David & Radcliffe

The debutante

StyleZainab Slemang
Daivd & Radcliffe – The debutante
David & Radcliffe – The debutante
David & Radcliffe – The debutante

Debutante. noun. deb·u·tante \ˈde-byu̇-ˌtänt\ 
A young woman making her formal entrance into society

– Merriam-Webster.com

For my debut post, it's only fitting that I speak of another fresh start, a new beginning. That of my wedding, which took place on a balmy summer morning, mere days before the start of 2015. In hindsight, there are many aspects of the day I would have done differently. However, the three I wouldn't change for the world are also the three that inspired this site: modesty, minimalism and style.

Granted, the main event in itself was over the top — hardly modest or minimal: more than 900 guests (most of them extended family who I had never met before and will most likely never see again), a plethora of food ranging from Cape Malay and English breakfast stalwarts to fresh fruit and bottled water, an extravagant venue (Cape Town's Castle of Good Hope), a much smaller castle 

characterised by its colourful, plastic exterior (kids need to be entertained too) and a gown made of fluffy dreams (feathers featured highly, much to the dismay of my now-husband who kept a lint roller in the pocket of his suit jacket and used it at every opportune moment on the day).

Suffice it to say that this was hardly the epitome of my dream wedding day. In fact, had you asked me just a year before what I envisioned for what many say to be the most important day of their lives, I would have stared back at you blankly. In my ideal world, I would still have had my gorgeous bespoke wedding gown (conceived by me and brought into existence by one of the only people who I trust with my life and who is talented enough to take my stick-women drawings and scattered musings  

and turn them into a reality that cost less than R3k, including my bridesmaids' gowns — my mother), but the reception would have consisted of lighter, more refined edibles, my nearest and dearest friends and family and a bill a lot less hefty.

That being said, given that I am the first-born of six (and in order to justify a skirt of feathers), I allowed my father to dictate the guest list and half of the menu (yes, brunch was very much my idea although I ate perhaps two pastries on the actual day).

All in all, having my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends rally together to pull off a day that two months before had not even been conceptualised, was truly a remarkable feat, one I am in awe of and extremely grateful for. 

Returning to the tenets of modesty, minimalism and style I mentioned at the outset of this post. Over the years, and particularly since having started a new life in a new home, I've found that I've downsized almost every aspect of my life to fit into one or all of these three categories. Of course, not everything in life is so clear-cut that it could fit into one box, but having defined parameters that I hold myself accountable to helps me know both what I want in life as well as where I'm headed.


Aside from the fact that the term 'modesty' — when prescribed to dress and fashion — is defined differently by various people and cultures, I've never thought of myself as someone who dresses modestly. However, when designing my wedding gown, I found it particularly difficult to find something that would flatter my petite frame and display my style sensibilities while adhering to the Islamic law that says a woman must be covered at all times when in public. I eventually settled on a strapless gown with a full-feathered skirt accompanied by a lace jacket and lace skullcap to be worn beneath my veil. The result was elegant and refined with a touch of playfulness: definitely me but still adhering to a set of predetermined parameters.

Although I am Muslim and subscribe to the laws and rulings of Islam, I've been lucky in that I've also been raised in a society that is open to diverse cultures. Of course my parents would always remind me 

 to cover my awra (i.e. the parts of the body a Muslim is required to cover) and wear my headscarf, although this was not enforced in my family. 

Instead, as I've matured (and I see this behaviour mimicked in my younger sisters as well), I've come to define my own parameters about what is or isn't appropriate to wear in public. 

Often this means ensuring most of my body is clothed at all times and always having a scarf at hand. There are some who may see this as un-Islamic, but for myself and many others, I am sure, it is a first step in getting closer to who we want to be as Muslims. 

Chandra of MoMoMod (More Modern Modesty) blog sums up the prevailing attitude to modesty quite well:

If one chooses to dress modestly, everyone knows, and if they don’t know [sic] they will begin to notice … Try as you may, you cannot hide behind a cloak of invisibility if you decide to dress modestly. People (men and women) will take notice.
— Chandra, momomod.com

One day inshallah (God willing), I'll be one of those woman who dons my headscarf every day. For now, I am doing it at my own pace and this web site forms only a part of that journey.


I've long appreciated the beauty and expanse of space, and have always lived by the 'less is more' philosophy, regularly editing my material possessions — from clothing and books to cosmetics and even digital files. Minimalism though, is not merely about simple living. It's also about living a more intentional life, removing aspects that don't add value to make room for those that do. So while reducing your possessions is a good place to start, decluttering your mind and your relationships is equally, if not more, important. The result is a more intentional life filled with people and possessions that are important to you and tasks you enjoy.

For my wedding, I failed highly on the minimalist aspect. Sure, my family and friends rallied together to prepare everything from the food and venue to my dress and decor, but when it came to cutting that guest list, there was just no way around it. Cape Malay Muslim families are huge and even if you don't know your father's cousin's daughter's niece, it's likely she'll be there to congratulate you on your big day. As many a bridal guide will tell you, focus on three things that are most important to you for your day and let the rest just happen. So that's exactly what I did (the dress, the venue and the food, if you were wondering), and I'm not sorry. The guest list may have been 750 people more than my husband and I would have liked, but I'm grateful to every single person who attended our reception for taking the time to travel and sitting in the blistering heat while we began this new chapter of our lives together.


Now onto one of my favorite topics. Although I've never purported to be a style maven or fashion insider, I've always loved the rigidity of a collar on a simple shirt, the subtle appeal of a pleat and the movement of fringing in the wind. Fashion was never my forte, but the fact that a combination of just a few items of clothing could project a feeling, a mood, that at once gave you an air of confidence or an image of authority was not lost on me. 

As a toddler, I was clothed in everything from lace booties to quaint little frocks you'd only see on a runway or behind a glass case in a museum. In primary school, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers were my daily uniform, perfect for blending in, being anonymous. As a high schooler, I experimented with various looks, from punk plaid and denim skirts to meshed shirts and skintight snakeskin paired with pointed heels. University was all about comfort — hoodies, jeans, pumps and endless pairs of boots, anything that kept the cold out and didn't require too much effort or thinking when exams, papers and grades were on constant rotation. Needless to say, none of these looks stuck. And so the search for my personal style continued.

Having grown up with a mother who is able to spin dream sartorial creations from basic pieces of cloth as well as aunts and other family members who were quite skillful with their hands, I often wondered why I hadn't been blessed with the same prowess. Turns out (according to my friends, at least), the ability to create multiple looks with just a few basic clothing articles is somewhat of an art.

And thus my foray into modest, minimalist style began. This didn't mean cutting back on acquiring new clothing or my great love — shoes! — or even cutting back my already sparse closet. In fact, my twice yearly habit of culling my life (and home and closet) turned out to be less of a neurotic obsessive-compulsive disposition and more of a blessing into style success. 

So, here I am. Just a girl making her debut into society, all while looking for the perfect pieces to fit into her modest, minimal lifestyle. Care to join me?

Image 2: Forever New heels

Images 3 and 4: The Bridal Edit gown and jacket, Sass Diva hand chain

Images 5 and 6: Zainab wears The Bridal Edit gown, jacket and veil

Mish-al wears CSquared suit, Country Road shirt, belt, tie and shoes, Trenery pocket square

Photography: Debra Roets, Beauty: Faldela Davids