Monday, May 10, 2010

LadyMama Column: The Koran Catwalk

By Mimi Hecht
A Burberry inspired burqua walks the runway

In the up-to-the-minute world of fashion, anything that struts down the runway has one chance to do what it absolutely must: catch the eye. The hallmarks of any good designer’s runway show are bright colors, daring shapes and bold prints. But when I saw a televised fashion show recently, the runway indeed showcased all that - but was eye-catching for a whole other reason; all the models were covered from head to toe.

One by one, Turkish models catwalked their way down the runway donning hijibs and burquas, the head-covering and long-dressed attire worn by religious Muslim women. It was the most modest fashion show I have ever seen, but, surprisingly, also the most cutting edge. Each outfit that took to the stage sported prints and embellishments fit for Prada, each look avant-garde enough for Yves Saint Laurent.

I was surprised that such fashion-forward Muslim attire actually had a market, and, considering Islam’s notorious pride in averting modern Western culture, I found the runway somewhat amusing. But then I saw it everywhere I looked. They’re often called ‘haute-couture hijabs” and they’re showing up all over the European, Australian and even American runways. As it turns out, top-fashion modest-wear for Islamic women is not an extremely fashion-forward move, but in fact a reflection of the budding desire in the average 21st century religious Muslim woman to keep up with modern clothing trends.

The growing fashion movement spearheaded by Islam’s youth is offending and alarming many traditional Muslims, who view it as a step in the wrong direction. Many Muslims – from scholars to shop owners – are protesting the new fashions, saying that, although the clothing covers the body, the patterns and designs are too showy to be considered modest. The meaning behind the Koran’s stipulated dress code, they argue, is to detract attention from females. And in the words of one anonymous Turkish clothing-store owner, “How can a hijab be modest if it’s bright pink?” Fashion-conscious hijab wearers are responding that – in the words of the editor of - “It’s important to show that Muslim women can dress modestly and stylishly at the same time.” The site, for example, showcases all sorts of modest fashion finds and nominates a stylish hijab wearer - a “haute hijabi” - every week. A commenter on the site echoes the sentiments of its many followers by saying “May Allah bless you for taking the initiative to find a way to bring together a woman’s love for fashion and the proper guidelines for Islamic attire.” Indeed, increasingly popular “haute hijabi” sites are proving that that ability to maintain style is a serious incentive for Islam’s women to either keep up - or take on - the tradition.  

For the first time in my life, I relate to the Islamic women’s plight. As a Jewess, the story sounds all too familiar. I have dealt with this essential “modesty vs. style” conundrum ever since I was sixteen and bought a red dress. My father then told me a line I would hear for many years to come: “You can be covering all the right parts and still be untznius (immodest).” But because I was insistent on expressing myself fully and maintaining my style, I was going to find every way to be fashionable while adhering to the Jewish dress-code. Whether it was loud colors or an eye-catching style, I walked the grey-line until the present day. Like many other Jewish women, I take pride in proving that modesty stipulations need not result in drab or “ancient” clothing.

But, if I were to be honest, the difference between me and today’s Islamic women is that my desire to be stylish often leads me to bend the rules. While my Jewish role models are women who adhere strictly to our modesty guidelines while staying on the forefront of style, I myself am often not strong enough to walk that line (or, in this case, runway). While I certainly try my best, it’s not unseen for me to sacrifice the law and nature of Tzniut all for a high-fashion piece of clothing.

This is where I am inspired by the emergent group of stylish Muslim women. The Islamic fashionista seems to be battling this conundrum with incredible commitment. She asks not “How can I make something stylish, modest?” but “How can I make something modest…stylish?” There is a difference. They are not choosing or favoring fashion, they are integrating it. In doing so, Muslim women are adapting to the world with sincere conviction to their faith’s principles – something I cannot say for myself or many of my Jewish girlfriends.

While Jewish women following all the rules in style may be a norm and there are plenty Muslim women who forego the Hijab all together, the resurgence of Islam women proudly following the Muslim dress-code is undeniably because burquas and hijabs are finding a place in fashion. Through their perseverance and confidence in walking the Koran catwalk, Islam’s modern-day women are ensuring that their tradition of modesty carries on for a long time to come.

To all the Islamic traditionalists who fear their women are “letting go” and forfeiting sacred traditions, I say this: Fashion is making modesty enjoyable for your young women. In a decade, when printed and adorned Islamic attire for women will be the uncontested norm, every Muslim will know that it was fashion that saved the hijab.

3 LadyMama voices:

Shoshana Z. said... [Reply to comment]

Check out this website -

I have watched it for years and wished that someone would make something similar for Jewish women.

danielle said... [Reply to comment]

I love this article Mim! it is so true and YOu and I are in the same yacht.....haha! viva la tzniut fashionista!

ali lev said... [Reply to comment]

It is nice to hear someone be honest and not whitewash reality in terms of Tznius.