Halima Aden Discusses The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation And Appreciation Of Modest Fashion

Halima Aden believes her modelling agency “took a chance” when they hired her – not only as she on the short side for a model (5ft5 and a half), but also because she wears a hijab.

Before she started modelling, Aden had never seen a woman with a hijab in a fashion  magazine.

Yet that “chance” certainly paid off, as she has graced the cover of Allure magazine – the first hijab-wearing model to ever do so – and is the face of Nike sport. 

Aden strongly believes there’s still a great need for more diversity in fashion, saying shows are more engaging when they’re diverse. 

“It just makes it more tasteful and appealing when it’s not the same girl over and over again,” Aden explains backstage during the UK’s first modest fashion festival on 22 October.

“Everybody comes from different cultures and races. There’s something beautiful when it’s a blended runway.”

The 20-year-old opened up to HuffPost UK about the universality of modest attire and the need for women to have the full spectrum of options available to them. 

Halima Aden at the Modest Fashion Festival at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London on Saturday 21 October 2017.

Why was it important for you to take part in the first Modest Fashion Festival in the UK? 

This is important because for the first time modest fashion is going from high street to luxury and we want luxury too, you know? 

When I want to go out to an event, I have so much difficulty finding something that’s luxurious but that also fits my definition of modesty. 

So it’s nice that there are designers who are catering to that group of women.

And it’s important to know that modesty is an individual’s personal preference and it differs from girl to girl. There’s no right or wrong. 

I have friends who are Catholic who are very modest women. Modesty is something that’s expressed through cultures and regions and continents. So it’s far more than just Islam.

Modest fashion festival.

How significant would you say modest fashion is internationally? 

There are so many girls around the world who love fashion, love style, love clothing and it’s sad to think they either have to conform or they can’t be a part of the industry.

It shouldn’t be like that. It should be open for all women of all walks of life. 

Does there need to more integration of modest fashion in the mainstream? 

They have me now! But there needs to be more than just one person.

Modest fashion needs to be a normal part of the industry. Just like you want to have a diverse group of women: you want to have black girls, you need have Asian girls and models of all different shapes.

I think more and more designers are starting to realise that, and I’m really blessed to be signed to IMG models. 

How so? 

If you look at the rosters of models, it’s all different ages. We have a 69 year old superstar, Maye Musk. And we have Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine representing on body positivity

Jillian Mercado, who is in a wheelchair, is a beautiful girl representing an entire demographic of girls who’ve been left out of the conversation. 

As for me, I’ve never seen a girl with a hijab in a fashion magazine up until I started modelling. They (IMG) took a chance on me: I’m very short – I’m only 5′5 and a half. Shorter than the shortest model, Kate Moss. 

I just hope it’s not a trend, that they can continue. And I hope it’s coming from a genuine place. You shouldn’t do it just to tick a box.

Do you think a modest fashion show can inspire girls who don’t identify as Muslim or consciously try to dress modestly? 

There’s absolutely no shame in wanting to try modest fashion and if it’s not for you then it’s not for you.

It’s also nice to have the option to wear revealing stuff. I actually love looking at thing that have nice cut-outs.

It’s good to give women the chance to dress the way they want to dress.

I definitely do support my sisters on the other side of the spectrum, just as I support them when they’re covered head-to-toe.

Just as long as you’re not doing it to please other people, there’s nothing wrong with it. 

Fashion is one of those things that, unless you’re really trying to appropriate someone’s culture, you really can’t go wrong. And modesty can’t be appropriated because Muslim women don’t own modesty. It’s for all of us if we want it.

What would you say to someone who said that dressing modestly was old-fashioned and not for a modern girl? 

One word: whatever! You know, different strokes for different folks, right? 

Unless you want to go Lady Gaga and wear a meat dress, everything’s been said and done. So you see things that were old school brought back. It happens all the time. 

Fashion recycles and revamps and then sets it out again. So no it’s not old fashioned. And I feel like there’s a time and a place.

We have spring clothes, we have fall – I feel like everybody, during winter, is going to dress modest whether that’s what you want to call it modest or not.