What does Ramadan have to do with Judaism, you may ask?
Not much, except that it’s the time of year where mass retailers promote and distribute modest-friendly lines. In the past, Dolce and Gabbana came out with a line of hijabs, Nike had a hijabi-friendly activewear line, and Uniqlo partnered with Muslim fashion designer Hana Tajima to create a modest collection. This year, H&M released its first modest clothing range, LTD collection, which has, according to the press release, “modern and elegant Spring/Summer pieces.” The first part of the collection dropped May 3 online and in select stores (the second part will come partway through the Holy Month of Ramadan, on May 24).
If there’s one thing modest-minded Jewish women can be grateful for from Muslim women, it would be the mainstreaming of modest fashion. Muslims, whose adherents number in the billions, are, as a group, modest-minded and hijabi-wearing, are increasingly vocal about it too. Social media has given visibility to Muslim activists who are proudly modest, and who define themselves by their modesty.
“Now, more than ever before, modesty is something people crave,” says Rebecca Brown, the Modern Orthodox blogger behind The Modest Runway, a blog dedicated to finding affordable modest fashion.
As modesty becomes increasingly mainstream, it has become easier to find modest fashion. There is a proliferation of designer clothes made modest; more and more modest-minded independent designers create their own fashion lines. But these options are expensive and unattainable. There is more modest fashion, yes, but finding modest fashion at a cheap price can take on the trappings of a long and complicated quest, requiring time and effort people on a budget don’t have.
This has created a niche for bloggers and social media groups to help women concerned with modesty and affordability navigate the vast shopping landscape. The popular ‘Tznius Modest Clothing Internet Finds’ Facebook group (with currently over 10,000 members) is one such group. Recent posts include a recommendation for a $20 Amazon dress that is long enough to cover the knees of taller women (the poster says she is 5”7), a post asking fellow group members on their tips for successful Amazon shopping, and a poster requesting recommendations on the perfect fold-over black stretchy skirt. There are also numerous posts about the perfect dress to buy last-minute for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.
Ariella Goldman, the administrator of the group, didn’t grow up Orthodox. “My parents, my family, dresses very differently than I do,” Goldman explains. “So I’m very conscious about how I present myself to the world, because people will always be critical about your choices.”
Goldman founded the group back in the summer of 2015, when she was a data scientist intern with a lot of time on her hands. Looking for things to do, Goldman spent hours online, browsing through clothes she was “not going to buy.”
Goldman found cheap modest skirts on Mormon websites, and then started sending the links around to her friends, marveling at how inexpensive everything was. She decided to start a Facebook group to share her finds; the group grew organically.
“I’m not in fashion at all, I don’t even know if I have a good fashion sense,” she says. “[But] I’m particular about the way I dress.”
Brown also sees herself as a resource. “I really just wanted to show people that dressing modestly doesn’t require you to have a large bank account, it just requires the knowledge to know where to shop, how to find a bargain,” says Brown. “My blog is really dedicated to providing individuals with style inspiration that’s as fashionable as it is affordable and attainable.”
What’s interesting about the Orthodox-run group is the distinct lack of Orthodox modest brands represented in posts by group members. “Non-Orthodox brands are always cheaper because they can mass produce their marketing,” explains Goldman. “They sell to a much larger audience…People are not that interested in spending their money $100 a pop for a dress [from an Orthodox Jewish brand].
Ease of buying is also why mass market retailers seem to dominate on the Facebook group. “Target is really easy,” Goldman says. “You can go to any Target in the country, and try something on and buy it, take a picture and send it and your friend across the country can get it at the same store. It’s a lot harder for Orthodox Jewish fashion brands that maybe have a basement in Monsey.”
Goldman notes that although she started the group, the community takes an active part in helping other members find what they need. “There are also always people who are like, ‘I’m looking for this dress. Can someone tell me how it fits, what the sizing looks like?’” says Goldman. “But I can’t answer all those questions because I haven’t bought every dress out there. So then other people will answer, and that’s exciting also.”
Unlike Goldman, Brown has a background in fashion and textile design. She grew up in Australia, moved to New York after college, and now resides in Baltimore with her husband. Brown started her blog back in November of 2017 after encouragement from friends and family who noticed her savant-like abilities at finding affordable, modest clothes that were also supremely stylish. Every week, she would walk into synagogue on Shabbat and be stopped by friends.
“That’s such a great dress, where did you find it?” they would ask.
When she explained that the dress was from Target or H&M, they were shocked. “They thought that I had sourced [it] at a specialty store or gotten something made,” says Brown. “And it got me thinking — were people not realizing that modest clothing is available in mainstream stores? Or perhaps they weren’t looking there, or perhaps they didn’t know that such modest clothing existed. So I just wanted to show them that it is affordable. If you just know where to look and where to shop and know how to find things that flatter your shape and you can still look beautiful and be modest at the same time. And you don’t have to break the bank to do it!”
When it comes to modesty, so often the conversation is about hemlines and necklines and sleeve length. “Modesty encompasses so much more than just dress,” explains Brown. “For me, it’s really about showing people that you can dress modestly and can attain that at modest prices.”
Looking for dresses that are trendy and modest, that won’t break the bank? We’ve done the work for you: