The Lost Art of Elegance

I’m a sucker for floor length, long-sleeved evening gowns. Elie Saab is my favourite designer (did you know he’s from Lebanon?). Zuhair Murad has some gorgeous designs (when they’re not too sheer!). Manish Malholtra rocks the Indian fashion scene with his outfits, and Aman Dhalay with her East meets West brand Javeda rocks it in Calgary (she designed my wedding outfits). Temperly London and Jenny Packman are two top UK designers who have celebrities knocking at their door.

The one word that ties all of these fashion gurus together is elegance. Their designs are elegant, modest, and timeless. That’s probably why Kate Middleton, my fashion role model, wears all of the above brands and many like them.

But I wonder if generations after mine and Kate’s (we’re pretty much the same age!) are losing a sense of elegance. Elegance in style and behaviour is what I mean by this. Perhaps there is a shortage of role models who fit this definition, as there certainly seems to be within popular media. Or perhaps younger generations find elegance yawn-inducing and out of style. Whatever the reasons may be, it is not good for society to lose elegance.

Elegance is not simply about how we dress. I recently saw an advertisement on a giant billboard in my parents’ neighbourhood for etiquette classes (by a company called Leadership Matters), for kids ages 8-16. I did a quick double take and thought that there must be a serious deficit of politely mannered kids if there’s a Calgary company offering etiquette classes. This was my parents’ job when we were growing up, has something changed? And apparently, they’re offering a one-time class for teenage girls at $250/participant where they can learn about healthy body image and the best clothing for their bodies. Ka-ching.

I think that elegance in style and behaviour comes from manners and etiquette. And I don’t mean waving your hand a la Queen of England style or holding a teacup with your pinky finger extended out! What I mean is learning how to interact with others in a polite and civil manner. With first impressions being so paramount and formed within the first 7 seconds of an interaction, I don’t think we can afford to act in a manner that may jeopardize our future relationships.

Unfortunately, with media portraying the appearance of women as body dominated and focused, with sexy (i.e. raunchy) trumping classy, and clothing stores following suit, girls and women may not have many clothing options to turn to to maintain elegance. Not to say that companies who respect elegance aren’t out there…it just takes more digging around than a quick run around the mall. But with trends that quickly appear and quickly go, perhaps fashionistas don’t have time for digging around. We need to buy that piece of clothing ASAP before it’s no longer a trend. Or perhaps we are afraid that we’ll look so different from everyone else that we shy away from wearing anything too different. Or perhaps too many girls are allowing their skin to do all the talking for them.

Elegance is about less being more…it’s about how you carry yourself, your manners, your behaviour, and your dress speaking all together. It’s about allowing your personality to mesh with your style to create elegance. It’s not about caking make-up on your face or wearing Christian Laboutin length stiletto heels because apparently, wearing heels is powerful and makes a women feel like she could conquer the world (Laboutin’s paraphrased words from an interview with Jian Ghomeshi’s Q on CBC Radio).

I think that Islam lends itself very well to the notion of elegance. Not solely in the way it classifies modest dress, but in how Muslims should be acting around all those they interact with. Polite manner, smiles, caring words, and patience are all hallmarks of elegance. Elegance is the way in which someone doesn’t demand attention because they don’t need it! They are more than happy to not purposely draw attention to themselves unless it is invited through how they act and speak.

There are some Muslim women (no, many!) who believe that elegance can be dropped at all women parties or wedding receptions. Have attended a few myself, my eyes have been scarred from the goods of women who have decided to “let it all hang out” since they’re in an all female environment. While I understand that wearing modest clothing requires times of liberation, this ain’t the hippy era and we really do not need to see all of that. I’ve felt like going up to women and whispering “save this for your husband!” Elegance still has a time and place around other women. And yet I feel that all-female events often have an undertone of “who can show the greatest amount of skin” contest.

And so, I really hope that elegance isn’t withering away. When we InshaAllah have our own children (fingers crossed for a girl, HA!), I want her to understand what elegance and eloquence is. I want her to learn that her manners, behaviours and appearance need to add up to something understated yet at the same time, strong and polite. She should not demand attention when she walks into the room, but by her conversation, personality, and manners. I want her to understand modesty from more than the narrow and erroneous perspective that many misguided Muslims shove down women’s throats (hijab, hijab, hijab). It’s not solely about your hair, since Islam refers to the entire package…body, mind, and soul.

How can we teach elegance to this generation and those following? We need to arm them with positive female role models, regardless of their religion. Parents need to model elegance through their words, behaviours and intentions. Discussions around elegance need to start when children are young and continue as they mature, tied into religion and the overall arching theme of modesty. Of course girls need to still feel beautiful, but there are elegant ways of feeling this way, and it’s not solely based on outward appearance either.  Elegance requires a strong personality, not a timid or weak one that questions itself. No, please don’t mistake elegance for being a doormat. Elegance requires strength and takes root in being committed to your actions and words. Be sure enough of yourself to move forward but don’t be afraid to fail and admit your mistakes.

I usually don’t end my entries with a quote, but for this post it seems fitting. “Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful” - Matthew E. May


  1. I agree that modesty (and elegance) are both a matter both superficial yet significant appearance and deeper always important behavior. The best definition for modesty I have came across is freedom from vanity. I like because it is a psychological and not just visual or behavioral definition. Yes it leaves a lot of room for appearance and possibly behavior but it demands one goes further than how they present themselves but also how they think of and act towards others.

  2. Bang On! Keep writing and expressing yourself.


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