The Blogger Behind Hipster Hijabis On Why Modesty Matters

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IMG_4402Photo: Courtesy of Hipster Hijabis.
Summer Albarcha, the blogger behind Hipster Hijabis, didn't expect to spark a controversy when she posted this photo of herself wearing a maxi skirt by Mimu Maxi, an Orthodox Jewish-owned boutique. But, when the shop's team posted the image to their own Instagram, it quickly became the #OOTD heard 'round the world: Mimu Maxi's customers blasted the business for posting a photo of a Muslim woman as violence in Gaza escalated.

Luckily, that vocal minority was far outweighed by people of all faiths, including the business owners themselves, who supported Albarcha and rallied around her cause — promoting modest fashion across barriers of nationality and faith. In the ensuing conversation, it became clear that there is much the mainstream world doesn't understand about modest fashion. So, we spoke to Albarcha to find out what modest dress means to her and why she chooses — and loves — to wear her hijab. And, she discussed how women of any (or no) faith might benefit from a style philosophy that prizes creativity (and a killer way with layering) to highlight, rather than hide, one's deepest self.

What led you to begin Hipster Hijabis?
"I wanted the transition to wearing the headscarf or dressing more modestly in public to be as easy for everyone as it was for me. I always lived by the idea that modesty was the way one dealt with beauty, not the way one avoided it, so through Hipster Hijabis I intended to show this message to women across the world who might be struggling, because in today’s society, body adornment comes before modesty. Also, attending a public high school, I saw that many high school girls followed the same mainstream fashion, and I wanted to show that it’s possible to have your own style while still shopping at mainstream stores."

Have you always worn a headscarf, or did you begin later in life?
"I grew up in a conservative, yet moderate, household, and I wore the hijab for the first time at age 13. My main inspiration for wearing it comes from my mother and her sisters. I was always around them growing up, and admired how they wore the hijab but didn't allow it to impede their daily activities, such as being on a high school sports team, running clubs in college, or speaking for the news."

There are so many different definitions of modest dress — what does it mean to you?
"Modest dressing, to me, means not only covering up our bodies when in public, but also considering our actions and words and how we interact with others. Modesty includes having respect for oneself and one’s body in order to receive the same respect in return. In today’s society, actors and singers often become more popular for their bodies rather than actual talents, which is quite sad considering the amount of talented individuals out there. A lot of today’s social problems in relationships come from both men and women not maintaining respectful attitudes, and I feel that modesty helps to keep a person’s beauty to those deserving of it. And, it actually reveals a person's true character and ideas as an individual."

How do you feel about wearing the hijab in particular?
"I see it as a responsibility on myself. I know that in my hijab I am not only covering myself for the sake of God but also to serve as an example of my religion to the public. I also appreciate its beauty because it enhances my ideas on dressing and maintaining modesty."

So, you never saw it as impeding your style, only enhancing it.
"Hijab definitely puts limits on what types of fashion to take part in...but I never saw it as inhibiting my sense of style. I search for items that are in style, but still considered modest, such as tunics, maxi skirts, and oversized cardigans. It actually gives me more of a creative outlet in fashion, since it requires me to create numerous stylish outfits with a limited amount of clothing styles, and I always enjoy a good challenge."

How would you counter the people who commented on our original article that it's inherently immodest to be interested in fashion?
"One shouldn’t have to sacrifice fashion...in order to follow a religious or moral code. I think it’s important that everyone, no matter their religious affiliation, finds a level of modesty they’re comfortable with. With Hipster Hijabis, I only hope to inspire women to dress more modestly and to demonstrate my perspective... Surely, there will always be people who disagree. But, nonetheless, I think the message behind sharing all these outfits should stand out more than the disagreeing viewpoints."

Summer is a time when so many women choose to wear fewer clothes — how do you beat the heat while remaining modest?
"In the summertime, everyone loves dresses and skirts, and so do I. Clothes in the summer should be breezy and thin, yet not skintight. I like to wear chiffon tops and lightweight scarves, or a maxi dress and a light cardigan, or even harem pants and thin, long-sleeved blouses. There’s an unlimited amount of scarf fabrics that can be breezy, yet cover the guidelines of hijab."

We love your creative way with layering — what are your tips for making sure layers look put-together?
"One tip I’d give to layer outfits — but not look messy — is to not go out of one’s way to make an outfit 'modest' or 'hijabi-fied.' This means to avoid wearing pieces that are immodest to begin with, such as shorts, that you then have to pair with leggings. Rather, try buying pieces that are in style and already modest. Buying long-sleeve tops, jackets, and cardigans makes outfit-pairing much easier, rather than worrying about adding sleeves under a tank or low-cut tops. For those wearing the hijab, it should serve as an enhancement to the outfit, not a barrier. Basically, there is an unlimited amount of fashion out there, so don’t pick out pieces that will make appearing modest too complicated."

What's your favorite way to style a maxi skirt for a day in the park, or a big night out?
"For a day in the park, I’d wear a loose white blouse with a skinny brown belt for a casual and breezy vibe. For a night-time outing, perhaps a long sleeve peplum top and a more fitted maxi skirt would look fancy and elegant at the same time."

What are your favorite places to shop for modest clothing?
"I love shopping at H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and DKNY. I find Zara’s European style to be elegant and more unique than American clothing."
What did you learn from finding yourself at the center of the Mimu Maxi controversy? Any plans to collaborate with that brand?
"I did not expect such a controversy to occur over the photo, but I’m glad to have seen such amazing feedback from new followers. In general, I’d like to collaborate with brands who have the same goal as me in inspiring modest fashion!"

Who do you look to for style inspiration?
"I love seeing other modest fashion inspirations on Instagram! My top 2 accounts are @ascia_akf (an American/Kuwaiti blogger and fashion designer) and @dinatokio (a British-based hijabi blogger and designer). Their outfits are more creative than mainstream fashion, but never costume-like. I appreciate their efforts to make modest fashion appear effortless and I love their unique sense of style."

Want to see modest fashion in action? Watch our video of Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik of Mimu Maxi talk about how the pursuit of spirituality and personal style go hand-in-hand.