Fashion

7 Modest Fashion Influencers Share What Their Style Means To Them

2021 is set to see modest fashion go even more mainstream.

Anniesa Hasibuan's 2016 NYFW show
Anniesa Hasibuan's 2016 NYFW show / Shutterstock
By Hiyah Zaidi

Anniesa Hasibuan's 2016 New York Fashion Week catwalk show began like any other. Rows of stylish onlookers sit facing one another, iPhones at the ready. The usual chatter and buzz fills the room as people take their seats. Suddenly, the lights dim, the music begins. From backstage emerges a glamorous model dressed in stunning soft colours, intricate details adorning every item. And she's wearing a hijab. Another model follows, wearing a similarly glamorous look complete with hijab. And another, and another – all wearing hijabs. As the models continue to file out, the music pulses like a drum that marks the coming of a new fashion era.

While modest fashion has existed for millennia, and has a rich and varied history, many consider 2016 particularly game-changing. Dubbed "the year of modest fashion," it saw several firsts take place. Not only did Hasibuan present her groundbreaking NYFW collection, but journalist Noor Tagouri posed for Playboy wearing a hijab in a first for the magazine; Halima Aden made waves in the U.S. by becoming the first hijabi contestant for Miss Minnesota; and Nura Afia became an ambassador for Cover Girl. The milestones these women achieved were built on the work of those before them. In 2015, for example, Mariah Idrissi was booked as H&M's first hijab-wearing model and, the year before that, Yada Golsharifi and Tamara Al Gabbani created a modest line for DKNY.

Anniesa Hasibuan's 2016 NYFW showShutterstock

Now, five years on from what was highlighted as a breakthrough year, the style has flourished into a billion dollar industry. Women have embraced their faith and the part it plays in their identity, and have become empowered by their clothing choices. In 2021, expect to see more models, influencers, and content creators than ever taking to social media to showcase their spin on modest fashion.

These women are proving that modest fashion has no single definition: it is unique to each wearer. Some make the hijab the focus – hence referring to it as hijabi or hijab fashion – while others look at it from a different angle. Whatever the approach, the common thread is that this is fashion designed with modesty in mind. I speak to seven of these creatives below about how they're bringing the style into the mainstream.

Sebina Hussain

Sebina Hussain is a digital content creator and consultant with more than 400k followers on Instagram. She’s been following the rise of contemporary modest fashion since 2016, having attended a show at Istanbul’s first ever Modest Fashion Week in May that year.

Speaking about the experience, she says "I was thrown into a space full of designers, models, celebrities, journalists, and creatives all focused on modest fashion and the Muslim market."

She continues "I remember having multiple conversations about how we wanted to normalise hijab, how we wanted the world to really recognise and see us and see that we were so much more than the scarves on our head.

"Fast forward four years and it is a totally different landscape, you have retail giants casting hijabi models in their shoots and the most anticipated runway shows being opened by hijabi models. It feels like it should be a celebration, a colliding of two worlds, a recognition finally of our voice as customers, of our spending power as consumers and of our style as women."

However, although Hussain is excited about the direction the movement is going in, she is also concerned about how it conflicts with her faith. For her, "hijabi" and "fashion" are "two words [that] don't sit together."

"It’s an oxymoron," she says. "For me the hijab, the veil, should be a demonstration of ones love and devotion to the Almighty, about simplicity and contentment in what one has already. Fashion on the other hand, in social media terms, is about trends, about looking good and feeling empowered, it’s fast paced and about branding and luxury and so many other complicated worldly notions. The two are complete parallels and yet I find myself lost in the middle, trying to navigate and balance, it’s a daily struggle."

For this reason, Hussain has taken 2020 to reflect on whether the message from modest fashion influencers has become too "diluted."

"My honest answer? Unless we take control of our voices and begin owning our hijabs and what they truly mean and stand for, I’m scared for the place that hijab and fashion could be headed."

Kamalia Hasni

Poet and content creator Kamalia Hasni, also known as Malie, began developing her approach to modest fashion around 2010 thanks to Tumblr. Having attended an Islamic school, she knew the basics (wearing tops long enough to cover her at the back, for example, and wearing arm socks to cover her wrists) but Tumblr opened a gateway to new, bold hijab styles.

From there, Malie became something of a “trendsetter” among her friends, she says – and she enjoyed it. Now she shares that trendsetting style with 5k followers (and counting).

“To me, hijabi fashion means I can show the rest of the world that Muslim women can still be fashionable even when we choose to wear a hijab. It means I can show that modest fashion is also stunning,” Malie tells me. “There are many types of hijabis and we all choose to dress differently and don different styles based on our definition of modesty and our personalities. Social media has definitely influenced the way I choose to dress because now I get to see more variety of hijabi fashion, and seeing a lot of hijabis confidently present themselves on social media often inspires me to be confident as well.”

She adds that the modest fashion movement on social media has also given her “the chance to bond with friends and other hijabis.”

Frishta

Frishta is a student and content creator who began wearing a hijab three years ago. Her style is modern and boundary-breaking yet still stays in the traditional confines of modest fashion.

Making the transition to wearing a hijab proved hard for Frishta, as at first she found it difficult to find her own sense of fashion. YouTube and Pinterest became a focus point of her research, where she says she found all sorts of different styles to inspire her.

“To me personally, hijabi fashion and modest fashion means staying true to myself and making sure that I am able to express myself in a way that I'm comfortable, and believe is correct for me,” Frishta tells me. She mentions Halima Aden and her recent departure from modelling because it conflicted with her religious beliefs. “It's really important to speak about staying true to who you are and to your values – especially if you’re a public figure,” Frishta says.

Malihah

Malihah wears the niqāb, an interpretation of the hijab which covers a person’s face. She tells me that her style has always been “eclectic” and a way to stand out in the crowd, and since converting to Islam six years ago, nothing has changed. “Even though there were many types of clothing I had to give up because of my new faith, I learned to master the art of making the traditional Islamic garments my own to express myself,” she says.

“What hijab fashion means to me is staying true to my faith and not compromising because of what society feels I should look like,” Malihah says. “When getting dressed, I always ask myself, can I pray wearing this? And if I can’t I simply won’t put it on.”

Malihah has found social media to be the perfect platform to “represent hijab and covering in the best way I know how by being an inspiration for a sister who may have struggles with wearing hijab.”

Bara’a Bolat

Bara’a Bolat, a digital content creator living in Austria, discovered ways to play with fashion at a young age. Her mother, a seamstress, was her “biggest inspiration.”

Bara’a says modest fashion is hard to define, as it’s a unique and subjective medium. For her personally, however, it’s about “much more than just a shell,” she says. “It underlines your character.”

Bara’a makes clear that hijabi fashion is not oppressive, but allows wearers to “shatter Western clichés.”

Looking to the future, she says “The so-called modest fashion movement is winning, especially due to the growing global Muslim clothing market. Thanks to the increasing purchasing power of this customer group, the West is taking notice of the demand for modest fashion for the first time. Brands such as DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, and Dolce & Gabbana have reacted to this with collections that are suitable for modest fashion. So if you ask me, the hijab fashion world has great potential to become even more visible and bigger in the future.”

Eileen Lahi

Eileen Lahi is a digital content creator with close to 500k followers. In 2018, she won Qatar’s influencer of the year award.

Although Lahi now inspires thousands of people on a daily basis with her wardrobe choices, fashion was never a big obsession of hers growing up. It was only when she converted to Islam that she began thinking consciously about her clothing and what it represented. Lahi says she had to “redefine” her thinking around beauty and beauty standards when she started dressing modestly.

“It was really hard for me to see myself as beautiful because my hair was always what pulled the entire look together,” she says. “It’s really difficult to get used to a completely different person looking at you from the mirror.”

It was the journey Lahi went on with modest fashion that amassed her such a big audience, she says.

“I never signed up to be a fashion influencer but it kind of just took that route on its own. As I was trying to figure out my style and my clothing, that's where a large chunk of my audience came from, because everyone at that time was struggling, especially people who had converted were going through this transformation.”

Looking to the future, Lahi says she wants to see the modest fashion movement continue to “grow and grow,” but also for the wearers to keep their focus on the real reasons why they choose to dress modestly. “I hope that people can hold on to their values and not lose them in this crazy world,” she says.

Nabeeha Fakih Sheikh

Nabeeha Fakih Sheikh is a Scottish modest fashion blogger who runs an account called The Urban Hijabee. “I’ve been a modest fashion enthusiast for as long as I can remember,” she tells me. For Fakih Sheikh, the hijab is the focus: “My hijab is my choice, and I choose to flaunt it as the core around which my interpretation of style is centered.”

She continues: “Hijabi fashion to me is more than just styling your outfits modestly, it’s a representation of a community that shares the same core beliefs.”

Speaking more specifically about The Urban Hijabee, Fakih Sheikh says: “I love the fact that I can use my social platforms to express my true self, while proudly flaunting my hijab, which is a symbol of my faith and a part of my identity. These platforms help me spread the message that wearing the hijab is a choice and not a sign of oppression, contrary to the stereotypical image that most people have. Wearing a hijab does not stop me from doing anything I want and achieving my goals.”

Through her blog, she aims to “promote self-love and empower women to not only accept but also flaunt their imperfections, allowing them to become the best versions of themselves by overcoming social boundaries.”