At Cannes, Rawdah Mohamed Makes the Case for Modest Fashion

Fashion

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Covered-up dressing is a tool for playfulness, choice and creativity — not a hindrance to self-expression.

Fashion is always functioning as a statement. What you choose to put on your body, whether it’s intentional or not, sends a message to the outside world about who you are. But for women who adhere to modest fashion — a style often shrouded by reductive associations of restraint — these clothing connotations are more complicated. On the Cannes 2024 red carpet, Somali-born star Rawdah Mohamed is using her covered-up looks to push the conversation forward.

Last year, the model went viral after sporting Robert Wun’s scorched bride couture creation on the Cannes 2023 red carpet. The macabre moment was made even more memorable with her hijab peaking through the burnt veil. And this year, with the help of stylist Amar Faiz, her risk-taking has reached new heights. Throughout the celeb-crowded film festival, Mohamed has stood out in two exquisite ensembles that complement her conservative garb.

Photography by Getty Images

First, she donned a customized version of Cheney Chan’s aqua-coloured gown from the label’s Spring 2024 collection. Featuring a gravity-defying structural wave hood that reaches over her head, the neckline seamlessly flows into her pastel head scarf and billowy bell sleeves. The result was one of blooming beauty, made more impactful by a model-esque smize through retro sunglasses.

One day later, she went red in a custom Christian Dior ensemble inspired by the brand’s iconic ‘50s-era styles. Complete with a wide-brimmed hat and a crimson lip, the striking statement had a mesmerizing effect.

In these high-concept creations, Mohamed’s concealed clothing works to elevate her overall look. “She’s not showing body, she’s showing fashion,” says Toronto-based modest style content creator Zeynab Mohamed. “That’s the whole point.” Growing up, the 28-year-old says she never saw this kind of representation in the mainstream style landscape. Peers would assume that she was forced into wearing conservative clothing, and she often found that popular retailers didn’t have options for her.

“Wearing a hijab is interesting because a lot of people make assumptions on your behalf,” Toronto-based creator Sagal Jama tells FASHION. “It’s up to you to either be vocal or find a way to show self-expression through your attire in spaces where you can’t speak for yourself.” Rawdah Mohamed, she explains, does both.

In the model’s outside-the-box Cannes looks, her hijab is incorporated into intricate headpieces, while her elaborate approach to layering builds texture and depth. She also branches out from the expected hourglass silhouette, taking extra emphasis away from the body and putting it onto the clothing.

Even the signature style in which Mohamed wears her scarf, Jama says, contributes to her unique pop culture presence. “She has a very clean tucked-in look… her outfits blend with her scarf style, and she shapes her hijab to show her cheekbones.” Through these tasteful touches, the model respects the ethos of covered-up dressing while adding richness to her ensembles.

This kind of attention to detail is what makes modest dressing so exciting, say Mohamed and Jama. In North American fashion spaces, there’s a notion that conservative clothing stifles opportunities for experimentation. But according to them, it’s exactly the opposite. “There are certain shapes and styles of attire — like having a slit on your dress or showing your midriff — that are eliminated from your arsenal of dressing options, and you have to get a little more creative,” says Jama. “You’re trying to style the outfit; you’re not just wearing the clothes,” adds Mohamed.

Perhaps that’s why, these days, modest fashion is continually coming into the mainstream — and Cannes is the latest example. Meryl Streep looked dapper in a crisp Michael Kors Collection suit. French singer Yseult turned heads in a tailored maxi skirt ensemble (below). And Saudi star Yara Alnamlah stunned in a feathered gown that complemented her hair-concealing scarf. In our current divisive cultural climate, the rise of covered-up dressing holds a certain weight.

modest fashion cannes
Photography by Getty Images

“There has been a lot of discourse regarding modest fashion and Islamophobic rhetoric in general lately,” says Jama. That’s why she loves to see Rawdah Mohamed, because the star is both a red carpet risk-taker and an outspoken advocate for being yourself. “Her outfits are a reflection of her confidence,” she says. This kind of visibility is also what makes Mohamed excited for the future. She thinks of her young nieces, noting how they’ll grow up with modest fashion role models to look to.

Both Zeynab Mohamed and Sagal Jama point to the widespread yet false belief that only Muslim women dress modestly, and the unfair notion that doing so determines parts of your personality. “The sad reality of being a Muslim woman is that sporting a hijab means that you are almost always making a statement to somebody,” says Jama. “A lot of people put pressure on women who wear the hijab because they view them as a representation of the faith, and that’s a heavy burden to carry. People make assumptions about what you stand for, what your beliefs are, what kind of person you are.”

Ultimately, wearing a hijab — and any piece of conservative clothing — is a personal choice. To Zeynab Mohamed, it represents her religion, her creativity and her autonomy. “Dressing modestly doesn’t put you in a box,” she says. As Rawdah Mohamed continues to prove, it breaks the mould.

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