By Aymen Sherwani, June 15 2022—
For many women, dressing modestly is a huge part of their faith, culture or personal comfortability. Layering, for many people — myself included — is a failsafe to looking chic, covered up and put together, but what do you do when it’s 35 degrees Celsius in the middle of August and you still want to look cute for a day out with your friends? While it’s relatively easy to be both stylish and comfortably modest in the colder months, doing so becomes quite the challenge as spring and summer approach, particularly when one is living in a society that hypersexualizes women and places pressure on them to conform to a certain physical standard of beauty. While there is nothing wrong with covering up or showing skin, either modes of fashion should be readily accessible for women so they are able to stay comfortable in their own bodies, rather than being expected to dress a certain way during the warmer months and looking frumpy if they do otherwise. The lack of retail clothing options that are readily available for women that do choose to cover up is very telling of this problem. With the understanding that modesty rests on a spectrum, here is a highly subjective guide to dressing modestly without breaking the bank.
For many hijabi women — which I, myself, was at one point in my life — shopping for spring and summer can be a total nightmare if they do choose to observe religious guidelines attributed to clothes. Walking into Zara is great for the fall and winter, yes, but when it’s hot? Every cute sundress you pick out is sleeveless and every shirt is a crop-top or a square neck. A quick fix would definitely be to layer a cardigan on top of a sleeveless dress or layer another shirt underneath a cropped or tube top — but at that point you’re compromising comfortability for being covered up and ruining the rest of your day. Try, to the best of your ability, to get as close to one layer as you can by wearing maxi dresses or summery lounge sets.
While brands like Zara definitely do have affordable options, there are also brands readers should look to that are completely focused on catering to the modest fashion audience like the New York-based Veiled Collection, and international retailers like Modanisa and Touché Privé — both based in Istanbul.
Avoid heat-absorbing fabrics:
It’s so tempting to recycle outfits from the fall when summer rolls around — but wearing winter fabrics is quite possibly the worst thing you can do to your body in the heat. Yes, fall clothes are longer and considered to be more modest, but they’re also unreasonably thick. Instead, opt for breezier fabrics like cotton, linen and — if the occasion calls for it — silk. The issue stands that a lot of summery clothes are inaccessible because they’re often cropped — an easy fix is to play around with the lengths of tops and bottoms. A classic white linen or cotton blouse with an exciting pair of sleeves is one of the most versatile and foundational pieces to anyone’s wardrobe — whether you pair it with a midi skirt or some thin, high-waisted pants, you’re guaranteed to not overheat and still make a statement.
Avoid heat-absorbing colours:
I consider wearing an all-black outfit to be a personality trait of mine, and when summer rolls around, one would call it my Achilles’ heel. There have been many a time where I would rather die in 35 degree heat — in the middle of wildfire season — than not look like Robert Pattinson’s Batman. That version of me is dead and buried six feet beneath a pile of pastel-coloured clothes. Many are under the assumption that ‘vibrant colours aren’t modest’ — that’s not modesty, that’s misogyny. Embracing traditionally-feminine colours like pastel-pink or even fuchsia is not immodest. Wanting to stand out, while also embracing your religious or cultural guidelines for clothing is not immodest — particularly if you’re staying cooler and feeling confident.
Wear breezier silhouettes:
Do you ever feel like your clothes are wearing you, rather than you wearing your clothes? That overstimulating feeling of fabric rubbing against your skin and making you uncomfortably aware of yourself? During summer, looser silhouettes are better, as wearing more clothes on top of a head covering like a hijab or turban naturally makes you more prone to heat. Think of a white dress you could wear during a day out on the lake — think Grecian water nymph vibes. To shop this aesthetic, search for keywords like “a-line maxi” or “cotton/linen beach maxi.” If you’re a Bridgerton fan, you’ll be pleased to hear that empire waistlines are back in style — or what I would refer to as the dress version of high-waisted pants. Cinched above the natural waistline, this regency-era silhouette is perfect for a classy, summer soirée.
Wearing pants is a hassle altogether when it’s hot outside and all you want to do is give yourself a little extra ventilation down there. However, not many women who dress modestly ascribe to the same level of femininity that allows for skirts and dresses. Some would prefer to exercise gender neutrality and pants fall into their realm of comfortability. In that case, wide leg silhouettes like palazzos and even harem pants — loose throughout but tapered at the ankle — are all more heat-resistant alternatives to jeans or dress pants that will feel like the pits of hell outside any room with an air conditioner.
At the end of the day, knowing where to shop and which keywords to use are everything. Shopping in an environment that does not traditionally cater to your comfortability causes added levels of frustration because — with retailers — you are often forced to accommodate in ways that compromise the overall integrity of your style. We hope that readers can use this guide to effortlessly create their summer wardrobe without breaking a sweat or the bank.
This article is a part of our Voices section.