Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hijab & Fashion: Where do you draw the line?

Last week, I was interviewed by a hijabi who is filming a documentary on the rise of hijab fashion in the U.S.
She posed many great questions that I wanted to share and discuss with all of you. I tend to get the same type of questions in different interviews from around the world. 

For a hijabi who tries her best to abide by the Islamic rules of dress, there is a very thin line between being fashionable, presentable, elegant and sexy. I hate using the word sexy within the context of hijab, and try to avoid it as much as I possibly can especially in interviews. But unfortunately, I can't seem to find another word that will describe what I'm trying to say better. 

When the interviewer asks for my style tips for hijabis, and for my list of do's and don'ts, guess which item comes on the top of my list? Skinny jeans.

I always advise hijabis to pick their trends wisely and stay away from trends that are 1. not Islamic, 2. not for your body type/age/profession etc. I use the example of skinny jeans over and over again because every other hijabi on the street wears them. Now we know that one of the requirements of Islamic dress is being covered from head to toe, so to speak, but not in extremely tight, or transparent, or body revealing clothing. There is a difference between wearing an outfit With Hijab, and an outfit as a Hijabi, as is shown in the figure below.

The above photo is an example in Turkish. The left diagram is titled With Hijab.
The right diagram is titled Hijabi. 

Now, when I make these statements, I include myself in reminding all of us, trying to correct our actions. I am a fashion designer by profession, but first and foremost I'm a hijabi. If you asked me to name the first thing that comes to my mind about my identity, I would say hijabi. But this does not in anyway make me a scholar on the subject. 

Hijab is fard, an obligation clearly written in the Qur'an, but its practice is subjective. As Muslim women from different parts of the world, who come from different cultures, live in different countries, speak different languages, we all grow up in our own habits. When we wear hijab, we all try our best to fit into society, while at the same time trying to dress the way we want to dress based on our personality, mood, cultural background, etc.

The female interviewer I mentioned had a co-worker who was a Muslim male and posed a question to me as to how I would define an outfit that "catches the attention of the opposite sex" versus an outfit that is presentable, elegant and still Islamic. In other words, he was also wondering how hijabis walk the gray line between sexy and chic.

In my mind when he asked this question, I pictured 2 type of hijabis. For the first time, I had difficulty explaining what I personally would consider as a fashionable and Islamic outfit, and a hijabi who is on the border of trying to be so fashionable that she is gettting too much attention from the opposite sex, and is a victim of unIslamic attire. 

The reason it is hard to explain this topic is because as we have discussed over and over on the blog, hijab is not about an article of clothing but about the "whole package". It's about "aesthetic labor" that includes "bodily management" in how we walk, sit, laugh, eat, and a complete understanding of Islamic etiquette. In my mind, a hijabi who is wearing tight revealing clothes, whose neck, ears, arms or legs are showing, is wearing bright red lipstick, full blown make up, laughs loudly, and curses openly (abreviations and * on social media included) is performing negative aesthetic labor.

Whereas, a hijabi who is fashionably, elegantly dressed in stylish attire, who is wearing minimal (natural, barely there, maybe only skincare) make up, talks and acts according to Islamic etiquette  chooses her words carefully, watches how she sits, walks etc is doing a much better job at representing her Islamic identity.  

On and off our team of writers have debated about adding a section to our blog that consists of photographs of what hijabis wear and should not wear, a section for do's and don'ts we even came up with the title "oh no you didn't!", but since our Islamic community is glocal (global and local), we were worried about these photographs being tracked down to the wearer, even if we blur out the faces, and we do not want to embarass other hijabis or do something un-Islamic. Maybe we can consider it if there is a program for completely making the photographs anonymous, by changing the color of the outfit and maybe print so that it can not be tracked down. Who knows!

Now some of you might say, who are you to judge whose hijab is more appropriate and who is a better Muslim or not? You are right, I am nobody, and I am not trying to judge others. I'm just stating that when we go out there as hijabis we are "visibly Muslim". I love the term "visibly Muslim." This is a term that Professor Emma Tarlo coined, and it explains exactly why we need to watch every move we make as a hijabi. As Nicole Queen says in many of her public speeches, "When we step out the door, in to the public, we are walking PR for Islam, so we have to present Islam in the best possible way we can."

The interviewer also asked me what I would do in a situation when I saw a hijabi in unapropriate clothes, if I would warn them or would I lead by example. My answer is, unless it is a really close friend of mine, or someone that came to me for advice on how to dress, I would never warn them by going up to them and say, "This is not proper hijab!"  As I mentioned above, I am not a scholar.  The way I wear hijab is also subjective, and I have no right to go up to someone I don't know and impose my opinions on what hijab is and should be on to them. However, if I was asked for my opinion, I think I would nicely suggest what would be more appropriate to wear.

 Here is another example from Turkey. In Turkey the long rectangular silk scarves have been a huge trend for the last few years. Whoever came up with this trend, or wore it first, decided to show her neck, and not stabilize her hijab with a pin, thus this trend took off to the point that girls who used to wear proper hijab now wear these type of scarves and show their neck completely, because it is the trendy thing to do. It's so sad! That is just another example of a hijabi becoming a victim of fashion. 
The photo below shows the shawl trend in Turkey, how it should be worn, without showing the neck.

Dear HijabiTopians:  Please, please, please, pick your trends wisely.

Elif Kavakci for HijabiTopia


  1. GREAT POST, something we talk about with my group of friends and I must agree on most points. Im sorry but some hijabis are visibly sexy, dress sexily, behave and pose sexily and they know thats what they are targeting. The saddest part, as a blogger, instagramer is when I see sisters trying to advise others they are attacked, but we have an obligation to help others, albeit in the proper manner. Yes its between me and Allah, but if I cross that line which so many sisters are doing with skinny leg jeans and short tops, with short skirts and stockings with hijab, with neck showing scarves/turbans then someone does need to say something!

  2. Bismillah,
    I agree. While we're on the topic, I'd like to remind our sisters that Allah says in Surah 24 Ayah 31: "...that they should draw their veils over their bosoms..."
    May Allah guide us all on the Straight Path. And thanks so much for the reminder Sister Elif.


  3. Love the way you explained it. I totally agree with you.

  4. thank for sharing. love to look at ur pictures, very feminine, subtle beauty, very refined and sophisticated :)