Year-End Special: The rise of modest fashion

Middle Eastern representation and heritage came into their own on the ramp this year, marking a high point for modest dressing

United Arab Emirates, January 2, 2018

A lot has been written about modest fashion. This year, however, the idea translated rather eloquently on the runway as 20-year-old Halima Aden, a hijab-wearing model, walked down the ramp at the New York Fashion Week in February. She made her runway debut for Kanye West's Yeezy fashion show, wearing a faux fur with her hijab. After that, she walked the ramp at Milan Fashion Week. Represented by IMG models - the same agency that works with the likes of Gisele Bundchen, Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber - Halima, who is only 5'5' tall, is on her way to becoming a supermodel. Clearly, her success on the runway says a lot about how the fashion industry is evolving.

With her sharp-yet-dainty features, Halima first came to be noticed in America, her adopted home country, when she participated in Miss Minnesota USA pageant last year. In the swimsuit round, she donned a burkini with a hijab.

A Somalian born in a Kenyan refugee camp, when she first started her career, some industry experts advised Halima against talking about her refugee status. However, she chose to speak frankly about her experiences and now closely works with UNICEF. Since her debut on the ramp, Halima has appeared on the cover of Allure magazine in America, Grazia in Britain and the UAE-based Vogue Arabia. Being a hijab-wearing model, Halima often requires a special cordoned-off dressing room and works only with female makeup artists and hairstylists. However, these have not been dealbreakers as fashion houses are only too happy to accommodate the additional requirements.

Before Halima appeared on the cover of Vogue Arabia, supermodel Gigi Hadid appeared in a hijab for the launch issue in March. Even though she has appeared in 17 Vogue covers, the one in Vogue Arabia drew ire. Some thought her beaded veil was a polite nod to the modest dressing culture of the region, while others found it inappropriate to see Gigi in a scarf that seemed to be a hijab.

However, Gigi Hadid's Middle Eastern roots (her father is a Palestinian-American) were one of the many reasons she was chosen as Vogue Arabia's cover girl. The controversy eventually died down and for their September issue, the magazine featured Gigi's sister Bella Hadid on the cover; though she wasn't wearing a hijab, Bella was modestly dressed.

The success of the Hadid sisters is something Middle Eastern fashion takes pride in. Gigi, who is the fifth highest paid model in the world, and Bella, who comes in at number nine, are considered to be poster girls for Arab models. Gigi and Bella, on their part, speak of their Arab heritage proudly.

Joining them in the Arab models brigade is the Dutch model Imaan Hammam, who is of Egyptian and Moroccan descent. Twenty-one-year-old Imaan started the year as the British Vogue's cover girl in the month of February and ended it featuring on the cover of American Vogue in December, appearing alongside Pharrell Williams. She was also the face of DKNY's pre-Spring campaign and Sonia Rykiel's Fall/Winter collection. Imaan, along with the Hadid sisters and Halima, are reasons why fashion in 2017 will be remembered for its celebration of diversity!