Modestly active: Run that extra mile with modest fashionable sportswear that really works

Modest sportwear
8 min read
17 March, 2022

You know how it goes: you decide you want to get fit or take up a sport for social reasons, or you just want to move because you have a job that keeps you in one place all the time.

So you make a trip to the shops or look online and bam! All your dreams of exercising are stymied by the fact that you’re faced with a sea of skin-tight lycra and crop tops.

It shouldn’t be this hard for women to find modest activewear. According to the 2020/21 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report from Dinar Standard and Salaam Gateway, Muslim expenditure on clothing will grow to reach $311 billion in 2024.

The report found that “modest fashion continued to appeal to mainstream players” while “modest sportswear, especially swimwear, grew in popularity as new niche players emerged in the segment”.

"Cast aside the old baggy t-shirts you’ve been layering with long-sleeved tops (neither item made for exercise) and embrace a world of fashionable activewear that really works"

For those who want to exercise and do it in modest activewear – whether that’s for religious reasons because it gives them more confidence, or something else – there is, clearly, hope, although you still have to hunt around a little.

Mainstream sports brands are finally seeing the demand for modest activewear, while a number of independent companies have been set up to fulfil a need for full coverage wear for all kinds of activities.

Like a lot of activewear, modest sportswear can be very expensive, so it’s crucial that you know it works before you invest. So I’ve tried and tested a range of activewear, not just for how well it operates as a piece for sportswear, but also for its coverage, and here’s what I loved and think is value for money.

So cast aside the old baggy t-shirts you’ve been layering with long-sleeved tops (neither item made for exercise) and embrace a world of fashionable activewear that really works…

Hooded Performance Top and Tech Loose Leggings from Dignitii

Canadian brand Dignitii was set up by Khaoula, who found herself wearing a long cotton tunic, a jersey hijab and some joggers while exercising. Tired of being uncomfortable and not looking sporty, she began to research modest activewear, and spotting a gap in the market, launched Dignitii in 2018.

Its Hooded Performance Top and Tech Loose Leggings are some of the best modest sportswear I have tried, and absolutely worth their price tag (in addition to being great coverage, they don’t pill and have survived multiple washes with no change). The top is sweat-wicking and has a turtleneck for added coverage.

It's a loose fit, without swamping you, and the design means that you can do pretty much any exercise without worrying that it’s going to ride up and show off skin you don’t want to reveal. If you are nervous, the skirt part of the top had an underlay of sorts, which can be tucked into the leggings. And don’t be worried about the use of the word leggings – these are slim fit but not skinny joggers, made of lightweight material. The top comes with an attached hood, but Dignitii also sells sports hijabs.

Hooded Performance Top, £92 

Tech Loose Leggings, £62 

Dignitii top and leggings
Dignitii top and leggings

Modest sweatshirt from Aab

Aab was set up in 2007 in London and derives its name from the Persian translation for water. You may have seen its abayas and maxi dresses popping up in Instagram ads, but the brand also does a range of activewear.

I tried the modest sweatshirt, which is a longline top that comes down to mid-thigh and has full sleeves. It's comfortable (made from a French terry fabric), and perfect for running, and on colder days it was really easy to put another layer on underneath. The brand also does a hoodie version of this top.

Modest sweatshirt, £31.50 

Serena swimsuit from Lanuuk

Swimming has been the sport I’ve found hardest to partake in because of the historic lack of modest clothing, but the discovery of a couple of companies doing stylish, made-for-purpose full coverage suits has changed that.

The first company is Lanuuk, established in 2018 by two women with the aim of redefining the traditional concept of swimwear. One of the founders moved from London back to the Philippines, and the company works closely with a small family-run garment manufacturer in Manila that specialises in swimwear, enabling it to ensure its clothing is made to ethical and sustainable working practices.

I tried the brand’s Serena design, with consists of a one-piece swim dress that comes down to the top of the thigh, and matching leggings. The top, with a built-in traditional swimming costume, has a double-layer peplum detail, which is both a fun fashion detail and offers more coverage by obscuring the body’s lines. The best bit is the long zip that does up the back, wetsuit style, making this really easy to get on and off.

One thing I love about Lanuuk is that it shows its swimsuits on different sized models on its website, so you can get an idea of how the same design looks on different body types.

Serena swimsuit, £89.99 

Lanuuk Serena
Lanuuk Serena

Alayna swimsuit from Lyra

If you want a swimsuit that is longer-line than the Lanuuk offering, then Lyra’s Alayna style is perfect.

The brand was founded by Ikram, who decided to design her own swimwear after struggling to indulge in her love of swimming, and launched in 2016.

Lyra has shown its designs at London Modest Fashion Week and is a recognised supporter of the #ThisGirlCan campaign, which aims to get more women into sport. The brand works closely with its tailors to ensure ethical working conditions.

The Alayna swimsuit comes down almost to just over mid-thigh, and has a high neck and a wrap waistline, offering more coverage. It is also available with a swim turban, for anyone who wants to cover their head while swimming.

Alayna swimsuit, £89.99 

Lyra Alayna
Lyra Alayna

Relax Fit Block Colour Sweat Tunic from DeFacto

DeFacto launched in the UK in 2021, and as well as fashion, it also does a range of activewear.

The sweat tunic I tried is a long line hoodie, coming down to the mid-thigh. It’s a relaxed fit and the hood has a drawstring that you can tighten if you want to create more coverage over the hair. I found it loose enough that I could wear a long-sleeved top underneath it for running on cold days without it feeling tight or losing the loose coverage it offered, yet it’s slim enough to look stylish as well.

This is now one of my go-to running tops, for cold or warm days. For cold days, I paired it with DeFacto’s Shirred Ankle Joggers, which are relaxed fit, thick and very warm jogging bottoms.

Relax Fit Block Colour Sweat Tunic, £16 

Shirred Ankle Joggers, £27

DeFacto tunic
Tunic from DeFacto 

Crew Neck Long-Sleeve Top, Ran by Nature

Ran by Nature was founded by Dr Bryna Chrismas, an accredited exercise scientist who spent a decade researching exercise for health and performance, and working with women and underrepresented groups within sport and exercise. The brand’s mission is to create sustainable, ethical and inclusive athleisure.

I tried the Crew Neck Long-Sleeve Top, which is deceptively lightweight but offers great coverage and is surprisingly warm. It comes down to the top of the thigh, with split sides that mean the top moves with you rather than clings to your backside. It’s really easy to layer for cold days if you’re exercising outside and is now my go-to top for spin classes.

The brand’s sustainability credentials make this top particularly attractive – it’s made from a fabric that comes from plastic people have thrown into the sea, and 10 percent of the profits the brand makes goes to its chosen charity. Plus, it comes packaged in a fully biodegradable plastic bag and a fully recyclable envelope.

Crew Neck Long-Sleeve Top, £90

Ran by Nature top
Top from Ran by Nature 

Nike Dri-FIT Element Women’s Running Crew Top 

Nike made a big deal of its Pro Hijab a number of years back, and it now also has a range of looser tops for anyone looking for full-coverage wear.

I tried the Nike Dri-FIT Element Crew top, which is full sleeved and relaxed fit, offering coverage to just below the backside (it’s longer at the back than the front). It’s easy to layer over and under other items depending on the weather.

For those with an eye on sustainability, 75 percent of the polyester used in the top is recycled.

Nike Dri-FIT Element Women’s Running Crew Top, £26.97

Nike running top
Nike running top

SEV7N Biodegradable Legging from Billi London

Even with modest activewear, there can be a need to layer, and one of the times I find myself needing to do that is in core and toning classes, where I’m often doing exercises that might cause my joggers to ride up.

For those times, I tried and loved the biodegradable leggings from Billi London, which are skin tight and aren’t moving anywhere once they’re on, yet are still really easy to move in (to prove it, I wore these as an underlayer for an excruciating climb up a mountain in freezing weather, and they were warm and stayed in place).

Founded by Sophie Billi-Hardwick and Marie Bouhier, Billi London produces 100 percent biodegradable leggings, tights and socks. The company’s tights biodegrade in five years, compared to the up to 100 it can take regular tights to decompose.

SEV7N Biodegradable Legging, €61 

Billi legging
Leggings from Billi London

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance literary journalist and editor. She writes about books for Stylist Magazine online and is the books editor at Phoenix Magazine.

Follow her here: @sarahshaffi