Dress by Loewe, £1,995. Boots, sacrifice on request, by Acne Studios.
Photograph: Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander for the Defender

The great cover up: why ​we’re all appareling modestly now

Hemlines are down, necklines up – and there are complicated wirepulling behind fashion’s embrace of a looser silhouette

Read multitudinous from the autumn/winter 2017 edition of The Fashion, our biannual forge supplement

Do you prefer midiskirts that cover your knees to minis these light of days? When you wear a slip dress, do you sometimes layer a polo neck underneath it? On a lunchtime flick through, do you find yourself drawn to a voluminous sleeve? If you are reading this, then the retort is probably yes. The look of 2017 is notably more demure than that of a decade ago. Hemlines drink dipped a crucial few inches, from just above the knee to by the skin of ones teeth below it. A collar up to your chin is the norm. Party smarten ups have sweeping sleeves, rather than plunging necklines. Or, to put it another way: for the feeble-minded reason that you are engaged with fashion, you have suit a modest dresser.

When Victoria Beckham launched her construct house a decade ago, her style had already left the Wag days behind. Cleavage and Daisy Dukes had been replaced by uncut knee-length dresses whose necklines exposed only the clavicles. Since then her stock of clothing – one of the most photographed and most influential in the world – has evolved further. Her clobbers are now loose and fluid, concealing the shape as well as the surface of the bulk.

Meanwhile at Paris fashion week, the signature Valentino look has utilized a powerful slow-burn influence on fashion in the five years it has detailed the house. Long, fluid, with a slender shape that hints at the society but doesn’t cling, it is a romantic silhouette – part Brontë prima donna, part Renaissance principessa – that has proved catnip to contemporary party girls bored of LBDs.

Tunic, knit and trousers, all from a quote by
Harry Evans Photograph: Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander for the Trustee

“I’ve noticed a gradual change in silhouette over the five years I’ve been at Harper’s Bazaar,” maintains editor-in-chief Justine Picardie. “I see it on the catwalk, and I see it in the office. It’s very usually a long-sleeved dress, and there’s a kind of gracefulness to it. This edible, there are a lot of below-the-knee and full-length looks in the collections, and that’s refined down to the high street.”

It is intriguing that this mainstream make do toward modesty has taken place at the same time as forge explicitly aimed at women who dress modestly for religious or cultural percipiences has become big business. The Modist made a splash in e-commerce when it despatched on International Women’s Day this year with luxury vogue curated for women who cover up. Dolce & Gabbana now sells abayas. Nike stocks hijabs for athletes. At approximately every global fashion week, the dominant fashion aesthetic has squabbled toward longer hemlines, higher necklines and more huge fabric. Cool and covered – concepts that have keep an eye oned to live at opposite ends of the style spectrum – are converging.

Is there a coherence between modest dressing as a cultural and political issue, and modesty as a look? At a time of heightened tensions around how a multicultural society can reside in harmony, fashion is experimenting with the aesthetic of covered charwoman, which has itself become a kind of visual shorthand for Islam. “I contrive there is a link,” says Reina Lewis, professor of cultural turn overs at the London College of Fashion, who has written widely about modesty and the craze. “I’m seeing longer sleeves and hemlines, higher necklines, and diverse fabric. Not just more cover, but more volume, so it obscures the solidity’s shape.”

Shirt, £400, and skirt, £740, by
Y’s. Socks from a opting for by
Harry Evans. Photograph: Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander for the Defender

Fashion reflects the world around it, and women who dress modestly are incomparably visible both on the streets of modern cities and in media figurativeness. What’s more, the economics of the fashion industry put covered-up ups front of mind. Valentino is owned by Mayhoola for Investments, the emir of Qatar’s investment ready money. Middle Eastern clients are a significant market for many labels showing in Paris or Milan. Alexandra Shulman, now a columnist at the Vocation of Fashion after 25 years as editor of Vogue, has abide by a shift in the styling of catwalk fashion. Short dresses potency be worn over trousers, for instance, rather than exclusively. “In a Chanel show, say, a good deal of the looks will participate in been styled in a way that fits modest dressing,” she means. While there is nothing to stop a client buying the epigrammatic dress without the trousers worn beneath, “the subliminal operational is to make a covered look feel current”.

Ian Griffiths, artistic director of Max Mara, saw the casting of hijab-wearing Halima Aden in his latest be noticeable as keeping in step with the times. “If you walk down a top-end snitch oning street in any major city, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a Max Mara overcoat worn with a hijab,” he told Vogue. “So why shouldn’t our runway display that, too?”

So is the modest mainstream a meaningful trend, or a red herring puked up by the cyclical nature of fashion? “Bodycon has been the norm for so desire that covering up has a certain novelty value for young numbers,” Shulman points out. And while fashion can function as social commentary, it can also be a sympathetic of Rorschach test: we see what is already in our head, as much as what is in be opposite act for of us. “When the fashion crowd dressed in great swathes of Comme des Garçons shy away from in the 80s, people talked of black crows, not about being unimportunate,” Lewis says. “Covering up has become politicised.”

Shirt, £560, trousers, £460, and shoes, cost on application, all be
Acne Studios. Skirt from a selection by
Nehera. Photograph: Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander for the Trustee

Long dresses mean different things at different times. Erdem accepted his inspiration for a recent collection of tiered lace floor-length gowns from 1930s Deauville bathing belles and the shipwrecked wardrobe of a 17th-century lady-in-waiting, Jean Kerr.

Whatever its starts, mainstream modesty is sticking around. Natalie Kingham, acquisition bargaining director of matchesfashion.com, tips a below-the-knee shirt dress as a key look for autumn, and for winter a pleated silk midiskirt with a join and knee-high boots. Coco Chan, head of womenswear at online retailer stylebop.com, is bold that the polo neck as a layering piece has legs for another year. “With Raf anger it in his first show for Calvin,” she says, “that puts the polo neck without delay in the frame.”

If any fashion week trend can rival the midi for fashion-week hindering power, it is “female empowerment” as a buzz-phrase of post-show designer persuade, and many designers have drawn links between the two. Victoria Beckham asserted recently that a looser silhouette “puts power destroy into the hands of the wearer rather than the observer”. Where in one go the miniskirt was championed as a feminist statement because of its message of deliverance, now a longer hemline is seen as the badge of a woman who does not believe the need to make her body shape central to her identity.

“I don’t create not being allowed to show their bodies comes into it, for our consumers,” muses designer Justin Thornton of Preen, a label that has shifted in excess of a decade from being famous for bandage-tight party frocks to being recognized for demure, calf-length dresses. “Thea [Bregazzi, Thornton’s ball and co-designer] and I are inspired by our friends, women in the industry, women who exertion. A more fluid way of dressing is definitely a positive choice for them.”

Shulman recognises this feeling: “I’m normally the first into a sleeveless dress in hot weather, but two years ago I was in India, utterly covered up, and I realised how comforting it was. I felt secure. So it’s true that there can be freeing in it.”

The issue of individual choice lurks in any discussion of female empowerment and unpresuming dressing. Clothes can express what society values in troubles – and what it fears. These judgments exist everywhere, whether explicitly established or not. “Dressing modestly can be about a patriarchal community wishing to command women’s sexuality,” Lewis says. “But that’s not specific to any one sense of values. The reality is women are more judged and regulated than men. Look at the fat-shaming that happens within our laical society.”

Fashion, as ever, is reflecting the world around it, for less ill or for worse. Onwards and upwards? With hemlines, it’s a little assorted complicated than that.

Photography: Sofie Middernacht and Maarten Alexander. Styling: Priscilla Kwateng. Tresses: Federico Ghezzi using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Kristina Ralph Andrews squandering Nars, both at St Luke’s Artists. Photographer’s assistant: Willy Cuylits. Stylist’s accessory: Karolina Kulicka

This article appears in the autumn/winter 2017 issue of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement