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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Tania Leslau

Best modest dresses for spring and summer 2024

Modesty doesn’t have to equate to minimalism. 

As evidenced by recent collections from Emilia Wickstead, Tove, Roksanda, Edeline Lee and Balenciaga, covering up is taking on a whole new sartorial cachet. Modest garments are becoming increasingly experimental in terms of colourways and designs, without sacrificing their conservative nature. 

Women have been dressing modestly for centuries. Modest fashion generally refers to garments that are loose in structure, long-sleeved and cover the elbows, legs and collarbone area. While the choice to dress modestly can be a personal one, it is a decision that’s typically steeped in religious reasoning.

Modest dressing is advised in a variety of holy scriptures belonging to various faiths and cultures. Most notably, the Islamic faith champions a modest approach to self-styling, but Orthodox Judaism, Christianity and Mormonism express similar sentiments. Within the vast realm of religion, dress acts as a complex set of sacred codes and symbols and a key expression of pious identity.

Modest fashion harkens back to the eighth-century Islamic Empire, when religion dedicated dress codes. However alternative factors such as sumptuary laws came into effect in later centuries, affecting style in drastic ways. From 1558 to 1603, Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws outlined what people could and could not wear depending on their social status. More ‘valuable’ members of society wore long gowns and ruffs that alluded to their wealth, covering the body in extravagant finery. 

Today, the position of modest dressing in the fashion sphere is less black and white. On the other end of the scale, trends such as ‘the naked dress’ and whimsical romance champion sheer fabrics, feminine bodily exposure and so-called wet looks. Brands such as Di Petsa, KWLS and Yuhan Wang spring to mind. 

Roksanda/Balenciaga/Erdem/Proenza Schoulder (Imaxtree)

In response, many may deem modest clothing to be anti-feminist and lacking in allure. However, some designers aim to break this stigmatisation by proving that modest clothing can be fun and feminine. Female-led labels such as The Frock NYC, and Mimu Maxi offer an alternate shopping experience specifically for Hasidic Jewish women searching for that certain je ne sais quoi, whilst conforming to the mandatory dress codes laid out by the Torah. Observant Christian and Muslim women are also regular clients of these designers, as they share the desire to dress modestly.

Mainstream brands including Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Versace have incorporated hoods, hijabs and veils into their collection, ensuring their clothing is accessible to all. 

Showing skin? Hot. Not showing skin? Also hot. Discover the best modest dresses to shop in time for spring.

Shop now

Reiss Florere Knitted Satin Midi Dress

Khaki is here to stay. The seasonless hue is uber-flattering, especially when cut in a divine slinky silhouette like this Reiss number.

Buy now £198.00, Reiss

DÔEN + NET SUSTAIN Amande Maxi Dress

Inject your wardrobe with florals this spring. DÔEN’s Amande dress features neutral tones which come to life in the form of dainty petals, a timeless homage to the mild season.

Buy now £261.73, Net-A-Porter

Laura Ashley X Joanie Avalon Campion Floral Print High Neck Prairie Dress

Embrace cottagecore with a sartorial smidgen of Laura Ashley and Joanie. The two brands collaborated to create a fairytale collection, including the Avalon Campion prairie dress which is perfect for field foraging and frolicking.

Buy now £26.70, Joanie

Sister Jane Star Ballad Jacquard Midi Dress

It’s time to reign in the colour for spring. Sister Jane has plenty of long-sleeved dress options to discover, but the sunny yellow sleeves of this printed piece caught our eye.

Buy now £92.00, Sister Jane

Cefinn The Loretta Recycled-Blend Crepe Midi Dress

Cefinn is the ultimate destination for fabulous frocks. The Loretta dress comes in a charming apple green houndstooth print featuring ruffles galore. The elegant detailing infuses the number with a touch of romance, which is elevated by a dainty tie-neck.

Buy now £320.00, Matches

Really Wild London Liberty Print Silk Ruffle Front Dress

One of the Princess of Wales’ go-to labels, Really Wild is another British brand that champions conservative clothing which is never dull. Available in an orange-pink floral print, this ruffled number is a cheerful addition to any spring wardrobe.

Buy now £525.00, Really Wild

Maria De La Orden Aleria Long Corduroy Dress

After a conservative look that flatters the figure? Maria De La Orden has got you covered. The designer’s Aleria dress is a corduroy concoction featuring a ruched bodice that hugs the torso. A high neck ruffled collar and long sleeve retain a strong element of modesty, while a dusty rose hue serves up a feminine feel.

Buy now £225.00, Liberty

Staud Winona Maxi Shirt Dress

Keep it simple with a chic shirt dress to style out as you please this season. A polo collar complements long cuffed sleeves and a maxi silhouette that offers a voluminous look.

Buy now £570.00, Net-A-Porter

Mango Satin Checkered Dress

Mango’s satin dress has many elements that spark intrigue - from the asymmetrical hemline and the lightly checkered print, to the floaty silhouette. Add a pair of knee-high boots for a creative yet considered look. 

Buy now £79.99, Mango

Aligne Mirabella Long Sleeve Denim Dress

Aligne’s Mirabella dress covers all, while remaining a spring staple with edge. A longline skirt and button-front promise stylish modesty. 

Buy now £129.00, Anthropologie

L.K.Bennett Wren Floral Midi Dress

Another royally-approved brand, L. K. Bennett has many long-sleeved, longline dresses to browse. The Wren dress, which showcases a muted palette coupled with ditsy florals, offers shoppers an understated outfit to wear year in, year out.

Buy now £143.00, John Lewis

Rixo Maddison Shirt-Dress

Shirt dresses promise ease of layering. Slip into Rixo’s Maddison dress with a high neck, long sleeve and button fastening. Not only have you created dimension through layers, but you’ll be serving a look suitable for both mornings in the office and evening outings.

Buy now £265.00, Liberty

Arket Smocked-Waist Gingham Dress

Smocked and poplin silhouettes are a firm favourite among modest dressers. Arket’s gingham number can be effortlessly thrown on when in a rush. Styled with a ruched beltline and balloon sleeves, the dress is a must for print enthusiasts.

Buy now £97.00, Arket

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