Keeping Cool in Modest Clothing

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Modern Traditional's guide to staying cool in modest clothing.
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Keeping Cool in Modest Clothing

Summer is coming, and the weather is starting to heat up.  Though many women opt to wear less clothing this time of year, many prefer to dress more modestly.  Some do this because of religious requirements, but others dress sensibly for social and professional reasons.  In this article I'll explain why maintaining modesty in summer makes sense and share a few ways to cover up to stay cool and protected.

The Sun Protection Factor

Clothing offers the best sun protection.  Creams with SPF are okay, but they rub and rinse off, and some people have bad reactions to them.  They can also create a false sense of security, leading people to believe that they have more protection than they do.

In addition to UV rays, the heat from the sun bearing directly onto the skin is also harmful.  If your skin is exposed to the environment, it will eventually be the same temperature as its environment.

Underdressing can be just as threatenning to the health as overdressing in hot summer temperatures.  The risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke increases when the skin is hot, dry, and exposed to high temperatures. Physical activity increases the body's temperature and metabolic rate, but when the weather is hot even lying down in the sun can raise them.  On days when it is hotter outside than it is in your body, clothing can insulate you from heat as it does from cold.

Wearing light coloured, lightweight, loose fitting clothing of natural fibers in hot weather and a wide brimmed hat or a scarf does many things to prevent heatstroke.

  • It reflects sunlight away from the skin without absorbing so much of the heat.
  • It helps to keep natural oils or lotions where they belong, on your body, rather than being evaporated into the air along with your sweat.
  • It prevents these oils from being exposed to the heat and sunlight where they can "fry".  We all know that putting oil on makes one tan darker.  It makes one burn faster as well.
  • It wicks some of the sweat away from the skin to keep you comfortable, but retains enough of it to help the sweat do its job of keeping you cool.

Sensible clothing does not have to be overly baggy or frumpy.  In cultures wherein modest clothing is the rule, you will notice that aside of isolated dysfunctional situations, people dress with joy.  It is either the joy of knowing that they are serving the god of their faith well by dressing modestly, or the more grounded joy of being well dressed.  One may also note that people use dress to communicate their beliefs, family group, ethnicity, or other things about themselves.

If you're a westerner who is new to modesty by choice, you may be impressed with the attire of those you see from modesty friendly cultures, but unsure of where to start for yourself.  My suggestion is to look back into your own culture to see how the fashionable women dressed when western culture was modesty friendly as well.  Also, consider how many people dress up to go to church, synagogue, mosque, and temple.

A good classic, modest, and yet modern summer look for summer for westerners who don't want to go full out into middle eastern or African styles is a shell shirt, a button down long sleeved shirt used as a sort of a jacket, a mid-calf khaki skirt or capri pants, and a scarf, bandana, or hat.

Ralph Lauren has plenty of looks along that line to choose from this year.  Have a look at FTV or a fashion magazine and you'll see that this classic look is back again.  Think "on the greens" or "safari".

If you don't mind looking a little less than totally secular, and want to try out styles from various ethnicities, just make sure to be respectful of the cultures they came from.  Learn about what various styles and accessories mean and then craft a look that suits your personality.

For instance, if you are a working, professional woman who likes the streamlined classy look, you can go for the Jordanian jilbab set.  This is like a very long button down and collared shirt and pants set.  They are also generally made to wear in hot weather.  Worn with a scarf and sunglasses, you can have that incognito celebrity look.

If you're more the tomboy type, and get your hands dirty, go for a kurta and salwar, or even capri length jeans with a ribbonned border.  Wear a bandana with that to complete the look, or tie a long scarf at the waist to give that "Sinbad" effect.

If you're femme and a bit flamboyant, get a nicely embroidered thobe and headrwap.

...and last but not least, there is the timeless salwar-kameez.  In the summer, I reccomend the Muslim cut in 100% cotton, as it is best for hot weather.  It is flowing and allows for plenty air circulation, and the dupatta that comes with them is also cotton and therefore, absorbent to take care of sweating, or to wet and use to keep your head and face cool.

Cotton saree and wrappers are also great for summer wear.  You can even find these in batiks or tie-dye in fabulous colors and designs.

There are lots of looks to choose from all over the world.

It's your body, and yours to decide what to show and what not, even in the summer.  Modesty does not have to be hot and uncomfortable.  In fact, it can be cooler than walking around naked.

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© 2006 Nicole Lasher