Jerusalem’s ModLi, Dubai’s The Modist, and the Rise of Modest Fashion

*Picture above taken from a Vogue Article about Chaya Chanin and Simi Polonsky, the  Orthodox Jewish designers behind The Frock NYC.

This is such an overwhelming and perhaps controversial post to write, and I although I don’t have a background in the fashion industry, my choices in what I choose to wear have changed in recent years when I decided to dress more modestly and cover my hair.

Something is changing in the mainstream, global fashion world and both Jewish and Muslim women are at the forefront and have more in common than ever before. Every Jewish woman who wears even a small version of a modest swimsuit on the beach (I even wrote about this here), felt shock and sadness when the “burkini” women were forced to “de-robe” on the French beach’s this past summer. 

What exactly is Modest Fashion is of course up for interpretation, especially after decades of mini-skirts and low cut shirts, regular loose-fitting jeans and a t-shirt could today be considered modest. And is considered modest in some circles (and in my own personal opinion). In some communities modest fashion is very technical: skirts and necklines have to fit a certain standard. Sometimes stockings and closed-toe shoes are required.

Though I believe for many who are close to religion, but feel at the same time a “modern-woman” or even feminist,  believe that being modest, and dressing modestly,  is a reflection from the inner to the outer. It is just complementing the way you handle yourself in daily life and in your relationships with others. Modesty is not whether or not you wear jeans or a skirt. It is much deeper and personal.

Back in 2015, in this viral article, Nava Brief-Fried, the founder of Jerusalem-based e-retailer ModLi.co which has been named the “Etsy” of modest fashion says,  “Modesty is not a negative thing, It’s a positive thing. We’re trying to change how people feel about modesty. I think today, in our time, when everything is so immodest and so the opposite, I think people are really thirsty and they really want and are really looking for modesty.”

She then speaks about how within weeks of launching ModLi in 2015, she got her first order from Dubai, which of course proposed a diplomatic challenge.

 “A few weeks later ModLi also got its first order from a Muslim woman in Dubai. Staff worked with her to find a way to ship the package out via an address in Europe, since the United Arab Emirates holds to a 1972 law prohibiting business dealings with Israel, including direct import of products manufactured there. “When these things first happened, I was shocked. I guess I assumed we would mostly get orders from Jews, because I am Jewish,” said Brief-Fried, 25, who immigrated to Israel from Boston with her family at age 4. “But now we get orders all the time from Mormons, from Muslims, from people in Europe, Dubai, Saudi Arabia.”

That was 2015.

Now fast forward to 2017, Modest Fashion weeks have sprouted up in London and Jerusalem.  Vogue Arabia launched in March 2017 with Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia as it’s first editor. E-retailer The Modist, which perhaps is now the Muslim driven-ModLi, launched on International Women’s Day this year, based in London and Dubai.  As written in this great article on Racked, “According to its founder, Ghizlan Guenez, The Modist’s mission is “to empower a woman’s freedom of choice and to acknowledge how similar women across the world are, despite our diverse backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles.”

The Modist’s instagram account has already 22.5K followers, including myself.

Then you have Australian’s Chaya Chanin and Simi Polonsky’s The Frock growing more popular than ever with their fun, modest and vintage-inspired clothes.

As written in the Racked article: “With their Orthodox Jewish faith, Chaya Chanin and Simi Polonsky stood out even more. The sisters grew up on Congee Beach in Sydney, Australia — where the local dress code was “wear nothing.” “We were seven children and the seven of us were always covered up,” Chanin tells me. “Even when it was boiling outside and everyone was wearing bikinis.” To battle the stigma that was associated with their dress code, Chanin and Polonsky went to markets to find vintage items they could customize to fit their needs. “Over time, we became really good at it,” Polonsky said. “We gained a reputation for having a great sense of style, even as modest dressers.” Nowadays, the sisters run a successful New York-based clothing line called The Frock, which combines their clean and modern aesthetic with their convictions of modesty.”

I want to be free to say that Modest Fashion is both an emotional and feminist movement. Although it is now going to be more commercialized because of the spending power of the Muslim world, the soul behind the need for this fashion is personal, spiritual and a feminist one.  It is a movement where women all over the world, mainly, but not limited to, those who are closer to their respective faith, are succeeding to change, although in a small way, the direction of the fashion industry.

And for hair covering, which I barley touched here and I hope to more as time goes on, ModLi’s blog wrote a inspiring and informative article titled ״WHY DO WOMEN WEAR HEAD COVERINGS IN DIFFERENT RELIGIONS & CULTURES״ which just gets into the basics. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.

I would be happy to hear what Modest Fashion means to you, so please do leave comments.

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