One thing I find stifling about fashion and style is the rules. Never do this, always do that. Then you see models on the street breaking every one of those rules and people oohing and ahhing. Piffle!
If you saw this outfit at your local craft show, it would be considerably less fashionable.
Jenny Holzer hits the nail on the head.
Which brings me to my next point: trust yourself. If you’re not wealthy or a 19-year-old haute couture model, it doesn’t mean your judgement is any less valuable.
There’s a lot of pompous debate over what art is, but my feeling is that art is what we like, what speaks to us, and style is the same. Fashion is an art, after all. Not just haute couture but what we wear every day. Our consciousness and choices to make it our own truly elevate it.
Forget the rules about colour or dressing for your age or any of the fashion police nonsense. Particularly forget about the modesty police, from both sides. If your conscience is clean, if you aren’t using modesty to judge others or out-pious others or put on a virtuous appearance when you don’t really believe it’s right… trust yourself.
There will always, always be critics, no matter who you are. Let their criticism roll off your back. Get your priorities straight and let your values come before others’ chitchat.
Now, to the clothing!
It’s advantageous to have a full length mirror with another mirror across from it, or at least a hand mirror. Having a friend or loved one to discuss things with and take pictures is also handy. The need for these may well fade away as you grow more confident in your taste and your wardrobe.
When you shop in a store, try on everything you like at all. Bring leggings and a long sleeved undershirt in your bag for those stores that force you to examine yourself in public. Just see how it feels, how it hangs. Don’t say, “It’s not my colour… I’m too fat… it won’t flatter my shape… there’s an obstacle…” It’s free to try things, for Heaven’s sake, and thank goodness too. It’s a perfect chance to learn more about yourself, even when it’s immodest clothing.
Also try styling things differently. Tuck things in, pull them out. Tie a scarf around your waist or wear it differently around your neck or hair. Fold your turtleneck down perfectly or scrunch it. Wear new things together and layer things that you probably shouldn’t. Experimenting is also free!
When you’re experimenting, think of it like a brainstorming session: no idea is a bad idea. If something doesn’t work but catches your eye, take a picture and come back to it. Try to identify what it made you feel and what you noticed, as well as what didn’t work. The lines? The colours? The textures? Try replicating that some other way and fixing what didn’t work. Of course, when you find something you love, take a picture of that too!
We get caught up in how our community dresses, whether that means looking like the other women at our mosque or church or whether it means wanting to not stand out from the mainstream too dreadfully.
My father went to a church with a quite distinct hair code for ladies, even young girls: straight or slightly wavy hair was preferred. Naturally curly hair was acceptable as long as it was always corralled in a bun or ponytail(a headband alone was insufficient.) In fact, women generally needed their hair corralled, with even older ladies wearing barrettes or headbands. Older ladies with permed hair had a Testimony: they’d been a wild child during youth but had now come to Jesus. Anything that didn’t fit in with this code marked you as an outsider and typically as needing saving, or “better” saving.
It’s natural to want to fit in. We all need and deserve an accepting community. It’s also important to share your natural talents and joys: be bold in your modesty. Inspire others to see the joy in modesty as well. Modesty entails humility, something I struggle with yet delight in, in a way not unlike parenting. Remembering that it’s not about me is freeing.
In any case, my loves, it’s for you to find your balance. We all are wading against the current as it is.
But one word of caution, I’m sure you know: some forms of covering the head are associated with certain religions or groups, and it’s poor form to wear them without changing enough about them that even the most ignorant passerby would not take you for a member if you are not.
The most obvious example is traditionally Muslim styles.
Traditionally Muslim. (From Flickr.)
Not obviously Muslim.
Traditional tichel, the Jewish headwrap. (In America or many Western countries, it’s less likely people will recognise this unless you live in an Orthodox neighbourhood.)
Less obviously tichel.
Yeah, don’t try to imitate that. It’s not cool, or really feasible.
The world is yours, however, when it comes to finding your style and a modesty that feels joyful and light. I have found that modest women are a sisterhood and we are usually quite helpful and caring to one another, regardless of who we are and why we cover. I’m proud to share that!
What’s your experience been with modesting outside the lines, mainstream or in your religious community? What have you been afraid to try?