Why the Modest Clothing Industry Is Only Getting More Mainstream

or designer Lisa Vogl, the decision to launch the Verona Collection, an apparel brand for Muslim women and other modest dressers, was simple.

“Muslim women are vibrant and edgy, and many women want their fashion sense to reflect that,” Vogl, herself Muslim, told Racked.

For far too long, fashion designers have ignored what Fast Company recently called a $254 billion market. And when they have tried to reach Muslim women, stereotypes have gotten in the way. In recent years, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Uniqlo, and Mango have debuted modest clothing lines to mixed reviews. “Modest” to Western designers has often meant shapeless and dull clothing that Muslim women have largely avoided. But Saudi Arabia’s first Arab Fashion Week, which took place in April, and Macy’s partnership with the Verona Collection, announced in February, is changing perceptions of modest fashion and the women who wear it.

A hijab and maxi shirt-dress from the Verona Collection
In February, Macy’s became the first mass retailer to sell hijabs when it teamed up with the Verona Collection.
 Photo: Verona Collection/Macy’s

“Prior to Verona, it was always difficult to find fashionable, affordable yet modest clothing,” says Vogl, who’s also shot fashion photography for magazines like Marie Claire.

Instead of baggy clothes with no personality, Verona features maxi shirt-dresses, cardigans and hand-dyed hijabs in various fabrics. Vogl says the collection allows women to express themselves. A single mother, she was able to team up with Macy’s by last year completing the retailer’s business development program for women and minorities; called The Workshop at Macy’s, the program began in 2011.

When the news broke February 1 that Macy’s would become the first mass retailer in the United States to sell hijabs, not everyone responded favorably. Islamophobes on Twitter blasted the department store for promoting the “Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.” Many people, however, praised the retailer for being inclusive.

“We received such positive feedback that it more than outweighed the negative we received,” Vogl says. “We are only here to offer more clothing options in a market that lacks modest fashion apparel.”

Blue Meets Blue’s pants-skirt
Blue Meets Blue’s pants-skirt is a best-seller.
 Photo: Courtesy of Shahd Alasaly

Blue Meets Blue is another modest clothing line working to fill the void. In 2015, Chicago designer Shahd Alasaly launched the high-end and humanitarian brand, which employs refugees as garment workers. Fans of the brand include Muslims, Orthodox Jews, devout Christians, and unbelievers who simply prefer dressing modestly, Alasaly says.

Blue Meets Blue’s bestsellers include its Dania pants — “part tuxedo pant, part waterfall skirt” — and peplum jacket. Satin, tulle, and chiffon are among the luxurious fabrics featured. The brand draws inspiration from old school glamour, according to Alasaly.

“The idea that modest clothing is very fashion backwards, loose and baggy, is a total misconception,” she says. “We are very much classic, edgy, and fashion forward.”

Dolce & Gabbana’s abaya collection
Dolce & Gabbana’s abaya collection faced criticism from the Muslim community.
 Photo: Dolce & Gabbana

Sarwat Husain, a Muslim woman who describes herself as a “fashion-minded” shopper, welcomes the opportunity to have another place to buy hijabs and modest clothing. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, where she serves as president of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She says that she’s often resorted to ordering clothing online from countries like England to find appropriate attire.

“I’m from Pakistan,” she says. “We always had more options over there.”

At one point, Husain made her own clothes or purchased clothes from stores that she later altered.

“In the US, there’s not enough options,” she says. Macy’s selling modest clothing is a step in the right direction, but it’s hardly good enough, she adds. She’s especially felt insulted that some high-end designers have released modest collections featuring mostly baggy garments in drab colors.

“We will not buy [just] anything,” Husain says. “We dress modestly, but we’re not going to buy anything that’s not decent-looking. It doesn’t have to be black and loose and look like a tent. It’s a sense of fashion.”

[“Source-racked”]