There is always someone, somewhere, having a field day, discussing and having a say on the fashion preferences of Muslim women. Politicians, businesspersons, and even fashion designers – it seems the world is obsessed with the hijab-wearing woman and would stop at nothing to continue oppressing the wearers of this symbolic clothing piece. The hijab has been perceived as a symbol of slavery, oppression, and everything unpleasant. Yet, it has been successfully used by today’s Muslim woman to exert political influence.
For much of the last 100 years, there have been battles over just how impactful modest clothing has been. This has instigated male elites to further agendas that have had little to no significance to the lives of women. But in the long run, these efforts, though unintended, have made Muslim women and their clothing preferences important national symbols, with women now assuming prominent roles in defining what modern citizenship should mean. So, even if modest fashion has resulted from several politically motivated attempts to control women, it has now become a practice through which women can exert their influence in the political scene.
Though it means different things to different people, modest fashion is generally understood as women wearing long sleeves with a high neckline, and designed to descend to the ankle. The outfits are loose, with some form of head covering that could be draped in different unique styles. Women who may prefer any trendy wears combine them with covered-up clothing pieces that cover important parts of the body.
Over time, fashion designers – big and small – got involved in the production and sale of trendy Islamic wears. Today, the modest fashion market is a lucrative industry with countries like Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia taking the lead outside of the Western countries. In 2010, a Turkish newspaper Milliyet estimated the global modest fashion industry to be worth around $2.9 billion. In 2013, the Muslim consumer spending on modest clothing increased to $266 billion, according to the Global Islamic Economy report, representing an 11.9 percent increase within three years. In fact, according to the same report, the market is expected to be worth around $499 billion by 2019.
The increasing value of the modest fashion industry means the Muslim consumer is no push-over. Elizabeth Bucar, a modest fashion enthusiast who has been researching this fashion niche since 2004, conducted a comparative investigation to uncover how hijab has helped to exert political influence today. “While there have been studies of Muslim women’s clothing in many individual countries, there are few cross-cultural and transnational comparisons. As I undertook such a comparison over the next dozen years, I found surprise, pleasure, and delight in pious fashion”, Elizabeth Bucar wrote.
According to Elizabeth, her conversations which revolved around modest fashion “challenged those neat intellect boxes” to which she had become used to in the United States. She says the hijab does not only offer a breezy feel, but “conveys a vision of public femininity that, despite the strict rules of this Islamic Republic, valorizes a free spirit and sense of ease in the face of authoritarian rule”. Modest fashion is increasingly becoming popular – and as a number of Western trends and aesthetics are added to Islamic clothing, the modest fashion market will continue to have its moment.
The owner of the well-known company Hidden Pearls mentions how modest fashion is not just tailored to Muslims but also to non-muslims. A lot of their customers surprisingly are often non-muslims or revert muslims. She says that people often ask for more variety, style and colour as often these things tend to be lacking in modest wear. This explains why companies are now trying really hard to meet the needs of the modest dressers. But she then goes onto say that when you look at countries, e.g. France, like many Western countries, has a problem with Islamic clothing. From banning the veil to actors refusing to go on stage because a niqab is in the audience, modest fashion has become much of a clear Islamic symbol to be treated as a threat to the secular being of a country. However she is proud that the inclusion of modest fashion in mainstream fashion labels has been a major success thus far – and it should be applauded. Muslim women do not need to visit separate stores for their clothing needs or be made to feel the market cannot accommodate them.
Beautiful modest (or Islamic) clothing can make Islam and its symbols more appealing to non-Muslims. With more and more women developing interest in fashionable modest wears, Islamophobia and all of its garbage will soon have no hold. These women have the potential to rehabilitate the public image of Islam, with many persons now ready to listen.