The Evolution of Modest Clothing

by Cindy Chen

The History Of Modest Fashion

Modest dress is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle. From the early times of religion to the runway, modest fashion is everywhere. 

According to Forbes, modest fashion is gaining popularity in the fashion industry due to social media and e-commerce. By 2021, consumer spending on modest clothing is “expected to reach $368 billion.” 

Are you a consumer of modest fashion, or are you interested in learning more about its history? If so, keep reading this article to find out more. 

What Is Modest Fashion?

Modest fashion generally refers to a style of fashion in which garments are loose-fitting, long-sleeved, and do not expose too much skin. When individuals choose to wear modest clothing, it is mainly based on their own personal preference to do so, and it also could be for religious reasons.    

In certain religions, modest dressing is advised in holy scriptures. Specifically, the Islamic faith emphasizes modesty through specific clothing. Modest clothing is also found in other religions, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Amish Mennonite, Orthodox Judaism, and Christianity.

Throughout time, modest fashion has had a major role in society within different religions and time periods. The variety of modest silhouettes continue to be a part of this time period. 

Modest Fashion In The Early Islamic Empire 

Historically, modest fashion can be traced all the way back to the eighth-century Islamic Empire. At the very beginning of the Islamic Empire, clothing was simple and modest mainly for religious reasons. Men and women at the time wore similar styles to each other. 

Historically, garments in the Middle East have remained the same for centuries due to the climate. Individuals had to protect themselves from the desert, and the scorching hot sun. 

According to Encylopedia, “An undergarment, a long shirt, a long gown or tunic, and an overgarment such as a mantle, coat, or wrap were worn with shoes or sandals and head coverings.” These examples show that people dressed modestly on a daily basis in this time period. 

During this time in the early Islamic Empire, clothing was used by individuals to convey rank, status, profession, and faith. 

Modest Silhouettes Of The Ottoman Empire

Modest fashion has usually been associated with religion but is gaining more non-religious consumers as well. People around the world choose to dress modestly for comfort and for their own personal preference. 

One of history's longest dynasties, the Ottoman Empire lasted for more than 600 years. Drawing inspiration from Islam, the Ottoman Empire dates back to the fourteenth century. Some of its modest clothing for women is still a staple in most closets around the globe.

Trousers - Women in the Ottoman Empire wore trousers on a daily basis in the Ottoman Empire. Trousers were loose, baggy, cut off at the ankle, and tied with a cord at the waist. Trousers were ideal to wear during this time period because it was easy for women to be protected from the elements.

Caftan - The caftan is a long robe that cuts off at the calves, ankle, or under the knees. Worn all around the world in different variations, this garment shares the same style of a robe/tunic. This garment was very popular in the Ottoman Empire and some were adorned with elaborate designs like fur and worn frequently by the wealthy. 

Veils + Head Coverings - Scarves and veils came in a variety of different colors and shapes throughout the Ottoman Empire. The veil concealed a woman’s hair a when going out in public. Wearing a hijab meant setting boundaries and devotion to God. The wearing of veils and head coverings continues today for faith, fashion and both in some cases.

Modest Silhouettes Of The Elizabethan Era

From 1558 to 1603, Elizabeth I was the Queen of England and the nation’s most powerful woman. She was a trendsetter during her reign, as her style was extravagant and influential for many generations to come. 

Did you know that Elizabethans were not allowed to wear their favorite clothing? Clothing and apparel were dictated by the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws, which controlled what people wore based on their social status and wealth. 

During this time period, women’s fashion took inspiration from men. One of the major styles people wanted to achieve was a “geometric silhouette.” This included broad shoulders and a slim waist. 

Long Gowns - Geometric shapes were the rage. To achieve this look, women wore a lot of garments under their long gowns. Women wore padding, rolls, farthingales, then finally an overskirt attached to a bodice. These “gowns” were floor-length and extra layers of clothing were added to create a modest look.

Ruff - The ruff is one of the most known garments of the Elizabethan Era. Ruffs are elaborate high frilled collars worn by both men and women. The ruff sits right on the neck and is only worn once due to its fragility. The stiffness of the ruff forced upright posture on the body, which eventually became a symbol of wealth and status. Traditional clergy of the Anglican church can still be seen wearing a modest ruff. 

Separate Sleeves - During this time period, sleeves became a separate garment. Sleeves came in a variety of different styles, some with padding, and ruffles.

Cloak - Cloaks were worn as outer garments for women, often worn to layer over long gowns. Cloaks came in a variety of many styles, lengths, and fits.

Hats - Women wore hats as part of their ensembles. Hats were adorned with either a veil, caul, or coif. Hats made sure women covered their hair. 

Modest Silhouettes Of The Victorian Era

Queen Victoria’s reign started in 1837 and ended in 1901. Fashion during this time period was similar to Queen Elizabeth I’s Era. The clothing of the Victorian Era was very modest as women were considered "frail" during this time period. To protect women from unwanted attention and overbearing men, women wore many layers of clothing. 

The waist of women was kept small, and long skirts were worn to create a geometric shape on the body. Necklines on bodices sat high on the torso, and puffy sleeves were the rage. 

Wealthy women of the time followed Queen Victoria’s lead when it came to clothing. Like Queen Elizabeth I, women’s fashion during this period was heavily influenced by men’s clothing. 

Fichu - A handkerchief made from linen that is often edged with lace. It was then worn over the shoulders and tied, pinned, or tucked into the front of a dress bodice.

Jabot - The Jabot was originally designed to be partially visible through a vest. As they were attached to a man's shirt, the frills of the jabot resembled neckwear. Later in the century, it was reinvented as a women's fashion accessory and often made of lace or cambric, secured with a brooch, allowing it to be modest. 

Skirts - Skirts during this time period were floor-length, connected to the bodice, and were very voluptuous. Underneath skirts were crinolines that were eventually phased out. 

Modest Clothing In Mainstream Fashion

Inclusiveness is crucial in the fashion industry. Fashion designers and retailers realize that there is a large market for modest fashion out there, and are creating collections to meet those who dress moderately. 

In 2017, Nike launched its first-ever performance hijab for Muslim female athletes. Retailers followed to produce modest clothing for their consumers. 

Luxury designers are also launching modest clothing collections. Dolce & Gabbana unveiled a ready-to-wear collection for Ramadan this past April. Versace, Chanel, Balenciaga, for example, all featured their interpretation in their collections, of hijabs and veils. 

Modest Clothing Collection At Ameera

Our founder Ameera Hammouda values modest dressing as a Muslim American-Egyptian woman. Growing up, Ameera was unable to find clothing that satisfied both her modesty and style requirements, oftentimes having to choose to compromise one or the other. 

There is a preconceived notion that modest clothing is “boring.” Ameera wanted to change that, so she launched her namesake brand to allow women to dress stylishly while maintaining modesty. 

At AMEERA, our primary mission is to create clothing that is modest, yet stylish without compromise. Our clothing is designed for everyone, regardless of how covered you prefer to be. We put the emphasis on versatility, comfort, and practicality. 

Our company is history in the making, as AMEERA launched this past June. We unveiled our debut collection this year called, “The First One.” All garments are handmade and made to order, featuring biodegradable, machine washable silk, carbon positive hemp fabric, and sustainable notions. 

We are so thankful to our donors who helped launch this dream. From our founding, we want to pay it forward. Proceeds from every sale are donated to different charities each month.

Check out this month’s charity here, and shop our modest clothing on our website.