashion, we
must also remember the value system it rests upon.

2) Sisterhood
For many of us, modesty, especially when it’s made visible by a headscarf, instills a
sense of sisterhood and unity amongst us. It can bring us together in difficult
moments and remind us of our shared experiences and common struggles.

It only makes sense to extend our sisterhood to women all over the world. Eighty-five percent of garment workers are women, and most are underpaid, without job security or safety from developing countries. Often, we’re unaware of these conditions when choosing the most wearable blouse or selecting a the softest sweater. We walk into a store or browse through a flashy website and purchase what looks good without knowing the details. It is our responsibility and right as consumers to demand transparency from brands and companies. If our modesty is an expression
of our independence and liberation, we must also wish the same for our fellow
sisters around the world.

3) Our Environmental Responsibilities
Working towards environmental sustainability is a human responsibility. This
means making daily choices that help in the protection of our home. When it comes
to the environment, the fashion industry is guilty again! It’s the second largest
polluter, after the oil industry. For example, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make a
T-shirt – this is what an average person drinks in about three years.

The modest fashion industry cannot turn a blind eye to these realities. The pollutants left behind and the resources used up to make clothes leave consequences that will impact all of us, and inevitably, it will take all of us to work together to incorporate ethics and sustainability in our world of modest fashion.

The clothes we choose to wear are often representative of our personal style and
fashion sense. But they often say more than just that: our clothes are also representative of our ideals and values. Whether we like it or not, fashion is political. As consumers, we have the power to make a statement with every purchase we make. Money talks. In other words, we’re casting a vote for the world we want every time we make a purchase.