Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 28 July 2008

How to tie your hijab this season

I have long thought that organised religion and fashion were deadly enemies, and I thought this despite the fact that in my childhood, Autumn and Spring were the times when you hit the shops so you could join the fashion parade in the ladies' gallery of our synagogue for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover. While the men below prayed, the women cast a critical eye over each other's outfits. Evidently, God was a keen fashionista if he judged whse name was to be written down in the book of life and whose in the book of death by whether we had a Chanel bag with a chain handle.

It has slowly been sinking in that the Muslim woman who ties a headscarf across her hair might not been the downtrodden slave of misogynist fundamentalism that the panicky first believed. The scarf, or hijab, is now a hot fashion accessory amongst young Muslim women. How have I come about such a realisation? Looking at salesgirls in London. At the stunning women whose carefully put together outfit checks this season plus an artfully tied hijab on top:

Jana Kossaibati, whose blog, Hijab Style, claims to be the UK's first style guide for Muslim women, says women are getting more experimental. "Muslim girls are very conscious of the way they dress. When you wear a headscarf you stand out as a Muslim, so what kind of message are you also sending out if you look drab or messy?" Kossaibati started her site because there wasn't another like it in the UK, "but since it began 10 months ago a lot of others have appeared," she says.

Go and check out that site, and also Hijabfashionista and The Hijab blog, where
classic "Spanish", "simple braid" and layered styles are studied and copied by women who want to make sure their scarves turn heads. Other sites advise on the best scarves to wear for sport and even under a baseball cap.

Perhaps fashion will defeat fundamentalism. Hope so.


Anonymous said...

Even if the cage is golden, it is still a cage.

Of course it's good to see that something is moving and of course pretty hijabs are better than the depressing black ones.
But wasn't the whole point of a hijab to make the wearer kind of invisible so she doesn't attract any attention?

Anonymous said...

It is a very contradictory phenomenon - some young Muslim women see the hijab as a kind of cultural symbol - but a secular Moroccan friend here has no use for that argument.

I often see these very attractively dressed young Muslimas when in Amsterdam - often wearing make-up, and close-fitting dresses or jeans, sometimes heels - and of course riding bicycles!

Linda, from what you say about your synagogue (and background in general) it certainly doesn't sound as if your family were of an ultra-Orthodox community in which men and women alike are always in religious garb. (Of course my family experienced the Catholic version of the fashion show you describe).

Funny, walking through Outremont, a Montréal neighbourhood where there are many Chassidim, a friend an I were talking about what might be viewed as fashionable and attractive among such a closed community. Those elaborate - and very expensive - fur hats the men wear, even in summer - for one thing.

Religious holidays have always been important fashion events!

Anonymous said...

This is global, I suspect. In a study of emerging trends in Turkey in the 1990s, I read about the fashion implications of the scarves -- especially designer scarves -- worn by traditional Turkish women, especially in Istanbul. Among the orthodox in Jerusalem, a married woman's head covering is a signifier of which sect/rabbi she follows (snood, hat, scarf...).

Isn't the whole point that there's something essentially human about fashion?

Anonymous said...


I'm afraid you are mistaken. Your assumption that hijab is to make a woman 'invisible' is very naive. If anything, wearing hijab makes you MORE visible, especially in countries where Muslims are a minority.

The purpose of hijab is simple - to cover the body in loose, opaque clothing (and these are the requirements of hijab, not just a headscarf), because we believe that all women are beautiful. And that beauty is precious, it's not for any Tom, Dick or Harry to ogle over. In our own homes, in front of our female friends and immediate male relatives, we do not have to wear hijab.

Our clothing signifies that we do not want to judged by our physcial attributes, but our personalities and character.

I hope that clears up some misconceptions!

bonnie-ann black said...

i equate the hijab with the wigs and headcoverings worn by orthodox jewish women. when i was a practising jew (traditional but not orthodox), i didn't get the idea of shaving your head so you're not attractive to men other than your husband, and then wearing the most expensive and stylish wig and/or head covering you can afford.

you can find a quote for anything in the biblical/koranic mythologies and there are pentacostals and evangelicals who won't let their women cut their hair because "a woman's hair is her crowning glory." (and also, sikhs and other eastern religions have rules about women and their hair).

i agree that a golden cage is still a cage. if women want to make the best of it i suppose that's fine, but it seems to me to be skirting the spirit of the law by observing the letter. when i kept kosher, i never used a "sabbath goy" either (someone not jewish to come and turn on your lights, etc.) because it seemed to me to be completely contradictory to the spirit of the law. i don't presume to tell anyone how to understand or practice their religion but i've also understood that there is nothing in the koran that specifically requires a woman to cover up from head to toe in 90 degree weather, while the men can get away with a little cap. i see some of these women on the subway, sweltering and uncomfortable with their little girls subjected to the same treatment and their husbands sitting next to them in a cool long cotton shirt or even a t-shirt. sorry, but that makes me furious. some of those women are beautiful, but if they think that men will judge them by the beauty of their characters just because they're covered up from head to toe, i think they're dreaming.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, health experts recommend covering up when the sun's out:

"When there's no shade around, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is with loose clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses"

Not to far away from Muslim women's clothing then is it?

Anonymous said...

Here's the full link:

You seem to forget that this clothing was intended for the desert in the first instance. And are you not aware of how the men dress in Gulf countries:

Anonymous said...

I just find it amusing that there are people who have absolutely no knowlegde of Islam or even the basic requirements of hijab, and yet they feel they are in a position to tell Muslims what to do, and claim to know how we feel.


Anonymous said...

Living in an international city (SF) I frequently see women dressed in Muslim garb. However, I usually don't really see beyond the scarf. As a non-Muslim, my first reaction when I see a headscarf is "oppressed." Perhaps the look being more fully incorporated into western fashion will change that reflex in me.

On the other hand, every day I see non-Muslim ladies I would prefer were MORE covered up.

Anonymous said...

First of all, thank you for featuring my outfit from thehijablog :) Secondly, muslim women are not supposed to be invisible, we just have to dress modestly. There is no rule against color :) And we are not oppressed either, most of us choose to wear hijab for ourselves, sometimes even if our families or husband disapproves, for we do it for nobody except from God and our religion :)

Anonymous said...

I am a non-Muslim living and working in a Muslim country. In my town I am often struck by the fact that the women who wear a headscarf seem to pay more attention to their appearance than those who don’t. My understanding is that both men and women are supposed to wear “modest” dress i.e. not figure hugging. That seems to be at odds with the fashion here for tight fitting (ankle length) skirts and nipped in jackets – topped with a scarf and lots of makeup. It looks like more of a fashion statement (and following the crowd) than a matter of faith

I don’t feel it’s appropriate to criticise the ways of my host country and I’m happy that I can wear more or less what I like. When I come back to the UK I do tend to notice how much flesh is on show.

Duchesse said...

I live in the most multicultural city on earth. In a few short blocks I will pass a woman on roller blades wearing a bandeau bra, micro shorts, and an iPod. Then I pass a woman in a chador; even her eyes might be veiled. The majority of women wear conventional western garb, but the extremely covered and the very bare make one look longer.

Anonymous said...

In the West hijab and Islamic clothing are often seen as symbols of oppression, in the East they are seen as liberating. The two views are poles apart.

I like hijab and Muslim clothing, some of which is very graceful and elegant.

I notice that young Muslim women in the West, anyway, wear tight, hip-hugging jeans with their hijab. I guess they're trying to juggle both cultures. They're also wearing hijab in quite innovative ways, compared to much older women.

However I think the burqa and chador really are oppressive. Why should women wear black - the color which absorbs the heat - in the Middle East? Men get to wear cooling white. So unfair.

bonnie-ann black said...

well, i also think extremely high heels, pantyhose and western expectations of feminine beauty are oppressive. especially since most decisions about women's fashions, beauty and style is made by men.

Anonymous said...


If the choice was truly up to the individual, that would be great. but I think it's naive to assume that social pressure is not a big factor in many countries.

I come from Singapore and I teach the A levels. When my Muslim students visit after graduation, they come in hijabs/tudungs. Very often they are almost unrecognisable from the chirpy, rambunctious t-shirt clad students I used to teach. In modest clothing they look older and somehow... more indistinguishable, so I think they need these new hijab fashion tips. I asked them if it was unfair that their brothers could wear shorts but they had to be covered from head to toe....they concurred.They face immense pressure to dress thus.My more liberally dressed Muslim friends have gotten rude comments just walking around.

Incidentally,as a child, the first time I saw a woman swathed in a black chador, I thought I'd seen a ghost. Something that had literally erased all the identifying features of a woman.

Anonymous said...

As a Muslim woman, I find all this talk about "cages" and "oppression" interesting and condescending. It's always amusing that non Muslims are far more concerned about hijab than Muslims are. Isn't the whole point on this blog how to deal w/ fashion and social expectation while AGING? Considering all the pressure you face because you're over 25 and not a size 0, reading all this stuff would make me think non Muslim women have it have it somehow better.

Bonnie Ann...not all of us are naive enough to believe that hijab makes us less attractive to men. There's something to be said for wanting to know what's underneath. think of women in hijab as "oppressed" because it doesn't suit Western tastes (it never will) yet you want certain women more covered up to suit YOUR needs? IOW, thin attractive women should be seen yet heavier less attractive ones shouldn't be? Let's strip off the beauties and cover up the uglies! LOL...