Modest fashion has exploded over the past two years. It’s become a $250 billion global industry. The Muslim market alone accounts for $44 billion, which has enticed big names like Macy’s and Nike to launch hijab lines. And as if we needed any further proof that modesty has gone mainstream—Sports Illustrated recently featured Muslim model Halima Aden in a hijab and burkini in the pages of its notoriously titillating swimsuit issue.
But the driving force behind the uptick is the hundreds of social media influencers and fashion designers stylishly showcasing the trend. Here in L.A. these women come from predominantly Muslim and Orthodox Jewish faiths, but they’re reaching an ever-widening audience that sees covering up in the age of Trump and the #MeToo movement as a way of deflecting the male gaze and a path to self-empowerment.
Marwa Atik, cofounder of Vela scarves, an L.A. hijab line, says that though the brand initially marketed to hijabis in the beginning, that’s changed. “Throughout the years we’ve learned that some of our loyal customers happen to be Jewish or Christian, so we’ve expanded the idea of our brand to be modest,” she says. “We have women who choose to wear [our scarves] as hijabs, and some who choose to wear [them] as beach wraps, and I think that’s beautiful. It generates positive conversations around modesty, interfaith, and connecting the dots between different communities.”
Rachel Riss, founder of Linear Collection, says her signature maxi dresses are popular with Orthodox Jewish women, but she has clients from all walks of life. “That’s what’s cool about clothing,” says Chaya Israily, a Jewish designer and founder of the label Solika. “It’s a very neutral subject, and it brings people together.”
Others see covering up as a form of self-empowerment. For L.A. native Marwa Biltagi, a Muslim Irish-Palastinian Instagram influencer (@mademoisellememe), dressing modestly isn’t about catering to her more than 26,000 followers but an exercise in choice. “I think modesty is the way I empower myself because it’s the representation that I put out to the world,” she says. That’s a philosophy Atik agrees with. “There’s definitely that feeling of power that comes with wearing a really sexy dress and being proud of your body,” she says, “and there’s that other realm of women who feel more empowered in sneakers than high heels.”
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