fashiontern: I'm taking issue with the idea that using clothing subversively is the preserve of power and privilege, when in fact very often the opposite is true.

Almost everywhere in the world, simply being a woman in public is a subversive act one way or another, hence fashion. Historically, this has been the only means of expression available to the most marginalised of people, and it makes things like the hijab vitally important as a cultural signifier. And for a woman in the public eye, the power to be seen may be the only power available to her. Princess Diana springs to mind.

To put it another way, I'm off to Morocco next week and I'll be packing a few headscarves. Maybe this is appropriation, or maybe it's respectful to the culture I'm visiting. I could be contributing to my own oppression here but actually I just want to wear a headscarf and not be harassed.

In Morocco would you be harassed if you *didn't* wear a headscarf? And if you would, who by?

Thumbs up to everything Approprio and Greyscale said!

For me, the article went off the rails when it tried to equate a particular style with modesty and, even worse, religious convictions. Surprise, surprise—could it be a woman just likes the FEEL of neutral-toned, loosely fitting clothes draped on her body? Maybe dressing in longer, looser, architectural layers makes her feel happy, just like another woman could feel good wearing ruffles, bright colors, a pile of pearls, or towering heels? Wanting to feel beautiful and feminine doesn’t mean we all gravitate to Spanx and stilletos for a date night.

What continually fascinates me, though, is why loose-fitting, neutral clothing causes North American fashion commenters to endlessly opine about religiosity, modesty, or radical feminism as being at the heart of this look. I’ve never hesitated to go topless on a European beach, walk around a woman’s locker room in the nude, or show off a pretty bra in a plunging neckline, so reading articles which equate my decision to wear Eileen Fisher and COS with a desire for “modesty” make me burst out laughing. To my mind, articles like this one reveal more about the mindset and cultural predispositions of the writer than of a woman who chooses the clothing.

Maybe off topic but an interesting word modest...

Mostly here it would mean being the opposite of boastful, being humble... as in "Richie McCaw is modest about his achievements as a rugby player".

A house or car might also be described as modest if it is not too large or ostentatious, but very functional (and it has a spic and span air to it in my mind, clean and tidy, and not messy). as in " The family chose to live in a modest sized home with one car"

Modest clothing is clothing that is not showing off the body, nor overtly sexual, or covered..... yet when I google modest clothing the links point to cute, sweet, trendy shops.....

The word to me has a moral overtone..... both in a positive way (being modest about hiding your achievements) and maybe a slightly smug way at times. It is about playing down what you have......maybe deliberately or maybe subconsciously.

Or am I reading too much into it?

This conversation has now gone in enough directions that I feel I can now toss out my (not necessarily related) thoughts without taking us further off the rails than we already are!

Comment 1, it is rarely referred to, but actually I think that in the Bible (old and new testaments) all references to "modesty", particularly in dress, refer to the avoidance of ostentation and flaunting of wealth, as in jewels, sumptuous clothing, and elaborate hairstyles possibly achieved by slave labour. So the closest thing in our world would be the movement for ethical consumption.

Comment 2, it is hard for me to read these ideas without being reminded of the recent Quebec law mandating that anyone receiving public services (like buses or libraries) must have an uncovered face. It seems to be pointedly targeting Muslim women. and once again using rhetoric about "oppression" to circumscribe a woman's life even further. I am happy to read about the protests in Montreal (I think my daughter is involved) where protesters stand at bus stops with faces covered (which frankly is a pretty common thing in Canadian winters).

Comment 2b, it is also reminiscent of the law in France against whatever they called the bikini burka or burka swimsuit. It strikes me as offensive to mandate that women bare AS MUCH of their bodies as possible in order to meet community standards. How is this not oppression? And how is it going to improve the lives of women who may already have little choice? They won't remove their clothing, they will stay home from the beach. Who wins?

Yes L'Abeille - I agree. How can Designer clothes be modest? It is a contradiction...they can be unstructured, covered, loose, unembellished but wearing Celine or Vetements is not "modest"?

And I agree entirely with your comment 2b.

I’m just sad that (1). a good word like MODEST is associated with negative connotations. Also Can’t understand why modest dressing has religion undertone. Religion use the word LOVE a lot too, I don’t see the mass think it has religious undertone??? (2). I fear of wearing a scarf around my head (for being cold, or bad hair day) would be mistaken as being Muslim and be potentially a target for harassment or worse even attack. What has the world come to?

Every individual has his/her own preference, can we just accept that. Can I just wear something I like without being judged?

Oh, I wish I had more time today!

approprio -- I totally get what you're saying about women in public/being visible is inherently subversive, and I agree that dressing is often a form of speech for the voiceless, etc.

More than subversion in that sense though, what I'm really trying to talk about is the way a certain class of women are "re-purposing" modesty.

Like l'abeille says: "I think that in the Bible (old and new testaments) all references to "modesty", particularly in dress, refer to the avoidance of ostentation and flaunting of wealth, as in jewels, sumptuous clothing, and elaborate hairstyles possibly achieved by slave labour. So the closest thing in our world would be the movement for ethical consumption."

This is what struck me too (and obviously this is just one more example of the sort of appropriation that the fashion industry relies on) -- that discord between modesty in the full sense of humility/not being ostentatious, and designer clothes from The Row etc being described as "modest". What I'm trying to get at is that, in turning modesty into a couture value, one that signals not just wealth but a particular degree of, I dunno, cultural literacy, it subverts the original meaning of the word. Does that make sense?

Oh, and Grechen wrote up a little blog response to this article too, which echoes a lot of the sentiments in this thread:

(I'd say she's actually part of that IG/blogoshphere class of people using modest dress to signal something other than modesty, and she does actually touch on that a bit in her post.)

Don’t have an opinion on modest dressing, but I need to say : L’Abeille, there’s no law in France against « burkinis ». A few municipalities issued bans in Summer 2016, causing a big controversy (so big it blew as far as Canada, apparently). The bans were judged illegal by the national administrative court.

Thanks for setting me straight, skylurker, and I'm very pleased to hear that. I was hoping it didn't stand.
Now if only the Quebec situation could get sorted too.

thanks Skylurker for update:

LaPed, l'Abielle: that's a very interesting point, thanks! I'd missed any explicit link in the article between ethical fashion and virtue-signalling, but now that you mention it, absolutely it makes sense.

The Kinfolk aesthetic is fine for people who like that sort of thing, but as a gesture towards sustainability it's about as effective as papal indulgences or carbon offsets for the 4WD. It makes the wearer feel good about herself (as it should) but it doesn't change much of anything else. It's far too niche.

The basic problem, which we're all facing, is aligning who we need to be on the outside with who we'd like to be on the inside. Few women would want to look like a sex object all the time, but mistaking the opposite for conservative ideals of female virtue opens a whole other can of worms. That kind of messaging has nothing to do with it for most of us. We're just wearing what we want to wear and going about our business as best we can.

There are ways of doing fashion, sustainable or otherwise, that aren't politicised, don't organise us into these neat little boxes, and don't have us policing women's bodies, style choices or personal freedom. Sadly, there's not much of that about right now. Call me old-fashioned but when we talk about unconventional styling I look back fondly on the heyday of Martin Margiela and Comme de Garçons, none of which had anything to do with good or evil but had everything to do with beauty and disruption.

Funny! Old-fashioned wouldn't be a word I'd use in relation to you Approprio! Your knowledge of design, cutting edge etc etc is right up there in my book!

Actually, it's because of my strict religious upbringing ( Presbyterian Protestant, NZ version rooted in Church of Scotland with associated thriftiness and Protestant work ethic as well) that my first association with the word modest is in the covering up, hiding your body, not "tempting" the male gender sense. But my second association with it is in the sense Sal and L'Abeille refer to, as in not ostentatious or flaunting either one's wealth or one's achievements. And that fits both with my upbringing and with NZ culture.
I agree with those who wear those clothes if they want to wear them and not for some other perceived reason by the writer of the article.

Coming to this thread late... but still a very interesting topic, as I've been smitten with this season's sculptural and oversized sweaters and extra widelegged pants (somewhat related to the article though the author never touches on it).

My first reaction to the article was similar to this point made by approprio: "Call me old-fashioned but when we talk about unconventional styling I look back fondly on the heyday of Martin Margiela and Comme de Garçons, none of which had anything to do with good or evil but had everything to do with beauty and disruption."

In that we have already seen similar trends before! I thought also of Issey Miyake, and how those clothes were interesting almost as artworks, in their spatial/structural/sculptural explorations of form, fabric, etc. But we just have to look at movies and TV shows from the 80s to see a kind of "prairie girl" look (big long skirts, scrunched up voluminous socks and chunky shoes, oversized floppy sweaters...) that was part of the everyday across a variety of age and income ranges. Definitely not only a high-fashion statement.

So to sum up, my thought on the NYT piece is: newspaper writers are in the business of writing "new" and "original" stories (I was once a newspaper writer...) and sometimes this means reinventing the wheel, or at least making others believe you've reinvented the wheel, or perhaps having such a short memory/short historical knowledge that you come to believe it too.

At the same time, as an academic, I also appreciate that historical trends ebb and flow but are never exactly the same; neither in form nor in function. So yes, maybe there are new aesthetic or socio-cultural aspects that are unique about our moment, but at the same time it's not the huge thing the article makes it out to be.

And I've been pining for some flowy, big-sleeved, turtlenecked, sculpturally folded thick sweaters for a while... It's simply more fun to have such choices, as opposed to how it felt in the late 90s and 2000s, when everything was body-con all the time (this, coming from someone who likes the look and feel of body-con).

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