How to build a modest wardrobe

Your guide to making a style statement while staying true to your practice of faith.

Harper's Bazaar India

Before we get into what the headline of this article promises, let’s flesh out the basics and get those right. Like, what is halal? And what does halal in the context of fashion mean? 

To put it simply, anything that is sanctioned by the Islamic law is halal, anything that is proscribed in the Quran, thereby the Sharia law, and the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) is haram. Equivalents of this can be found in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and other religions as well, in the way of kashruth, kosher and sattvic. While the objects and acts that are haram are more explicitly classified, halal is often not written down as definitively and left to the pure discretion of the practitioner. 

While both prescription and proscription were determined during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, changing times and new research by Islamic scholars have led to a more intrinsic understanding of the concept, further dividing the halal and haram into four—farḍ or wajib (obligatory), mandub (recommended but not required), mubah (tolerable), and makruh (dishonourable). 

Most popularly, the concept is seen in food and drink discipline, but it pertains to all aspects of Islamic life, including clothing. 

In clothing, halal means two things—clothing made with acceptable materials and in styles that are compatible with Islamic standards of dressing. 

Let’s start with what the Islamic standards of dressing are when it comes to style. It starts and ends with one word—modesty. And while there is debate about what that pertains, since there is no definite rules for it and scholars often argue about what the tenants are—some talk about it in the way of ostentation and others in the way of what shows, both women and men often gravitate towards non-transparent and loose, flowing silhouettes in materials that are permissible under the Islamic law. Prohibited materials often include anything derived from pigs and dogs. Also prohibited are furs or skins of any animal that has not been killed, slaughtered, or processed in accordance with Islamic law. Such materials can only become pure and permissible if they undergo the Islamic tanning process, apart from pigs and dogs which can never become purified. 

Halal certification in clothing is limited as of now, but there is great potential in the sector and consistent growth, which means that the choice of  brands are increasing, and while you find those, here are some ways to style the wardrobe in accordance with the Islamic standards of dressing (put together with the help of friends who are practising Muslims). 

Shirts, shirts, and more shirts (oh, and tops)

There is nothing like a good stack of shirts, and tops. And we’re talking all styles and materials—long sleeved t-shirts, oversized sweatshirts, flannel, satin (silk is prohibited), cotton, henleys, cossacks, tunics, smocks, turtlenecks, and everything else we have missed. Having a good collection of these can be all the form and style you need for the summers. 

Master the art of layering


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Investing in neutrals is the trick with this one, and is great for the chillier days. Pick your t-shirts and shirts, and stock up on those cardigans. For winters add a coat. If you are more the adventurous kind, try playing with contrasting colours or layer brighter colours with tones. 

Try wide leg trousers


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These are the holy grail of modest dressing. Whether it is a casual day, an occasional night, or smart work wear—wide leg trousers can work for all. Try a slouchy look for your more relaxed days or if the active-wear aesthetic is your style, tailoring for smart office looks, and silky satins for glitzy occasions. 

Find the right skirts and dresses


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And yes, there is plenty to choose from. And layering works here too—with slip dresses and skirts. The only thing you need to be cautious of when purchasing online, and this goes for shirts too. And remember, midis could be maxis for the shorter folks. 

The basics done, a quick tip for the women is to also look out for finds in the men’s section and brands that have a modest fashion section—like ASOS and Uniqlo. And for those who enjoy some Indian silhouettes, there is nothing like a good kurta shalwar. Happy building! 

Feature image: @farahemara / Instagram
Square Image: @hijabhills / Instagram