Are Streetwear and Modesty Mutually Exclusive?
In celebration of the topic of modesty, we spoke to one of the most influential and iconic modest bloggers based in the United States: Maria Alia. Not only is she a style blogger and content creator extraordinaire, she also works as a digital strategist and is an all-around force to be reckoned with. Read more about Maria's career and how she navigates her relationships with both culture and style, below.
Photography and interview by Anaa Saber.
For those of us unfamiliar, Maria could you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?
In a nutshell, I'm a NYC based digital strategist and style content creator of Palestinian and Puerto Rican descent.
How long have you been dressing modestly for and why do you dress modestly?
Because I grew up in a Muslim and middle-eastern household, I've been dressing modestly pretty much my whole life. I started wearing hijab (headscarf) when I was around 14 and now, over a decade later, it has really become a beautiful part of my identity. For me, I choose to dress modestly because it's what I'm comfortable with. Obviously, my religion and culture have influenced this level of comfort but I very much feel empowered and my truest self by dressing this way.
Was it difficult shopping for modest yet fashion-forward clothing while growing up?
Definitely, the fashion of the mid-2000s, when I started wearing hijab, was very much dominated by mini skirts, mini dresses, low waisted denim and basically a ton of not-so-modest friendly trends. It challenged me to get crafty and experimental with my style. I would pair mini dresses with denim, layer crop tops over longer tops and of course the classic long sleeve under short sleeve layering. This really influenced how I put together looks to this day—I look at everything as a possibility and it's surprising how well that works out sometimes.
Now with such an enormous push on inclusivity and modesty, are you able to find the perfect pieces you once weren’t granted access to?
I'd say it's a lot easier to find pieces but I'm not sure if that's specifically because of the push on inclusivity and modesty-I think fashion, at this exact moment in time, is coincidentally having a bit of a "modest" moment. Yes, there have been a number of collections launched that were marketed specifically as modest, but we're talking a couple per year, at most. So these modest specific collections haven't enormously impacted my shopping and styling habits, but I can say that the overarching trend of looser, longer and more modest pieces has definitely made styling a lot easier for me.
Why do you think for a long time people thought of streetwear and modesty as mutually exclusive?
At the root of modest fashion, especially that originated in the East, dresses, skirts and feminine silhouettes reign supreme. On the other hand, streetwear originated in urban landscapes where more casual, androgynous style is at its core. So naturally, a correlation between modesty and streetwear isn't one's first instinct. Modesty is a very subjective thing, but for me, I don't think it has to be exclusive to any one style. This is why I love experimenting with streetwear-I can wear a pair of loose track pants or an oversized hoodie and feel more modest than I do in my favorite maxi dress.
What streetwear/fashion pieces do you tend to gravitate towards in the modest market?
I ALWAYS gravitate towards interesting pants and skirts because I tend to build my outfits around these pieces. I'm also a sucker for casual outerwear that you can just throw on top of anything for that added element of coverage.
There's been a lot of controversy around "modest" marketing tactics (for example H&M's modest line). How do you feel about clothing that's marketed specifically as modest? Would you prefer brands to market them as they would normally?
This is definitely something that has sparked controversy and I can definitely see both sides of the argument. For me, if a global brand is choosing to even recognize the modest consumer and cater to it, I appreciate that. The modest community, especially in the digital fashion space, has really pushed for inclusivity and has made it clear that we are here and this is what we like, and this is exactly why brands are responding. Yes, I'm realistic and I realize that the modest market is extremely lucrative and the incentive for these brands is largely to capitalize on this, but isn't this the case for any endeavor a business operating for profit takes on? At the end of the day, I just think back to my 15-year-old self and how dope this would've been to me.
Who are some of your favorite high fashion and/or street designers of the moment?
For streetwear, I love what Demna is doing for Balenciaga. Virgil is also a genius and I just peeped the sneak peek of his inaugural Louis Vuitton SS19 Men's collection on IGTV and I'm so into it. Other current general faves for me are Jacquemus, Acne, Marques Almeida, Sies Marjan, Lorod and Sacai.
Do you have any modest styling tips for consumers out there who are interested in high fashion streetwear and modesty?
My number one tip is don't be afraid to experiment with pieces that aren't readily modest—it just takes trial and error. I'll find a really sick piece that has a crazy open back, off the shoulder or insane slits and I'll literally set some time aside to go through my closet and try it with a variety of different pieces. Even if you don't have the right piece in your closet now, playing around with what you have will give you an idea of what you need to tie the look together, modestly. Another solid tip is to stock up on modest layering basics in a range of colors, like long sleeve body shirts, mock neck EVERYTHINGS, basic solid maxi dresses and skirts. It makes a world of difference while you're shopping and styling.