“I think women are now appreciating being modest is actually far sexier than putting more of themselves on show,” says Dubai-based stylist Zahra Lyla Khalil. Its statements like these that have helped to shake off the many clichés that surround modest dressing, and although cultural and spiritual reasons may have been the foundations of covered-up fashion, today’s modest aesthetic has reached new and stylish heights, largely thanks to a young generation of beautifully-dressed and forward-thinking women like Zahra.
“I think education is key. People need to educate themselves before categorising,” explains the 33-year-old Iranian-Emirati on the backlash modest fashion is often faced with. “Every modest-wearing woman I know has the freedom to do, say and wear whatever she wants. It is all about a state of mind, being kind, and a good person.”
With a more streetwise approach to modest dressing compared to her conservative peers, Zahra can usually be found in roomy culottes and denim jackets, paired with this season’s must-have sneakers. For everyday modest staples, she turns to regional designers Bouguessa and SlouchyZ abayas, for their unique and modern pieces that perfectly embody a personal dress sense she believes is “classic, but with a trendy and fun twist.”
Her style, made famous through Just Lyla, a blog she started 10 years ago to document her daily fashion moves, has measurably evolved. And now, thanks to a burgeoning number of labels offering beautifully modern and modest pieces, Zahra navigates her way through various approaches to dressing. “With more designers being open to catering to this part of the world and with e-commerce sites such as The Modist paving the way, I think there is definitely a shift in the availability of modestwear,” she says. For Zahra, this proliferation of new options is proof of the fashion industry’s promising modestwear development. “I think modestwear is still on the rise, especially in this region. I would love though to see more of the bigger luxury designers like Fendi and Chanel move towards modestwear. But if they do, I hope it is not via the cliché of designing abayas with floral or embellished motifs,” she explains. “Modest dressing is all about experimenting and having fun with clothes after all.” And having fun she most certainly does – her Instagram posts showcase playful outfit narratives of brightly-coloured separates on one end, and cool-girl layering on the other. For summer, Zahra’s all about finding lightweight fabrics and layering them, sticking to a lighter colour palette during the long, hot and humid Dubai days. For Ramadan, she will be found wearing one of her many abayas; pretty silhouettes that not only are comfortable but make her “feel so empowered”.
- Words:: Dina Kabbani