Just recently I was contemplating how I was going to get back in shape once I get back home (jogging outside in Algeria is so not an option), and I started thinking about how I was going to need to do some shopping for modest clothes before I start. It is taking some thought to figure out how I will retain my modesty, when a two piece jilbab just won’t cut it for the activity I’m doing. For horseback riding (one of my favorite things to do!) I will need either looser trousers and a tunic, or perhaps a plain plaid button up shirt and a divided riding skirt. For swimming I will need the ever-conrtoversial burkini, though maybe with some of my own modifications to make the skirt-y bits longer. For running and biking, loose trousers and a tunic, and probably a comfy jersey scarf.
Anyhow, just thinking about shopping for all of this gives me a little bit of stress. It throws me back to my early hijabi days where I was trying as best I could to transition my wardrobe, but every time I went into a store I felt like I was just floundering in the dark. I felt like I had no personal style and I wasn’t modest enough, stuck forever in this weird middle place where I literally just looked like a sack of potatoes every day. You read it right—sack of potatoes.
So that is why, today, I wanted to share with y’all some tips from my nearly three years of experience in shopping for modest clothes. This is for anyone who is just starting out on their modesty journey, perhaps someone completely new to Islam, or someone just new to covering. I hope these can help, and somewhat ease the stress of the new hijabi shopping experience for you.
Tip #1: Plan ahead. This can include a lot of things, but what I am really referring to here is to sit down, look at what you already have, and make a plan of what you really need, what colors match what you already have, etc. I would highly recommend that you do this seasonally, at least once for the summer, and once for the winter, but you can go for all four if you want. That way, you are making sure that you are getting things that you really need, and that you will be using immediately.
This reminds me a bit of the idea of a capsule wardrobe. If any of you aren’t familiar with that, a capsul wardrobe is basically having one small set of clothes (i.e. 23 pieces or something) for each season. At the end of the season some get recycled into next season, like a winter cardigan can probably hang on through spring as well, and the rest get stored away as the next capsule comes out.
Now, I’m not saying you can only have a certain number of things in your closet at one time, but the whole point of the capsule wardrobe is to be mindful about what you are buying. It is about buying only what you need for the season you are in, mindfully recycling clothes through seasons, getting as much use out of them as possible before buying new things, and some even take it to being mindful about the quality of the garments you are buying as well as the ethics behind who is making them.
And for a new hijabi who feels like they are just buying whatever happens to catch their eye only to find out that they don’t actually like it, or it doesn’t fit right, or it isn’t as loose/long/covering as they thought, mindfulness before and during your shop is super important.
Another quick tip to the same end: look online first. Check out the websites for whichever stores you know you will be headed to, to get an idea of what they have, what you are interested in, and what kind of prices you will be looking at before you go out!
Tip #2: This one comes straight from my heart: don’t go with the crowd. Don’t try to follow hijabi trends you don’t love, don’t try to wear only black abayas for modesty’s sake if you don’t actually believe in that in your heart. I had a two year long style crises when I started wearing hijab because I was trying to do all the things at once. I wanted to still be pretty like a hijabi YouTuber, but I also wanted to be modest like all those niqabi girls I saw at the mosque. So basically I ended up somewhere in the middle, buying things either because they would look so trendy with something I already had, or because they were “modest,” never because they had anything to do with who I am or what I believed.
So my advice to you is not to buy anything until you first ask yourself if you love it. If that is a no, then just don’t do it. You don’t want to feel like a sack of potatoes for two years of your life because you bought a bunch of stuff that you don’t necessarily love but is either “fashionable” or “modest.”
If you do love it, the next few questions should be things like, what can I wear it with that I already have? Does it fit with my standards of modesty? Is it good material that will wear well? How do I feel in it/how does it look on me? It is a passing trend or something that I can wear for a while?
If you find that your answers to all of these questions are satisfactory, then go for it! It sounds like the thing for you! If some are falling short, try to learn from it.
For example if you pick up a peplum (is peplum even a thing anymore?) blouse and absolutely love it, but you find that it doesn’t actually fit in with your modesty standards, try to figure out what you love about it. Maybe you actually really just love that mint and pink polka dot print, and you could find that in a more modest piece, i.e. a tunic? Which leads me into…
Tip #3: Take your time. Don’t be afraid to leave 50 different shops empty handed. It is so worth the wait to finally find that dream dress/cardigan/blouse/whatever in shop 51, instead of going home with tons of bags full of stuff that you will either return a week later or that are doomed to hang in the back of your closet for years to come.
Especially when you are new to modest dressing, this kind of thing is going to take time. It will take some learning to get to know what you are comfortable in, how to coordinate extra bits like scarves and cardigans when you didn’t before, what kinds of more modest styles you like, which shops you can always rely on to have what you need, even which sizes you need to buy to ensure the right fit.
But if you take the time when starting out to really think through each purchase and learn from the things that don’t work, the process will be that much easier. I didn’t do this—like I said before I rushed headlong into each shop and just bought whatever either looked trendy or was something that looked “modest.” I ended up with a ridiculously disjointed wardrobe and two whole years of trying to fix it with on super small budget, all while feeling like I looked like, let me reiterate this, a sack of potatoes.
The overarching idea here: respect your journey! This goes for not only modestly level (yes, that is a journey too!), personal style, and taking your time to learn and experiment with what feels right for you, but also money-wise. You may not have enough cash to go spend online at lovely, but super expensive, Islamic shops straight away, and that is OK. If you have to get your maxi dress from Target, that’s what you have to do for now. The biggest thing is to work from where you are. Don’t try to jump to square 25 and start from there, you will only end up making it that much more difficult for yourself, and probably end up going backwards more than you move forwards.
Tip #4: Honestly that last tip on respecting your journey and taking your time was the most important in this whole article, but I wanted to add in one last little thing: make it fun!
Plan a day out with family or close friends to do your shopping that includes lunch or an ice-cream run. They can help to take the pressure off, remind you of your important questions to ask when considering something, and in general be a source of support for you while you try to make this transition. Especially if you have some friends who are more seasoned hijabis, they can potentially help you avoid making the same mistakes that they made when starting out, and give you some helpful hints that you might not have already thought of!
Like always, leave me some comments! I would love to hear your beginner-hijabi embarrassing moments, your favorite tips for someone just starting out, or, for the newbies reading this, whether or not you found something helpful here!
Until next time, in shaa Allah!