The term modestwear fails to acknowledge a wider movement

Comfort and practicality reigned supreme on the Milan Fashion Week catwalks

Model Gigi Hadid presents a creation during the Missoni fashion show, as part of the Women's Spring/Summer 2019 fashion week in Milan, on September 22, 2018. / AFP / Andreas SOLARO
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A subtle but perceptible sea change washed over the runways of Milan this week.

On Missoni’s catwalk, Bella and Gigi Hadid, clad in long-sleeved cardigans; at Versace, an uncharacteristically practical collection, complete with boyish jackets and, in a most un-Versace-like move, chunky trainers. Over at MaxMara, Halima Aden, headscarf firmly in place (but while her debut for the same brand in early 2017 was headline news, this year it just felt like par for the course). Even Roberto Cavalli, a brand that has long been synonymous with overt sexuality, pared it back, offering up long sleeves and ankle-length hemlines.

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce once again emerged as unexpected champions of the “everywoman”, casting plus-size model Ashley Graham alongside Bahraini princess Dana Al Khalifa and a host of ageing beauties, including Monica Bellucci, Carla Bruni and Eva Herzigova.

With Graham, Aden and the 70-year-old Maye Musk becoming staples at Dolce & Gabbana shows, the flamboyant duo have offered up an increasingly diverse representation of womanhood on they runways of late, which, even if just a savvy marketing ploy, should be lauded.

Italian model and actress Monica Bellucci (C) and models present creations during the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show, as part of the Women's Spring/Summer 2019 fashion week in Milan, on September 23, 2018. / AFP / Miguel MEDINA

Marni presented a quiet ode to classicism, sending some models down the runway in what appeared to be bedroom slippers, while at Prada, the standout pieces were almost prim, with Miuccia Prada openly stating her intention to create clothing for “strong” women.

“I wanted to play with all the classic cliches of women’s clothes, the tennis skirts, short coats, hairbands, chiffon blouses … and tear them at the elbow, or on the back, to show the contrast of the strong woman that Prada has always sought to inspire and represent,” she explained.

Much has been said about the modestwear movement, which is in part attributed to the increased importance and spending power of women in this part of the world. In a mark of how prevalent this niche segment of the industry has become, this week, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco unveiled the world’s first exhibition dedicated to modestwear, entitled Contemporary Muslim Fashions. Elsewhere, Dubai-headquartered modest fashion site The Modist has teamed up with global e-tail giant Farfetch.

A model presents a creation during the Marni fashion show, as part of the Women's Spring/Summer 2019 fashion week in Milan, on September 23, 2018. / AFP / Marco BERTORELLO

However, because the term modestwear is tied to connotations of faith, it perhaps fails to encapsulate the wider movement that manifested itself on the catwalks of Milan this week. As a general trend around the world, (outside of the Kardashian clan-driven entertainment industry), a growing number of women are opting for hemlines and sleeves that are longer, fits that are looser, necklines that are higher and heels that are lower. Women of all faiths are demanding clothing that is actually wearable.

Comfort, once the domain of the unstylish, has become a la mode, and even Italy’s biggest designers are having to take note. In a post #MeToo era, runways that once served up hefty doses of fantasy are finally having to get real.

As someone who eschewed towering heels in her early 20s and is to be almost permanently found in practical flats, and who has been known to rock a kaftan in the workplace on more than one occasion, I can’t help but celebrate this new direction. Comfort and style don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I only hope that the many establishments in Dubai that still operate a heels-only policy for their female patrons get the memo. If bedroom slippers are good enough for Marni …


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