Reasons Why Some Asians Dress Modestly And Conservatively

When it comes to fashion and clothing in Asian cultures, modest and conservative styles are more acceptable. Skimpy, figure-hugging, translucent and transparent clothing tends to be frowned upon, or at the very least not the go-to look for quite a few Asians.

Modest dressing is my kind of style pretty much every day. But that’s not to say I don’t wear something bordering on the ‘wild’ side. Occasionally I do, and have no regrets even though I come from a typical Chinese background.

Dress modestly, feel like you're in a different era, a different person | Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia

Dress modestly, feel like you’re in a different era, a different person | Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia.

In a nutshell, for many men and women alike, modesty is about dressing in a way where we avoid drawing attention to ourselves and avoid inspiring sexual attraction. It’s also about our attitude and character, about being humble and reserved in the way we live our lives.

The way some Asians dress is bound by the morals of religion and faith, some believing our physical body is not meant to be lusted after. Islam’s code of modesty advocates humility in all aspects of life: the faith encourages one to look inside a person; women are discouraged from adorning their bodies for men and vice-versa in order to uphold one’s dignity. An estimated 245 million follow Buddhism in China, and desire is seen as distraction and hinders fulfillment in this faith. Whereas in Confucianism, reconciling desire with one’s community to bring about communal structures is taught.

When I lived in humid Singapore, many of my Muslim lady friends wore the hijab (vs burka vs niqab). Some wore long sleeves (baju melayu for males, baju kurung for women) and even gloves all day long. I’m not religious, but I believe there’s more to a beautiful me than just my naked body. Even in Singapore’s forehead-sweat-dripping tropical weather, my go-to attire outside of school was a baggy T-shirt and Wrangler jeans all day alongside my Muslim friends.

The kawaii and innocent look has always been a trend among Asian girls and Asian men (think K-pop, J-pop boyband looks). Conservative dressing makes this look come to life. Sleeves, frilly high-neck collars, stockings and corsets can make one look like a doll, child-like – and looking young is a craze among many Asians. In a sense, wearing more protects our façade. Wearing more shields our skin from the sun and getting tanned is a travesty for some Asians.

At times I do like looking like an Asian doll, wearing purple long sleeves, bright coloured tops with star or heart prints and tight jeans to achieve this look. Kawaii is a look that I think is fun – a bright, light look reminiscent of positivity. Bringing out the inner child in me. Makes me more approachable to others too.

We might feel like a doll and look like one when we doll up, fully clothed.

We might feel like a doll and look like one when we doll up, fully clothed.

Sometimes modest dressing in Asian cultures is tied to gender structures that have long been rooted in tradition. Patriarchical hierarchies dominate many a typical Asian family: bodies are considered sacred powers of procreation, and some Asian women often feel subjected to be quiet and wear non-flamboyant attire to be seen demure, ‘worthy’ to be doted on. Generally speaking, the more scantily one dresses or the more fitting our attire, the more of our body is revealed for all to see, and the more our body exudes what we see and feel in the heat of sex.

Therefore, showing off ample skin or wearing figure hugging clothes that reveal or accentuate one’s private parts tends to be seen as obscene in Asian cultures. Also, sex and nudity are taboo topics among many stereotypical Asians who uphold the values of privacy and purity. That is, some Asians regard the body as a temple; there’s more to a body than how it looks and stimulates aroused desire within us. When you meet someone, would you rather sell sex – sell what your body can do physically and emotionally towards another’s – or rather sell who you really are spiritually – what your heart is capable of together with another’s? Or both…

One time when I was seventeen, my parents came shopping with me. I picked out a black skirt and tried it on. The hem brushed a couple of inches above my knees. I liked the look, thought it was elegant. But dad said, “No. No. The skirt has to be below your knees.” My lips curled into a scowl. I don’t shop with my parents anymore. Some say the conservative fashion codes in Asian cultures are oppressive in terms of our individual right to wear what we want. However, staying covered is a necessity for women in places such as India because if one doesn’t, the leering male gaze beckons and so does rape.

Wear more and some may stereotypically think we are prudish and wear less some may stereotypically think we are adventurous. In many Western corners of the world, skimpy attire is acceptable. Showing skin is seen as having the confidence to embrace one’s body no matter the shape – we all have skin, a belly, thighs, chest and so on. Wearing less in Western cultures is also a sign that one is brave to speak out – dare to bare, dare to share.

These days some Asians feel more and more this way, not against skimpy clothing. Chinese-Portugese Australian model Jessica Gomes and Zhejiang-born Chinese model Sui He have walked international catwalks modelling that clothing reveals much. Within the realms of anime, video games and cosplay, the sexualised kawaii image is common. Perhaps our mentality is becoming more Westernised these days, or perhaps we care less about what we wear, or don’t wear, and care less about what others think about our fashion sense. In other words, we simply are who we want to be and do what we want to do, with heart. As essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, true beauty lies both on the inside and outside:

“Beauty is the virtue of the body as virtue is the beauty of the soul”

Sometimes we may wonder if being fully clothed make us all the more attractive to others.

Sometimes we may wonder if being fully clothed make us all the more attractive to others.

Often we dress to suit the occasion, having a penchant for wearing more on certain days and less on others. Most of the time when it’s less than 25’C in Melbourne I dress modest, jacket wrapped around me. But I have no qualms about wearing just a tank top and shorts on a hot summer’s day out and about in this city. I’m also not the only one among my Asian female friends who doesn’t wear a bra all day, every day.

There are times when the way we dress is seen as a statement, perhaps a political, feminist, rebellious or religious stance or at the very least a façade that is judged. What is modest to us may not be modest to others. In Malaysia, Western tourists have been arrested for stripping off on top of Mount Kinabalu and at the Grand Prix. In Cannes, fines have been issued to those who cover up at the beach – like someone wearing a burkini or headscarf. In Australia, there is open racism towards Muslim women wearing the hijab. On the contrary, in Saudi Arabia women generally wear fully-covered burkinis or abayas when they go swimming in public, and baggy boardshorts for men.

It has been argued that wearing more is the in-thing, that modesty is the new sexy. Rightfully so. But sexy really is about feeling confident in what we wear whether modest or not-so-modest, comfortable in our own skin doing what we want to do – and that is where self-worth comes from. However, dressing modest we not only see others as more than objects of affection to be felt and held, but we also come to truly connect with each other. As author Wendy Shalit said, beauty comes from uncertainty:

“Modesty answers not the crude how of femininity, but the beautiful why.”

It is the way we carry ourselves that defines the true beauty within us.

It is the way we carry ourselves that defines the true beauty within us.

Most days, my typical outfit is a plain T-shirt and jeans, be it on a weekday when I don’t have to work or weekends. Nothing wild. You could say my fashion sense is boring, as plain as a wallflower. I even like to wear a T-shirt and jeans on dates to fancy places. I always wonder what the date thinks of this…

The way we dress and look isn’t the be all and end all. But there’s always something mysterious about modesty. Modesty brings out a level-headedness in us. Modesty conceals, hides not only the physique of ours but who we really are.

It holds back the depths of what makes us tick, and a little bit of mystery about each other makes us interesting puzzles to figure out. And connect with too.

Do you dress modestly?

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239 thoughts on “Reasons Why Some Asians Dress Modestly And Conservatively

  1. Interesting to know about the way people dressing in Asia. I’ve been only to Kazakhstan in that part of the world, and I could say that they are wearing the same way like we do in Ukraine. Personally I like to wear modesty. I prefer comfortable clothes which allow me to move fast and don’t think about too short skirt or smth. I think that modest clothes were designed to highlight the natural beauty of the person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mabel, You’ve obviously struck a chord with your thought-provoking post given these great responses. I am pretty modest and now that I’m older, definitely choose comfort first (especially in the shoe department!) Great post and wonderful portrait as your example.

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  3. I guess my style could be considered modest, although I would call it more precisely lazy xD I can’t be bothered wasting a lot of time getting dressed and ready, so I’m usually with jeans and a tshirt. Oh and I don’t know how to use make up. But sometimes if I feel inspired, or if I go to a party or something, I wear dresses and skirts. I don’t mind showing leg and cleavage for special occasions, haha. But I’m not too exaggerate.

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    • Lazy, yes! I think that is also my style too. Just put on what I see first when I open my closet, lol. Go ahead, show the skin that you want at a party. Just don’t feel cold and get a cold!

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  4. Amazing photos Mabel! 🙂 How did you achieve blurring every person in the background except for your model?

    For the topic…lets just say that it would be a looooong comment 😀 How people dress depends mostly of the place they live and religion they have or not have. I think all bigger religions compliment and encourage modest dressing and covering up. But for example for people in many tribes in Africa it is perfectly normal to go around with only a little piece of clothing covering their crotch, boobs are everywhere you look because they have different culture and beliefs (also, practical – because who would wear clothes on extremely high temperatures?)
    I wear “regular” look, the sweatpants and hoodies, but I have to say that I feel more sexy in tight clothes than I do when I am showing a lot of skin. It is extra unpractical, having to be aware of how you will bend and sit and stand and walk etc., because something may slip. Also I am constantly aware that for example my cleavage is showing and by that I can’t focus on the person I’m talking to.

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    • Your (tribal) African example of dressing is interesting. So true that these days in some parts of the world communities still dress that way, maybe because they have little clothes or maybe it is simply their way of dressing. Very nice to hear that you are comfortable in both loose and tight clothing – and hopefully none of your tight clothes have slip off before 😀

      Awww. You are so kind with your words for my photos. Sometimes I can achieve the blurred background (called bokeh) by focusing on the person correctly with the camera, while setting the f-stop setting of the camera to small…haha, photography talk…

      …then again, sometimes this is not possible because I don’t have the settings right. So, editing the photos help me achieve this look 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Here is Latin America, women to be quite the opposite, at least when they go out at night, etc… I am quite simple though…
    I see what you point out concerning the traditional Patriarchical hierarchies which might still dominate many Asian families… I love the Asian doll look as well, probably inspired by Comics and Manga… I think Cosplay could be an expression of it around the world… Finally and just because you mentioned it, I am quite fond of K pop… I created a playlist on YouTube and listen to it at times when I work out… It is super energetic….
    Great and very interesting post dear Mabel… sending much love and best wishes. Aquileana 🌟🔲

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    • Oooh, so in Latin America tend to be quite expressing by wearing less, showing more. Well, if they are confident, they are confident and they are sexy 🙂

      I think you can pull off the doll look very well 😉 It is a look that has always fascinated me. I like the energy of Kpop too, especially the boybands. I used to listen to Kpop a lot and then life got in the way… Happy working out and looking forward to chatting more with you soon, lovely ❤

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  6. There is so much here to ponder, Mabel. Clothing and how we dress can be our very first rebellion against our fathers 😉 You are right that here in our Western culture, wearing less is a sign of a woman’s self confidence. However, there’s a fine line there. I admire modest attire, especially when it’s well made, with beautiful fabric (kind of like the woman in your photo). Modesty is mystery. Sadly, I can think of some women on social media who practically bare all. That is not self confidence. In fact, baring all can also be a sign of insecurity. Great topic, Mabel!

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    • It is so true that there are women on social media who like to bare a lot, and agree it could be a sign of insecurity. Sometimes you do wonder what you achieve by baring all, and what is the point of having heads turn at you and look at what you are flaunting 🙂

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  7. As you get older dressing modestly comes naturally, Mabel. Who wants to ogle aging skin? 🙂 🙂 I was a huge fan of the mini skirt when I was young, and once in a while I still like to show a little leg. Not too much though.

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  8. I think it’s all about dressing comfortably, Mabel. I know that whenever I wear something that I don’t feel right in, then it can so often affect my whole day. I don’t feel as confident as I normally do and I tend to think negativity. Wear something I feel comfortable in and it can lift not only my whole mood but my whole day. 😃
    Now, shopping for those clothes is a different kettle of fish because I am not a keen shopper.

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    • “…then it can so often affect my whole day” Very honestly put, Hugh. It’s the same for me to. Wearing something that doesn’t feel good on us, we tend to think about how we can feel comfortable or re-position what we’re wearing. Think a shirt that is a little too short for us or jumper that feels rough on the skin.

      For some reason I always pictured you as a keen shopper, Hugh… Oh dear, totally wrong impression 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • lol, well, once upon a time I was a keen shopper. Then I met my partner who has to visit every shop when looking for clothes. We usually end up going back to the first shop to get what he needs. I tend to now do my shopping online. No crowds, no queues, no getting wet or cold if the weather is dismal, no having to find a parking space…😃

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        • Hope what you buy online fits. I hear a lot of online stores offers returns these days if it don’t fit right 🙂 I like how your partner takes his time to shop, though. It sounds like me when I do brave the shopping crowds occasionally 🙂

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  9. Really enjoyed reading this!fashion is fed to is by media,of what’s acceptable and what isn’t..I wear a burka.I didn’t before but now I really feel like I’m presenting my personality to the world rather than how tight my jeans are.check out my latest post..also a worldly affair

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    • Good on you for proudly dressing how you want. When we’re comfortable with what we’re wearing, that’s when we can feel free to be ourselves. Nothing really is out of fashion so long as we are comfortable and and confident in it.

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  10. It’s really an important issue to dress modestly in India! Apart from the metro cities, wearing ‘bold’ dresses is not advisable. Personally, I think, it’s one’s choice how one should dress up. And, the definition of modesty varies from country to country, culture to culture. But sadly, Asian society has a penchant for judging a woman’s character by her dresses.

    Like you, I always feel most comfortable in jeans and Tees. But, I often team up with ‘Kurtis’ as well instead of tees. 🙂

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    • I’ve heard so much about covering up in India, and playing it safe with what one wears by covering up. It’s simply the culture there, and the modesty standards as you mentioned.

      I like the Kurtis’ bright colours. Indian women wear it so nicely 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I do in most occasions. The only time I don’t is when I’m at the beach.

    In the Philippines, it is still considered inappropriate to wear revealing clothes (especially for women). The Bible defines decent dress as something that shows your face and fingers only.

    On the contrary, this is no longer the case. Civilized Filipinos, in general, no longer adheres to the biblical definition of appropriate clothes, culturally speaking at least. Like most countries across the globe, we’ve gradually adopted Western trends.

    I’ll tell you something. I like it when my wife wears sexy clothes―on the condition that I’m around. That‘s strictly forbidden though when I’m not. I hope that’s not something that offends your sentiment.

    When you said “I’m not religious, but I believe there’s more to a beautiful me than just my naked body.”, I heard probably one of the sexiest statements ever. It speaks a lot about how interesting you are inside out…

    As for me, I love wearing something that highlights my body. I usually go for something that seem to have been tailored for my body type. If it fits perfectly to my optical organs…that for me is dressing modestly.

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    • It is interesting to hear that Filipinos are more and more into Western fashion trends. I think it applies to many parts of Asia too, and the fact that many of us are curious and keen to experiment with expressing ourselves.

      Of course not I am not offended. If your wife wears sexy clothes and she is confident in it, sure. Good on her. And if you like that look, why not. Different things turn us on.

      You are very kind to say that I am interesting. I do like dressing and looking a certain way, but at the end of the day I really do what to be appreciated the person whom I am on the inside. Treating others with kindness from all of my heart is the most important look to me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh my god I have finally found you!!! Thank you so much for writing about something so close to my heart. You tap into identity, culture, multiculturalism, being Asian…. I’m so excited right now, will do some midnight reading one night and literally devour everything 🙂

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  13. OWHHHhhh, but I love how you explain things my Lovely. Being a jeans (or jeans shorts on my island) and a t-shirt kind of gal, it’s my go-to-outfit almost all year round!! I do so relate with all you’ve shared here, but it’s so nice to know the backgrounds and reasons behind Asian’s dress styles. It all comes down to ones upbringing, similar I think to western folks way of dressing when you think of it.

    Dressing modestly, I think has always been my comfort zone, I feel I’m channeling some ancient grandmother sometimes when I’m out late at night with the gang and run into mobs of scantily glad young things and hear that voice inside me that wants to say “go home and put some clothes on young lady!!!!”. Now, when you add in the Asian scantily clad, way, WAY too much skin showing tiny weeny little outfits…. I feel somehow I’ve been transported into the back streets of Thailand somehow and there is something for sale going on.

    Oh dear, I’m getting old. Look what I’ve just written – lol. But, hey, it’s how I feel and there you have it.

    As always, awesome thought provoking post. Mwaaahhh till next visit.

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    • Jean shorts! I love jean shorts too Miss Anna! I have a habit of cutting off half the legs of my long jeans and then making jean shorts out of them…

      I don’t think you are old at all, just conservative and you like to cover up because that means feeling less cold. But it is not a crime to dress either way, and I’m guessing a lot of us are guilty of dressing both conservatively and more skimpily on certain occasions 🙂

      Big hugs right back at you, and really hope to meet you soon at some point, fabulous ❤

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  14. I have to say that the trend here in Korea at least is leaning towards more scantily clad (and not in a good way, at least in my opinion). Most women still dress relatively modestly, but I’ve seen the bottom of enough butt cheeks here to be pretty grossed out. And I feel that way in EVERY country. 😉

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  15. Very interesting insight ! I think the way you dress depends where you live and .. what kind of clothes you can buy in the shops. I struggle a lot in the uk because the clothes are a bit weird sometimes … you can see a lot of skin and I don’t feel comfortable. So I like to buy outdoors gears because it’s very comfy and the fit is great 🙂

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  16. Really enjoyed this post. I’ve browsed a few others and will be returning. I really enjoy how you dig deeper to explore the psychology and influences of how things came to be. I feel entertained and smarter after reading one of your posts. Great work! ☺️

    Like

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