The image of the modest woman dressing in “frumpy” clothing is no longer the stereotype. Modest clothing is available not just through vendors catering to the Orthodox community, but also from mass-produced stores and even upscale designers, and can fit any budget.
From Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson collaborating with designer Sherri Hill to make modest “Daddy approved” prom dresses, to the maxi look in dresses and skirts, stylish, trendy and modest fashion is easier to acquire than ever before.
Affordable fashion such as Old Navy, Target, Zara and H&M, to high-end designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Badgley Mischka, Marc Jacobs and DKNY have all featured modest clothing in their recent clothing lines. DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger launched these lines as a nod to Muslim culture, with “Hijab inspired” apparel, with many of the fashions overlapping with the modest Jewish market.
So is modest apparel here to stay? “Trends of all kinds come and go,” explained Allison Josephs, found and director of Jew in the City, a nonprofit that seeks to rebrand Jewish Orthodoxy. “With all trends we are bombarded by the latest ‘it’ thing, and it’s possible that people will come to love the more modest fashion over time. But,” she added, “We’ve seen enough options in the other extreme to realize it is not going to change societal standards.”
Rachel Riss, founder and owner of LineaR Collection, a modest clothing company, has seen fashion moving toward the renewed interest in modesty as well. “Runways have been showcasing dresses in longer lengths and with flowy sleeves for a few years now. And what the runway models wear, fast fashion copies.” Having always been a fan of bohemian fashion herself, Riss launched her own line of maxi dresses that combined vintage fashion with a trendy edge, catering to Orthodox women like herself. While she worked primarily with the Orthodox and modest-clothing-seeking market, she also found people stopping her on the street to ask where to find copies of the dress she wore. “The nature of fashion is cyclical,” Riss observed, “Many designers looked to recapture the elegance of older decades, which takes us to the decades where fashion covered more.” Riss also explained that for some designers, more fabric provides more options and creative potential. Instead of a cap sleeve or a skinny strap, sleeves provide endless options to add onto a dress, and so much elegance to highlight what she refers to as “the aesthetic of the designer.”
“As modest shoppers, we tend to have a habit of buying and hoarding modest apparel when we find it,” said Josephs. “We fear it won’t be there when we actually need that longer skirt or fashionable knee-length dress.” But Josephs and Riss both observed that modest fashion is more accessible than in the past, with elegant finds that fit the Orthodox lifestyle no longer a chance occurrence, but actually a frequent find. Riss pointed out that in the past decade, almost every major awards show has featured at least one celebrity in a modest gown. Even Angelina Jolie has appeared at numerous events in beautiful gowns that would fit in at any simcha.
Alene Brodsky, co-owner of Carly’z Craze in Teaneck, had another view on why more women are buying modest clothing. “Women are more empowered these days. They are more comfortable in their own skin and in their style choices,” claimed Brodsky. Brodsky and her co-owner, Wendy Borodkin, definitely know a thing or two about how women and girls choose their clothing. Their store stocks everything from school dress-code requirements to European fashion for Shabbos, and they constantly take feedback from their customers to help cater to their needs and wants in a shopping experience. Women look for the “opportunity to enjoy shopping for clothing that makes them feel great and fashionable, while keeping their religious or other modesty requirements.”
Many parents often lament the lack of options for their children, but there is hope for outfitting girls, too. “Sometimes, making an outfit modest is all about perspective on the clothing,” shared Dassie Fuchs, of Petit Chic children’s clothing boutique. “What the rest of the world calls ‘beachwear’ we throw a shell under it and have a maxi dress.” Fuchs reminds parents to be sensitive to the fact that summer is about an “easy, breezy” feel to clothing, too. “Knee-length flare skirts are very in. Pencil skirts have become harder to find,” Fuchs explained, “And flare skirts are always a perfect choice for summer fun. With the comfort and movement they provide, as well as the requisite length, children and adults can make stylish and comfortable choices.”
Whether shoppers stick to stores that cater to modest shoppers, or choose to try their luck at a department store, odds are in their favor that they will have many options to choose from. While many women still feel the need to cave and “hoard” their modest finds, as Josephs observed, the reality is that, for now, modest clothing exists. With so many options, everyone’s unique style and personality can still show through in their fashion tastes.
By Jenny Gans