In the world of fashion, it’s easy to gravitate toward the homogeneous styles that consume the pages of international magazines and bombard social media news feeds. The photos feature clothes hanging from models who always seem to be the same size, color and religion. The designs always seem to be crafted for that exact same demographic.
As someone who fits these parameters, I will be the first to admit that I was (and, unfortunately, still can be) ignorant of the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. Since moving to the UAE, my eyes have been opened to a world of fashion that I didn’t know existed when I was living in America - particularly that of modest dressing. Over the past few years, I’ve met some incredible women and designers who exemplify this style and I have to say, their taste is impeccable.
Below is an awesome article on modest fashion from my friends at Wheretoget. Haven’t heard of them yet? Wheretoget is an online fashion community and magazine with over 3 million visitors per month. While the Wheretoget app serves as a Shazam for fashion, its magazine is a source for information and inspiration about where to get the latest styles and information about the fashion industry. Go check them out!
Alice Brace, Wheretoget
When it comes to inclusivity in fashion, we normally hear people talking about the need for a more diverse range of ethnicities and dress sizes represented on the runway. It is true that despite the average size of women in the U.S. growing to a size 14-16, retailers and designers are doing very little to accommodate for the changing shape of the world. It is also true that there is a disparity between the amount of young, white women on the catwalk versus the actual mix of skin tones on the streets, and there is another swathe of women who are grossly misrepresented by retail: religious women.
All over the world, sects of religions encourage modest dressing, which means wearing loose-fitting clothing that generally covers your arms and legs, and yet it is barely represented in retail, let alone on the runway.
You may have heard about Dolce & Gabbana’s 2016 Ready-To-Wear collection of hijabs and abayas in the house's signature bold prints of fruits and flowers on black and nude silks. It caused a stir across the world, with everyone pitching in their two cents. One perspective was that of writer Ruqaiya Haris, who shamed the collection for demonstrating that “ultimately western society will always have the monopoly on what is fashionable and relevant.”
But let’s look at the facts: Dolce & Gabbana is one of the most prominent luxury fashion houses in the world, and despite the fact that its Muslim-friendly collection came with a hefty price tag (one that anyone would expect of the label), it has had greater influence on the fashion world to broaden its designs to include Muslim woman than any other brand that’s tried to do the same thing.
DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger, among others, have all tried their hand at a modest clothing collection prior to D&G. The difference was that their collections accommodated for modest clothing requirements, but weren’t actually made for Muslim women in particular. It’s a similar problem to the one “plus size” women face when dressing themselves: there are plenty of brands who sell their wares in larger sizes, but very few of them are designed with a larger woman in mind. That’s where D&G really hit on something.
Until this collection, Muslim women who like to buy luxury clothes had very little choice when it came to dressing themselves. Either they could stick to the accessory lines, or cover their designer outfits in an abaya when they're in public. It’s not exactly a fair trade-off, and with Middle Eastern customers spending a rapidly increasing amount of dollars on luxury goods, a reported $8.7 billion last year, it just isn’t good business to alienate such a large market from your brand.
Over the course of the last nine months, we’ve spotted similarly inclusive collections from accessible, high street retailers like Uniqlo, as well as independent designers like Habiba Da Silva, who are all weighing in on the conversation with their own unique takes on how the fashion industry should progress to be more inclusive of women of all religions, from all over the world.
We reached out to Nylah Khan, a London-based social media coordinator working to promote ethnic minorities in the arts. As a hijab-wearing Muslim whose entire career is dedicated to inclusion, we asked her about her personal relationship with fashion, and whether she’s noticed any positive changes in the industry.
WTG: Hijabs are such a focal point of any outfit for a Muslim woman, how do you go about creating a look?
Nylah Khan: Because I only need to wear a hijab when I leave the house, it is usually left until last. I always try to pick a hijab color that coordinates with what I am wearing and then choose the color of my hijab pin according to the scarf. I definitely treat it as an accessory which in turn dictates which bag and shoes I wear.
WTG: How easy do you find it to buy clothes in styles that suit both your fashion sense and your religious requirements?
NK: This is something that has been difficult from the beginning. I only started wearing a headscarf in 2009 and at the time my wardrobe was pretty short and tight. These days I will buy anything that fits the length requirements [below the knees] just because it is so rare to find outside of maxi dresses and maxi skirts. Very often when I see something I love, it will be sleeveless or short and I will buy it with the intention of wearing a long-sleeve top underneath or a cardigan on top. But this kind of layering is the main reason dressing for summer is the hardest!
WTG: Have you personally noticed any positive changes in the industry around inclusivity of Muslim women, for example more long sleeved shirts?
NK: In terms of length, I honestly think Uniqlo and H&M are leading by example. Not only are they selling long clothes with long sleeves, but they even have Muslim women in the campaigns for the collections. To me, that was their way of saying not only can our clothing be accommodated to Muslim women, but we welcome it.
WTG: Is there any piece of clothing that you've been dreaming of? Or is there anything that you've seen in stores and wished came in a style more appropriate to you?
NK: Long office wear! I really wish there was an equivalent to the classic white blouse that went down to my knees. I always struggle to put together a smart looking outfit that is also modest.
WTG: What kind of changes would you like to see in the fashion industry?
NK: Modest clothing hitting the mainstream with Muslim models. I am sure that Muslims with a keen interest in high fashion were happy to see Dolce & Gabana create a hijab range, but I think Habiba DaSilva's campaign got it right when it used Muslim women who wear a hijab daily. Particularly as including a range of skin tones also challenges beauty standards you might be subconsciously accustomed to by fashion magazines.
Ultimately, when a Muslim woman wears a scarf on her head, she does so with religious intentions and so that religious aspect should not be taken away when marketing the garments, no matter how restricting it may seem from a sales point of view to only target Muslims.