From post-humanism at Gucci to historically significant protest movements at Dior – with the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie invading it all – there is much to unpack about the Fall/Winter 2018 season. Fashion reflects society, and its prismatic view lends itself to modern anthropology, making it a particularly unique tool for examining the current human condition.
For example, fashion has lately addressed the question, ‘How are women feeling in the wake of #MeToo?’ In the past year, gut-wrenching revelations of abuses of power infested every industry, and a strong sartorial reaction came about as a result. For Fall/Winter 2018, designers shunned body-conscious, flesh-baring clothes and provided women with cover, protection, and dignity. More than ever, there was racial and body diversity on the runway with inclusivity, identity politics, and intersectional feminism at its foundation. Progress, it seems, is the trend du jour.
As the prevailing winds of fashion shift course, one of the more profound aspects of the collections we saw resonated deeply. For centuries in fashion, the needs of the Arab woman have all but been ignored. An outsider’s perspective on Arab clothing is narrow, prescribed by traditionalism that doesn’t account for modern sensibilities or desires whatsoever.
In recent years, and likely due to the tremendous buying power of the Arab world, brands have finally begun to address the needs of those who prefer modest dress. Around Ramadan, e-commerce sites like Net-a-Porter release beautifully curated modest edits, some brands release special modest capsule collections, modest fashion bloggers are engaging with millions via social media, and savvy entrepreneurs like Ghizlan Guenez have launched modest-only shopping options for the online consumer.
At Fashion Week recently, this shift in market focus became more concrete, realized by collections from the world’s biggest brands that were modest in silhouette, or even featured headscarves as a repeated motif. At New York Fashion Week, for instance, Vivi Zubedi did an abaya-only show that mashed up traditional garb with sportswear, while London hosted London Modest Fashion Week for the first time ever. Halima Aden and Ikram Abdi Omar have been taking the runways by storm while wearing hijabs, representing Muslim women in fashion for the first time ever.
Modest fashion for many is a choice informed by personal values and faith, but it also happens to dovetail with a big-picture moment in the zeitgeist. #MeToo has drawn a line in the sand. Prior to the initial Harvey Weinstein scandal, rampant tales of sexual abuse and misconduct in the workplace were routinely swept under the rug, the victims’ claims were discounted as a money grab, and the abuser kept their power and position. Now, systems are being established throughout multiple industries that give victims proper legal recourse, and legal defense funds have opened up to help women who have suffered from sexual abuse. The tide is shifting. With that comes increased scrutiny of how women are represented in fashion and in media. From time immemorial, women have been treated as secondary citizens, as objects who exist to fulfill male fantasies. There has never been a widespread attempt to correct the systematic disenfranchisement of female personhood, until now.
Living under the patriarchy – which we all currently do whether we like it or not – means living with some foregone conclusions: that as a woman, your opinion is less valid, your work less valuable, your existence less meaningful. It means never questioning why some systems exist the way that they do. So pause for a moment for a thought experiment that might lend some perspective: what would you dress like if the patriarchy had never existed, if women ruled the world instead? Would lingerie, as an entire category of clothing, have ever been created in the first place? What about high heels? Plunging necklines? Mini skirts? All of these things were crafted to please the male gaze, thereby turning women into objects.
Within this thought experiment, you’ll discover why modest fashion looks so appealing all of a sudden. Women, riding on a new fourth-wave of feminism and united universally by the Internet, are finally taking back their power and finding their voices. With that, comes the rejection of the male gaze, and the embrace of a newly forged, self-assured identity. Fashion has rushed to meet these needs with long, roomy silhouettes, cozy layers, and, in a surprising move that we did not see coming: head coverings. That’s right, at maisons as legendary as Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Versace, and Valentino, headscarves and modest styles reigned supreme for Fall/Winter 2018, validating the modest fashion movement and lending legitimacy to its cause. From New York to Paris, it was astonishing to see it all unfold on the runways before us.
For a closer look at fashion’s new look, which for those in the Arab world will be comfortingly familiar, click through the gallery below.