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Modesty makes a comeback…again

05.07.08 | Comment?


Came across an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune’s print edition this morning (unfortunately, the link is not working on their website) entitled “Backlash rises against revealing clothes”, which details the move back towards more modest clothing styles in the fashion world. The piece profiled the group Pure Fashion, described as “an international faith-based program that recognizes ‘true beauty’”.

On its website, the organization offers “modesty guidelines” defining what it considers acceptable dress (e.g. “no very thin or sheer material” for shirts and “no very short and/or tight shorts”).

It’s interesting that this initiative is coming from a faith-based group. Critics may argue that this is hardly surprising, since religions are patriarchal and have always deemed women’s bodies the property of their fathers and husbands, thus the emphasis on modesty in dress and behavior, a virtue meant to keep women in their passive place.

I can see where this argument comes from. After all, where is Pure Fashion for men, right? Here’s my personal comeback: women’s bodies have been sexualized and fetishized for centuries in a way that men’s bodies haven’t. It’s even worse today with the advent of global media, ranging from Hollywood films featuring half-naked hot actresses to porn sites on the web. The fashion industry leads the way (which interestingly is led by men, for the most part - Oscar, Karl, Simon, etc.) churning out clothes meant to reveal and reminding the rest of us what we must conceal, from flabby thighs to stretch marks.

In today’s world, I’d argue the purveyors of patriarchy in the industrialized world are not religious figures. Rather, it’s the fashion world’s male designers, who make millions off of women’s bodies and their anxieties about beauty and body image.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why the latest faith-based modesty movement is being led by women: we, women who believe in a Higher Power, affirm that a woman is not defined by what she wears, how much of any body part she has or doesn’t; we believe that modesty is in line with the emancipating belief that, as Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, so beautifully said: “God does not look at your bodies or your forms…but He looks at your hearts”. (Bukhari, Muslim).

That said, I believe, as the Quran makes expressly clear (24:30-31), that the equation of modesty in any society works like this: modest man + modest woman = modest society.

So modesty is making a comeback not only because the fashion gods and goddesses deem it so. It’s also making a comeback because those of us who believe in a Higher Power, One Who, by the way, is neither male nor female, have always affirmed that inner beauty is what counts in the greater scheme of things. This doesn’t make us old fashioned. Rather, modern fashion is just catching up to this radical idea…for now. 

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