Going the modest route

April 24, 2022

With the demand for modest wear increasing, Instep investigates how the fashion concept is back in vogue

Sania Maskatiya
Sania Maskatiya


odest fashion was once an alien concept for the international fashion industry. However, the last couple of decades have seen a slow but steady shift towards modest fashion, the market for which has grown so much that forecasts put its worth at over a trillion dollars over the next few years. That’s huge, right?

Modest wear has defined fashion and style for quite some time now. The reasons may vary – from cultural or religious to comfort or personal values – this trend of oversized, boxy cuts as well as layered silhouettes has developed into a lucrative market.

There was a time when modest dressing was deemed boring. In fact, adding glamour to a modest look, or styling it was indeed a challenge because the very essence of modest wear lies in voluminous silhouettes. The more covered up, the better. Over time though, the style has been adapted and translated into more contemporary sartorial vernacular: you will see more ‘relax-fit’, longer buttons downs and tops, and more midi dresses with sleeves and the option to button the neckline up.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, fitted clothing was more common; darts and zippers made for the most figure-hugging kam-eezes, and sleeveless options offered another cut into fashion. Now, it is all about covering yourself up wearing floor-length dresses, oversized clothing, and wide-legged trousers; and amazingly, this does not look as frumpy as it may sound.

The Modest wear collection by Sania Maskatiya is all about pure fabrics, beautiful prints and their signature embroideries
The Modest wear collection by Sania Maskatiya is all about pure fabrics, beautiful prints and their signature embroideries

The same goes for abayas: as the market for this traditional Middle-Eastern coverup expanded, so did the options to select from. Gone are the days of the black-or-navy-only abaya; current palettes offer a wide and pleasing variety of colors as well as cuts and embellishments, making the abaya more stylish than it has ever been.

Director Operations & Design at Generation, Khadija Rahman told Instep earlier this year that, “it was more of a widespread cultural change that brought about the demand for more modest clothing.” This definitely holds true.

A large percentage of women in Pakistan also opt for modest wear because they feel comfortable as well as safe wearing loose-fitted, covered apparel. As any woman walking the streets of Pakistan knows, one needs to be extra thick-skinned and hyper-aware when revealing even a hint of a curve.

Speaking from personal experience, modest wear is also very accommodating of plus-sized consumers. The looser fits are a welcome transition from the dupattas that draped and hid our perceived flaws, while being a stylish part of any outfit.

Retail brand, Sapphire introduced their modest wear line for women last year offering a range of double layered abayas, hijabs, and Kimono-style kaftans.
Retail brand, Sapphire introduced their modest wear line for women last year offering a range of double layered abayas, hijabs, and Kimono-style kaftans.

If we take a look at women fashion in Pakistan, we will realize that over the years ankle-length dresses, baggy kurtas and angarkhas have made their way back into our wardrobes, be it for casual or formal wear. Women who preferred wearing abayas are now going for these chicer options to cover themselves up. Not just the shirts but shalwars, culottes and baggy pants or pyjamas have come back into fashion too. And there is no doubt these not just look good but are extremely comfortable as well.

Pakistani labels have caught up quite quickly to the trend. Last year, Sapphire introduced their modest wear line for women. The brand introduced a range of double layered abayas, hijabs, and Kimono-style kaftans in various colors.

Just a month ago, renowned couturier Sania Maskatiya, who is best known for her intricate designs, versatile prints and fine craftsmanship, launched her modest wear line. Sania Maskatiya is the first and only Pakistani designer to have showcased her collections at New York Fashion Week thrice.

Speaking with Instep about her recently launched range and the idea behind it, the designer shares, “Honestly, we wanted to get into this for quite some time now. A lot of our existing clients wear abayas and we have been doing luxury pret for years, so you can say that it’s just a natural progression to get into modest wear.”

She further went on to say, “We had our own take on it and our own aesthetic for it which we have tried to introduce into the market. And finally, we launched an introductory capsule collection in March which we will continue to build on.”

When we asked on what inspired her to launch her capsule collection of abayas, Sania Maskatiya reveals, “Just like any of our collections we made sure to research market trends before venturing into modest wear only to see what people liked and preferred to wear. Then we kind of aligned it with our own signature aesthetic, such as using high quality, pure fabrics, going for prints and our signature embroideries and much more. In short, a lot of research and development goes into launching any collection and we did the same for our modest wear range.”

She continued, “We have introduced versatile pieces that you can mix and match. Some abayas come with scarves and others don’t. Basically, our modest wear range is all about our signature Sania Maskatiya cuts and attention to detail. What we have tried to do is fuse modernity with tradition, keeping the focus on simple and elegant cuts.”

Though modest fashion might have stemmed majorly because of religious reasons, we can’t deny that in recent times the aesthetic has taken a whole new dimension. Also known as covered-up fashion, the styles are chic enough to turn heads. Not to forget the headscarf, usually worn with abayas, burqas or even otherwise, has also become acceptable as far as western fashion is concerned. Some of the brands that are selling headscarves include Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana and many others.

Even in Pakistan, headscarves have evolved over time. Gone are the days of plain black or white scarves. We now have colourful, embroidered or delicately designed headscarves to go with every outfit so women can mix and match with their outfits accordingly. In fact, the way these headscarves are worn has changed over time too. There are various ways to fashionably wear a scarf and look extremely trendy and elegant.

Remember when the hijab-wearing Muslim model, Halima Aden made headlines in 2017? She walked the ramp for Kanye West’s New York Fashion Week showcase, and sashayed down the runway for designers Maxmara and Alberta Ferretti in Milan. However, last year she announced that she was quitting the fashion industry as she felt modeling compromised her religious beliefs.

H&M’s spring 2022 collection features a series of flowy modest wear.
H&M’s spring 2022 collection features a series of flowy modest wear.

Quite recently, retail giant H&M unveiled its spring 2022 collection which is perfect for both spring and summer but most importantly the latest range offers a series of flowy modest wear. Moreover, it was quite interesting to learn that the brand is calling its spring collection “a vibrant celebration of individuality.”

While talking about modest wear and the growing trend that has taken over almost the entire world, we couldn’t resist asking Maskatiya what she thinks is the scope for modest wear? “To be honest, I think there is a lot of scope for modest clothing,” Sania responds.

This brought us to the question on how the response on her modest wear line has been. The designer shares, “I don’t know what the response would be like because it’s a brand new collection that we launched in March 2022. Having said that, lot of Pakistani women wear abayas and they are always on the lookout for new, trendy stuff. So, for now everyone is liking it and we are getting plenty of orders for abayas and headscarves.”

The fact is that women are making conscious choices to dress a bit conservatively. Pakistani retail brands including the likes of Outfitters, Lama Retail, Beechtree, Dinara and many others, have released collections featuring baggy, loose dresses that are perfect for someone who wears a hijab.

Women have now widely opted for androgynous designs and more loose-fitted outfits with long sleeves and sherwani collars etc. It may be because dressing up modestly but stylishly has gained popularity over the years and women want to look on-trend or because they feel safer while physically covering themselves up. Whatever the reason may be, modest fashion is the new trend and women, especially in Pakistan, are adhering to it and we hear no complaints.

Going the modest route