By Chandrea Serebro
Modest fashion is no longer just housedresses and shapeless hair coverings. A look around the streets of religious neighbourhoods in New York and London will quickly dispel the notion that it’s not all drab and no fab. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that more ‘modest’ fashion is hitting the street in a big way, from the runways of New York to the cat walks of Milan, with internationally renowned designers unknowingly embracing the Jewish tenets of modesty, and through Jewish fashionistas who, using the trends as inspiration, incorporate more coverage into their styles and create an orthodox fashion that has fast become its own trend. And when I say orthodox fashion, I’m not referring to the gartel and the tzitzis strings (although, with time and some lateral thinking, and in the hands of a feisty fashionista, who knows what can happen – as can be seen from the H&M tallis-style scarf that did the rounds on social media and quickly prompted an apology), but rather the art of tznius, modesty, and the idea that more can be, well, more rather than less. And more it certainly is, keeping up with the modern fashions and making them our own by lengthening skirts, adding inches to sleeves, and, in short, adding some Jewish flair.
Frum fashion blogs, designers, and fashionistas have taken the world’s Jewish princesses by storm, some becoming overnight sensations, catching the eye of more than just the local rebbetzin. And these trendsetters are bringing the revolution to the world, helping women, Jewish and non-Jewish, find more modest ways of expressing their sense of style, their beauty (both inner and outer), at the same time as keeping in trend. Like stylist and fashion blogger Adi Heyman, who through her blog Fabologie is bringing high fashion to the Jewish world with inspired ways of making it modest without killing the fit or the feel. She started out as an anonymous Facebook page that showcased trendy modern looks that were also modest, and the appeal grew so much that she created her blog showcasing fashion and lifestyle and which even covers the weekly parsha. And as a stylist and fashionista, she has charted the broader industry’s move toward more modest fashion, which might just be a trend for the moment but which has made way for some more orthodox fashions to find the spotlight. Take Australian sister-design-duo Chaya Chanin and Simi Polonsky from the venerated The Frock, a line of slip dresses that has taken the barely there old classic slip dress to the more “tznius-but-ever-cool you can’t help but notice me status”. “Creating modern must-haves for the modest fashion-minded woman” is what they do, and they have become a household name for fashion-conscious Jewish women as well as those who are up-and-coming in the broader fashion world, having been featured in Vogue and New York Times, among others.
Layering, pairing, juxtaposing, dressing up, and dressing down are all the rage, and even classic designs are being reinvented with the tznius makeover. It’s regulation-length style-savvy at its best. And these broader trends are hitting the mark here at home too. It’s not all about style, but sometimes functionality too, with tznius clothes so hard to come by that the sheer frustration of it led sisters Shani Sussman and Daniela Beleli to create their very own tznius label Suss&Bell. Struggling like many other Jewish girls to find “the perfect balance between being modest and fashionable”, they saw the flaw of frum fashion and realised that they needed to create a line that is modest to begin with, rather than having to wear layers under or over. Shani, no stranger to the fashion industry having studied fashion at Spero Villioti Elite Design Academy, took her passion and knowhow of fashion and combined it with Daniela’s design ideas and inspiration support to create a line that is a “blend of both our styles”. The result: a versatile look that is “easy to wear to a Sunday braai and perfect to smarten up with a pair of heels”. Shani’s personal style is more sophisticated and classy. “I love to blend my colours and bring a splash of colour with a chancy necklace,” while Daniela tends to be more funky and different, with a love of stripes and polka dots, with a bit of mix and match. They knew they needed to “make being modest enjoyable and engaging”, so they decided to show all the girls out there that frum fashion can be cool, that it’s okay to want to be trendy, and that being modest shouldn’t have to stop us. “Giving to others is what inspired us the most. It’s seeing the girls loving what we’ve made without the worry of a plunging neckline or some wayward knees showing,” explains Daniela.
They sought to show their customers that colour and pattern is the new black and that there are ways to wear them in a modest and fashionable way. So when they are keeping the colours and pattern together with matching tops and bottoms (which they call #toptobottom) you are on trend, but if you choose to shake it up a bit and match a top to a choice of skirts with their help, you are perfectly within your rights as well (#mixandmatch). Above and beyond all else, they look to give women the chance to be able to throw on a dress, some pumps, and a nice necklace, and look breath-taking on a normal day, without having to add anything over or under, and to also be able to smarten it up with a pair of heels, in order to steal the show at night as well.
“When producing clothes, you also tend to start thinking that shorter might look better, or lower necklines will look more appealing, that being modest isn’t always trendy.” But, once you overcome this, as a designer and as a consumer, they say, beauty really does become deeper than surface. And it’s an idea and a fashion that is even trending in the unlikeliest of all places. Forget the bikini and other barely-there Brazilian swimwear, beaches today are more and more becoming a covered-up affair, with modest swimwear attracting attention. What began as conservative swimwear for Jewish, Muslim, and other religious beachgoers, as well as for those interested in more coverage on the beach generally, has been described by The Wall Street Journal, which noticed the shortage of bikinis on the beach, as a burgeoning “competitive cottage industry”. Boutique owner and swimwear importer, Wendy Webb, used to receive a multitude of requests to stock modest swimwear, until she came across HydroChic, a modest swimwear collection designed by Daniella Teutsch and Sara Wolf, who sat one day at the Jersey Shore watching women of all ages lather themselves with sunscreen and pull on sloppy men’s t-shirts over their traditional bathing suits to protect their skin from sun damage. They knew that better, chicer coverage options were missing in the swimwear market, but only then did they realise how many other women were searching for the same swimwear solutions that they were. So, they set about designing them. “From the start, we felt that our concept would resonate both in and out of the Jewish market. We wanted to offer different options to women who were looking for coverage options, not only for religious reasons, but also for their own innate feelings of modesty. When we started, the word modesty was never used in the fashion industry – it seemed to have negative connotations. In the past 10 years, however, that has all changed, and now everyone including Victoria’s Secret has used it.” Fusing practicality with style in each piece, HydroChic has created cover-up swimwear that is fashion-forward and functional. “What social media has done is provided a voice to these women seeking more modest fashion options, so that modesty in fashion is no longer a negative phrase. Like-minded women have reinforced those bloggers who have promoted modest fashion, making it become more mainstream in fashion all over the world.” And dare I even say, it has even started to become the “in thing”, with increasing numbers of designer labels starting to adopt more modest lines in some of their styles.
For more info on the HydroChic range, visit www.sleekswim.com or 083 336 8624
For more info on the offerings from Suss&Bell: 072 969 5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org