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?
Linking up with:
Not Dead Yet Style, Elegantly Dressed and Stylish, Garay Treasures, High Latitude Style, Sydney Fashion Hunter, The Pleated Poppy, Style Elixir, Get Your Pretty On, Happiness at Mid-Life, A Labour of Life, Doused in Pink, Curly Crafty Mom, Fashion Should Be Fun, Rachel the Hat, Sincerely Jenna Marie, More Pieces of Me, Color and Grace, The Wardrobe Stylist, Not Dressed As Lamb, Style Nudge, Coco et La Vie en Rose, Fashionably Employed,The Fabulous Journey, Living on Cloud Nine, A Well Styled Life, Elegance and Mommyhood. Posh Classy Mom, Nancy’s Fashion Style, Sheela Writes, Shelbee on the Edge Over 50 Feeling 40 A Pocketful of Polka Dots