Monday, 31 October 2016

Screw 'Modest Style'!

modest fashion

What the Hell is Modest Style???

A while back I received an email by a company suggesting a collaboration on modest style. I actually had to google what the term meant, and I quickly decided it was not for me.

I'm not going to try and define 'modest style' here. Instead, I want to talk about why I find the concept at best irrelevant, and at worst offensive. But first, I would like to point out that it's not my intention to offend anyone, and I realise there might be women out there who, for whatever reason, subscribe to such concepts and perhaps even find them helpful. However, I do want to point out that 'modest style' is one of those concepts that is very much tied to cultural background and societal norms. And it is this context I wish to discuss here. Because 'modest style' as a cultural concept does NOT apply to me.

So, since we're talking about cultural background, I should start by defining mine. Yes, I'm a Finn, and as such I very much subscribe to the whole Nordic / Scandinavian egalitarian view of the world. What exactly does that mean? Well, for starters, I find the whole discussion on how women should and shouldn't dress somewhat obsolete. I mean, who cares? Does anyone ask what men should or shouldn't wear?

As I said, I'm the product of my cultural framework as much as any other woman, or man, for that matter. And yes, as a Nordic woman I'm probably rather naive about gender roles in other societies, and certainly privileged in many respects. I do realise that I take a lot of things for granted: that I expect to be seen as an equal to any man; that I'm seen as a human being instead of just a pretty face or a hot body; and that I'm judged on my professional competence, not on my looks.

What does this have to do with 'modest style', you might ask. Isn't modest style simply covering up, refusing to wear 'sexy' clothes? And isn't that more or less the way I dress?

I don't like the term 'modest style' any more than I like terms such as 'sexy' or 'slutty'. All of these terms are offensive because they reduce a woman to an objectified, sexualised 'other', defined by her value in relation to a man. These definitions have nothing to do with her skills and aspirations, or her value as a human being who is free to live her life as she sees fit, without being constrained by gender roles and societal expectations.

And then there's something that I actually didn't even want to mention, simply because it's so depressing. But hey, what the hell, so here goes:

'SEXY' OR 'MODEST', SERIOUSLY?!? ARE THOSE THE ONLY TWO CHOICES?!? 
MADONNA OR WHORE, IS THAT WHAT IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO??? AGAIN?!?

I'm NOT a 'modest dresser'

And my own style? No, I absolutely refuse to call it 'modest'. And I will not allow anyone else to call my style 'modest', either. Yes, I often cover my arms in summer. I wear maxi dresses. I do this because I want to protect my skin from the sun, and I hate sunblock. 'Modesty'  has nothing to do with it. And I'm certainly not a prude. I'm a Finn, for heaven's sake! We Nordics tend to have less body hangups, in general. And we do not equate nudity with sex. I'm perfectly OK taking my clothes off in public, in the appropriate setting (no, not a sexual setting), such as in the sauna (and no, mixed saunas with strangers are not the norm) or a spa. But no, you will not see any photos of me in swimwear, for two reasons: 1) I can't swim and 2) I never sunbathe (because I burn). As you can see, I have absolutely no use for swimwear...

So, I'm not a prude, and I definitely don't want to call my style 'modest'. Yet, you won't see me wearing mini skirts or low necklines. I have nothing against either, really, just that they're not the best looks for me. Let's take mini skirts, for example. I'm a strong believer in accentuating your best features. And wearing a mini skirt... Well, I could just hang a sign around my thighs with 'DID YOU NOTICE THAT THIS IS THE THICKEST PART OF MY BODY?' printed on it, the effect would be the same... You don't see me wearing midi skirts, either (too frumpy). Let's just say that a knee-length or a maxi skirt work best with my proportions.

But what about my rejection of low necklines, then? Nothing to do with modesty, either, and everything to do with my Nordic roots again. Low necklines are just impractical. Do I really want my boobs hanging out every time I lean forward? I mean, sure, having your boobs pop out 'accidentally' in social situations may work as a shortcut to 'fame' for women whose idea of a career highlight is ending up on a tabloid cover with a footballer or other brainless male 'celebrity'... But it's just such a cliché.

Don't Force Your Cultural Concepts on Me

No, Nordic women just don't usually dress in an overtly sexy way. We're too cool for anything so tacky. And nobody would call us prudes, quite the contrary. After all, Scandinavian women have (a somewhat well-deserved) reputation as being sexually liberated. However, to avoid the typical misconception, let me emphasize that this does not mean catering to male fantasies; we are sexually liberated on our own terms. It means we're in control, and we do whatever we want, if / whenever we want, and with whomever we want. As any Nordic woman knows, if she's after sex, all she has to do is show up in a bar and take her pick; what she wears is totally irrelevant.

So no, I don't like the term 'modest style'. I don't like the term 'sexy style', either. As a Nordic woman, I want to make a point that these terms are not relevant to all women, and some women might find them deeply offensive. And I really, really resent it when I, a Nordic woman, am seen through cultural concepts that are not mine.

Nobody else has the right to define me, my values, or even my style, and certainly not by using criteria I had no part in drafting. And no, I don't have to fit into a patriarchal idea of what a woman should and shouldn't be like, or what she should or shouldn't wear.

Maybe there is some merit to this naive Scandinavian ideal of looking at people as human beings, irrespective of gender, and let them be whoever they want to be, without trying to stick a label on them, or put them into a safe little box. And maybe we could find other terms to describe personal style instead of reducing it to an extension of female sexuality constrained by patriarchy. I'll start: I'm cool and modern, classic and chic.

What about you, what's your style?

Tiina
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18 comments

  1. What a great response!

    I had to laugh because I had a woman contact me on FB who then posted some of my photos as an indication of "modest style". I thought of all the things I'd call my style, modest wouldn't be one of them. I agreed to her using the photos but also feel that a declaration of choosing a word such as modest to describe a woman's style is unnecessary and irrelevant in Canada.

    I shared this with my Facebook readers.

    Great post Tiina!

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. You are such a kind person, Suzanne. I wouldn not have agreed to have my photos used in a context I find problematic. I'm usually a very flexible, live-and-let-live kind of girl, but there are a few issues that really push my buttons.

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  2. I am with you. As a 49 yr old, I'm tired of being told what's appropriate and what's not. Can I not figure that out for myself? Sure there are some 50+ yr old women who don't dress in a way I would care to, but so do many 30 somethings, and 12 year old for that matter.

    I talked about my frustration in finding blogs by women over 50 that were something other than lists of things not to wear, for fear of emphasizes ones age (or neck wrinkles), instead choosing more "modest" also known as "age appropriate" clothing, jewelry, etc.

    My blog post is http://adrienne49-plus.tumblr.com/post/150055300667/seeking-some-more-age-positivity-ive-been Hoping you will like it.

    Best,
    adrienne

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    1. I hear you. For me the main problem is the 'rules' set by some sort of conservative ideology with the aim of controlling women (sexuality, freedom of expression, etc). But for me it really is a cultural issue: I was born and raised in a very liberal country with strong emphasis on gender equality. It's the inequality and outright oppression justified on ideological/religious grounds that really pushes my buttons. I've actually never really thought about 'age appropriate' as a problem because I'm so used to seeing women of all ages dressing in a rather casual, trendy way, wearing rather youthful clothes and just doing whatever they want. I've never thought age would be a problem in that respect because in my country there's no shortage of mature, accomplished women as role models,

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  3. I will look up what Google says about ,,Modest,,. Don t even know it. Perhaps my style is too, I don t wear short skirts, my boobs never hang out and when I would walk on high heels they can put me directly on the breathalizer. But it s my style, Nancy s style!

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    1. The way I undertand it, 'modest' clothing is sort of the Christian version of the muslim women's veil: you wear it to avoid attracting attention to yourself. Probably there's more to it, and it may serve a purpose for some women, I don't really care. My point is, whenever religion or any ideology is used to tell a woman how to dress herself, that's just wrong. Nobody forces us to wear revealing clothing, and the only other option is not wearing something 'modest'. My point is, wearing very revealing, 'sexy' clothing is not so different from wearing 'modest' clothing, both objectify us and sexualize us.
      Yes, you have your own style, and that's the way it should be: you dress the way you like, not to follow a set of rules.

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  4. What a fantastically written post! Do you follow the British blog 'Clothes, cameras and coffee'? The author posts some great stuff on these topics.

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    1. Thanks! No, I don't know that blog, will have to check it out.

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  5. Tiina, you have expressed perfectly thoughts that so many of us share.I must admit to not really knowing the true meaning of modest style as this varies for each of us . This is like the term age appropriate and is open to personal guidelines, body comfort, lifestyle , etc.
    Your style is yours and that is how it should be , noone like to be pigeonholed. Well done.

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    1. I think we should just ditch all these rules and labels forced on us from the outside and do whatever we want. Who cares what we're wearing, as long as we like it and we're comfortable? My policy is that I never listen to unsolicited advice, and nobody tells me how to live my life. And I will certainly not wear anything to please misogynist ideologies, whatever the situation.

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  6. The term "modest fashion" has negative connotations for me too - dressing not to be noticed, being invisible. Nobody would ever suggest a man should dress modestly!

    Emma xxx
    www.style-splash.com

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    1. Yes, that's right! Why is it always women who need to be controlled?

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  7. You go girl, to the barricades. I consider myself a Nordic woman as well. Same as you in Finland, we hold the same values for women. Equal to men. Doing or not doing what YOU want. Keep up the good work.
    Greetje

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    1. Oh yes, that's me, to the barricades! I guess there are a few issues that bring out the old feminist in me...

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  8. This had me cheering as I read it Tiina. I couldn't agree more with every single word. This is something that so frustrates me that women are all too easily defined as one extreme or the other. Why just the two ends of the spectrum? And just because you choose to cover up for very valid reasons shouldn't be interpreted as modest dressing. It's oh so lazy thinking in my book.
    As Emma said, modest dressing have negative connotations for me too and I rail against that. Just as negative as all those lists of what we should and shouldn't wear after a certain age.
    Bravo for writing this post.

    http://petitesilvervixen.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I hate it when women are defined by some sort of criteria that has been imposed on from the outside. And I find the whole 'good vs bad girl' (or 'modest' vs whatever the opposite of modest is supposed to be) thing so incredibly boring. It's as if this debate has been going on since the dawn of time or something. A couple of hundred years of feminism and we're still wasting time ranting against old stereotypes? And then there's the whole cultural context that annoys me, too. I just can't identify with this view of women as defined by men, or by cultural constraints. I did not grow up with that.

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  9. HI Tinna-this modest style thing comes from the plethora of Mormon bloggers. They have modesty rules for dressing but what makes me laugh is that modesty seems to mean covering skin but they can still wear super tight skinny jeans. Modesty is relative, I guess. Stay immodest! It' suits you best.

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    1. Interesting... I have nothing against religion (of any sort), as long as it is not being forced on me, I just fail to understand why it should affect the way a woman should dress. Any ideology that tells me what I should and shouldn't look like is missing the point, in my opinion. Besides, I find it hard to believe God doesn't have anything more important to worry about than what I (or any other woman) is wearing...

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