In my fashion style journey, I had two moms – Plain Mom and Polished Mom. Both of them taught me about fashion and style in two completely different ways.
Growing Up a Plain Jane
My mom never really placed much emphasis on clothing through my time growing up. When she took me out shopping, the only two requirements for any pieces to make it to the counter were that it fit and that it was cheap. Even better? If it even came with a free gift. My mom was not only a simple woman but she was also a religious one. She believed that fashion was… well, to put it simply, the root of all fitnah (evil). She taught me that good pious women would never show off her beauty. So I grew up internalising those beliefs. I would pick up a size XL when I was only a size M. Hide, hide, hide, my heart chanted. And so I did, I hid myself in baggy clothing. I ran away from cameras and dreaded gatherings. Why you ask? Because I would have to stand in my frumpy-looking clothes next to all the other sophisticated-looking girls and feel something amiss.
Everything changed when I met my Polished Mom – my aunt.
Meeting Polished Mom
When I was 18, my aunt who lived in Penang moved to Shah Alam and started her own fashion company. The news surprised me at first. She was never the fashionable type as far as I can remember. Nonetheless, I wasn’t too curious at the time. When summer came, she invited me to work for her company as a social media executive. I said yes and she asked me to meet her to catch up and have lunch together. When I saw her for the first time in years, my jaw hit the floor. She came wearing a simple black blouse tucked into a long baby blue feather skirt, while donning a flowy baby blue hijab. To complete the look, was a simplistic yet elegant pair of black heels. She even smelled nice. How she managed to look badass yet so angelic at the same time was beyond me. I’ve never even seen anyone wear a feather skirt in Malaysia in a shopping mall! But there she was. Confident, elegant and statuesque. And she was my aunt.
I had a million questions exploding like fireworks in my head. What happened to her? How? Why? When?
The Forgotten Part of Being Polished
I spent almost my entire summer with her, working at her fashion company. And the more I was with her, the more I wanted to be like her – a beautiful, stylish, down-to-earth Muslim businesswoman. She was the epitome of a boss babe. I finally hit the jackpot when she invited me to sleep over at her house for a week. I was curious about how she schedules her day. At the crack of dawn, after morning prayers, she made us healthy smoothies. Right after, she lent me an extra set of swimwear and we hit the swimming pool together. No giggling in the water. Just one lap after another after another for a whole two hours. I looked and felt like cooked spinach once the session was over. It baffled me even more to know that this was her daily routine.
However, what she said stuck with me till today. She said: “Your health is always number one. If you’re sick, no amount of nice clothes and make-up will help. Take care of yourself. Especially now while you’re still young.” It made me realise that what I saw on the outside – the clothes, the handbag, the shoes, the accessories, those were only one part of the equation.
Take Marion Caunter for example. Wife, mother, and a public figure that stands out for her style and fashion sense. Even as a mom of three, she always puts her health on top of the checklist. She even finds fun ways of getting her kids to stay active, even if it’s through movement for a tiktok video.
Who is the Beautiful Woman?
Another one of the most meaningful moments I had while staying with my aunt, was actually just the simple act of watching her get ready in the morning. From putting together an outfit to putting her make-up on while she sat at her vanity table. It was magical, in a way. The best live GRWM, that countless Youtube videos could never offer. I’ve never had the luxury of seeing my mom get ready when I was young so I never knew there was a process. Watching my aunt getting ready made me feel like I just witnessed a woman transforming into a goddess. Something in me whispered so that’s how they do it. As I tried my best not to fangirl out loud, I was reminded of a quote by Helena Rubenstein.
There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.— Helena Rubenstein
Honestly, I used to think the quote was a little harsh. Surely some girls are just born prettier no? But after seeing my aunt’s morning routine alone, I see the truth behind it. Beautiful women are actually those who put effort into themselves. They’re not necessarily pretty but they value themselves by taking care of what God had already given them. They have set standards for themselves through sheer discipline and consistent practice. When we went out, I watched how people treated her, how they were extra courteous and ever so willing to help her. I pointed this out to her and she smiled and said —
When you take care of yourself, you’re telling yourself “I am valuable”. And inevitably, people will see that. They too will respect you the way you have respected yourself.
Bridging Fashion and Faith
At this point, I was ready to grow my wings from all the enlightenment that I experienced. But there was something that still formed a tether between me and how I wanted to be. There was this gnawing guilt in me that was holding me back. Growing up in a religious Muslim family, my mom always said a pious woman would never draw attention to herself. She even implied that being fashionable was… well, sinful. But I would notice how she struggled putting clothes together in the morning (possibly because they came from stock clearance sales). The mismatched patterns that were hard on the eyes, the rough materials that would grow bumps after several washes, the gaudy colours that made her skin look dull and sallow. Something isn’t right.
My aunt smiled solemnly when I told this to her. She said:
I was like her once. I changed because someone had called me a ‘mak cik’ before I was one. It made me feel terrible. I told myself that I deserved better from myself. See, being stylish is not being an over the top diva like people see in the movies. Being stylish is having your own identity in the way you dress yourself. You dress according to your age, lifestyle, body shape, skin undertone, personal aesthetics, personality, everything that makes you, you. It’s a form of respect for yourself and who you are as a person. You won’t have the same style as I do because we’re two different people. But we can both be stylish. One can dress well without showing off. A woman can respect herself while still respecting others. Islam only prohibits overdressing and feeling superior over others. But dressing well? That’s a form of self-respect.
Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.— Epictetus
The result of it all?
Right after she said that, I finally felt like I could bridge fashion and faith in my heart. In fact, it was never contradicting to begin with. I was surprised to find that there was even a hadith (prophetic story) that mentioned that the Prophet SAW said: “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s-weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” The Prophet then said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.” I took it as a green light for myself, but I would remind myself from time to time to stay modest and humble.
Only The Beginning
Looking in retrospect, I feel like I’ve come a pretty long way from how I was before. From wearing trainers 24/7, I wore heels for the first time last year to my best friend’s wedding, despite being told I was too tall to wear them. From being afraid of cameras, I ended up becoming a model for my aunt’s fashion company, before moving on to becoming an ambassador. I stopped though because it turns out I just never really enjoyed posing for pictures. Surprise, surprise. But now I know I’m making my decisions based on preference and not fear. It was still a truly eye-opening and liberating experience for me. I’m lucky to have had both my Plain Mom and my Polished Mom who taught me two different perspectives on fashion and style. I still have much more to learn but I hope this message inspires you the same way it did for me. I wish you all the best on your own fashion and style journey.
Written by Anyss Athira, Style Section Writer.
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