Women Who Dress Modestly Are Using Shoes to Express Themselves

When DKNY released its inaugural Ramadan collection in 2014, the line was the first of its kind for a major U.S. fashion brand. It marked a turning point in how Western fashion brands address and approach “modest fashion” — a term whose meaning varies by user but is generally a style of dress that provides fuller body coverage, revealing less skin. In the years since, several other labels were sparked to introduce iterations of their own, including Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Monique Lhuillier and Dolce & Gabbana. Even Nike tapped into the Muslim market with its game-changing Pro Hijab, which was released globally in December.

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Models wearing Coliac shoes in The Modist’s campaign image.
CREDIT: Courtesy of The Modist

According to a 2016-17 “State of the Global Islamic Economy” report by Thomson Reuters, the Muslim market for global apparel spend should hit $368 billion by 2021.

With these specially designed products focusing on being loose and breathable, and featuring longer hemlines and traditional Eastern-inspired pieces, what does the modest-fashion movement mean for shoes? “With footwear, it’s about being as expressive as possible, using embellishment and rich colors to add personality. The women of the region express themselves through accessories — footwear, namely,” said Alberto Oliveros, GMM of Level Shoes.

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Models wearing Coliac shoes in The Modist’s campaign image.
CREDIT: Courtesy of The Modist

The company is one of the primary footwear platforms to serve this industry. For the past few years, its “Ramadan Edit” has provided a curated guide of designer shoes suitable for the month’s various events.

In 2015, the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based retailer collaborated with Oscar de la Renta on a Ramadan capsule of embroidered mules. The bright purple, yellow, emerald and magenta colors of that palette speak to the bold, expressive ways in which footwear companies should position themselves, according to insiders.

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Neous is one of The Modist’s key shoe brands.
CREDIT: Courtesy of The Modist

Where apparel designers must tread lightly in any offering deemed modest or Ramadan-appropriate — especially since criticism has arisen over the years that styles are too casual or not modest enough — with shoes, the strategy is essentially reversed.

Noon by Noor, which introduced its first Ramadan collection last April in collaboration with the high-end Dubai-based store BySymphony, understands how critical accessories are in complementing its kaftan styles. “Shoes are an important factor in the equation of styling. Even when dressing modestly, they can serve as the focal point of an ensemble. But if ‘modesty’ is seen as synonymous with ‘understated,’ then a low heel or slip-ons may do the trick,” said designer and co-founder Shaikha Noor Rashid Al Khalifa, CEO. Noon by Noor, which in April presented its second collection for the holy month, also stresses balance. “A modest look may require shoes with a touch of sparkle, while an elaborate kaftan may require shoes that are understated,” said designer and co-founder Shaikha Haya Mohammed Al Khalifa, COO.

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Noon by Noor recommends both glamorous and practical shoes to match its Ramadan collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Noon by Noor

Luxury e-commerce website The Modist is dedicated to offering contemporary pieces for a spectrum of women who identify as modest dressers (as well as style seekers who don’t necessarily prescribe to a particular aesthetic). As such, the platform invests in emerging favorites such as Neous and Malone Souliers, as well as more seasoned labels like Clergerie and Common Projects. “For us, in terms of women who choose to dress modestly and identify as modest dressers, you can wear sandals and any type of footwear. It’s where you can push the button and have fun,” said Sasha Sarokin, fashion and buying director at The Modist.

The company, like Level Shoes, also creates occasion-ready shoe edits in an array of heel heights. “[For Ramadan] shine, beautiful colors, jewel tones and special elements make the shoes that much more appealing. We’ve taken a point of view on being celebratory of fashion, so our edit is on the bolder side,” said Sarokin.

Over the course of 30 days, Muslims observe the ninth month of the Islamic calendar by fasting from sunrise to sunset and gathering for celebrations. With the emphasis during this sacred time on intensive worship, appropriate footwear for the weeks of prayer and camaraderie is paramount. “Style during Ramadan is laid-back, so mules or flats are perfect,” said Oliveros.

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Modest fashion blogger Summer Albarcha wearing Zara mules.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Summer Albarcha

While Ramadan is a key entryway to speak to the Muslim community, insiders agree that having an all-encompassing message is the wider objective. Popular modest-fashion blogger Summer Albarcha, who herself has modeled for Express, concurs. “Any inclusivity is good even if you have some cons. But the bigger picture is that [outside of] sales, a mainstream lifestyle company is taking part in something,” she said.

Franka Soeria founded Modest Fashion Weeks, a series of international events, for that exact purpose: inclusion. “We wanted to bring a professional event to the modest-fashion industry that can connect designers/brands and create a global platform. Before we started in 2016, everything was done in a bazaarlike manner,” said Soeria.The series kicked off in Istanbul, followed by London last April and Dubai this past December. It heads for Jakarta, Indonesia, in July.

Oliveros said the industry should recognize that modest dressing is not a trend; “it’s a lifestyle and should be embraced.”

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