Sadiya Den­dar looks at tra­di­tional dress­ing as both a fash­ion state­ment and an act of re­sis­tance.

As ob­ser­vant Mus­lim women face con­tin­ued scru­tiny for their dress, a wave of mod­esty ap­peared on the flesh re­veal­ing Spring 2018 run­ways. Sadiya Den­dar pon­ders how cov­er­ing up be­came such a bold choice.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents -


Ihave a re­cur­ring dream in which I re­al­ize I’ve left my house with­out my head scarf on. It’s jar­ring—I’m not sure where to duck or what to cover my­self with. Ev­ery­one else walks by, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous, but I feel ex­posed and ter­ri­bly un­com­fort­able.

So I can imag­ine the un­ease some women must have felt when Que­bec passed Bill 62 in Oc­to­ber 2017. Legally re­quir­ing women to un­cover their faces when ac­cess­ing any type of gov­ern­ment ser­vice—and we’re not just talk­ing about air­port se­cu­rity but even when vis­it­ing the li­brary or rid­ing the bus—feels so ar­chaic. We live in a time when women are be­ing told they can do what­ever and be what­ever. But hold up: Who said you could cover up?

I don’t wear a niqab (which cov­ers the en­tire face ex­cept for the eyes), but I’ve been wear­ing a hi­jab for more than a decade now. Of­ten used to de­scribe the head scarf that some Mus­lim women wear, “hi­jab” is ac­tu­ally an Ara­bic word that speaks to mod­esty in dress­ing and be­hav­iour for women and men. And like most things in re­li­gion, it is in­ter­preted in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways. Some women wear an abaya (a loose-fit­ting full-length dress) with a scarf cov­er­ing their hair, neck and bo­som, while oth­ers pre­fer to stay on-trend, favour­ing skinny jeans, tu­nic tops and tur­ban-style head scarves.

Wear­ing a hi­jab was a de­ci­sion I came to on my own. That’s key: It was, is and al­ways will be my choice. (And isn’t free­dom of choice the whole point of fem­i­nism?) The way I choose to clothe my­self is a form of wor­ship, yes, but it’s also an ex­pres­sion of my iden­tity. It’s a phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of what I be­lieve in, and that’s pretty pow­er­ful.

At times, wear­ing a hi­jab makes me feel de­fi­ant; it’s a clear in­di­ca­tion that I don’t feel the need to con­form. But that feel­ing can also be lib­er­at­ing. In a re­cent

T Mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle ex­plor­ing the up­surge of mod­est cloth­ing on the run­way, writer Naomi Fry said that it “has the feel of a real dare.” I like that. I do like chal­leng­ing peo­ple. I like break­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. And I like that some­thing that some peo­ple look down on can ac­tu­ally be seen as an act of courage.

That said, wear­ing a hi­jab has never been dif­fi­cult for me. That’s largely be­cause I live in Toronto and see so many ver­sions of it on a daily ba­sis. I can’t imag­ine what it feels like to be a girl in France, where wear­ing head scarves in state schools is banned; it must be hu­mil­i­at­ing to walk to school in your hi­jab only to have to re­move it be­fore be­ing al­lowed to en­ter. (France also banned wear­ing the niqab na­tion­wide and the burkini in ap­prox­i­mately 30 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.)

I am un­will­ing to ques­tion the in­ten­tion of women in places fraught with dis­pute »

over the hi­jab and niqab. It may be an act of re­sis­tance, but I truly be­lieve that th­ese women, like my­self, choose to wear th­ese pieces to strengthen their con­nec­tion to God. And I ad­mire their courage.

Pol­i­tics and re­li­gion aside, hi­jabi fash­ion is a thing. The re­cent in­crease in Mus­lim fash­ion blog­gers is a tes­ta­ment to this. Based in the United King­dom, 20-some­thing Dina Torkia has an im­pres­sive 1.3 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram, and there are count­less other hi­jabis­tas who of­fer tu­to­ri­als on how to tie your head scarf and who share what’s on-trend and how to make it mod­esty-friendly. An­other U.K.-based fash­ion blogger, Hana Ta­jima, col­lab­o­rated with Uniqlo in 2015 on a mod­esty col­lec­tion that ap­pealed to the masses and con­tin­ues to grow each sea­son. And last Oc­to­ber, a group of Mus­lim women in Lon­don put on the Mod­est Fash­ion Fes­ti­val with Bent­ley as one of their top spon­sors.

Dolce & Gab­bana of­fers a col­lec­tion of abayas in its sig­na­ture flo­ral prints and with lace em­bel­lish­ments. At the Spring 2018 shows, there was a floor-length turtle­neck dress at Cé­line and bil­lowy bo­hemian lay­ers at Crea­tures of Com­fort while Marc Ja­cobs (whose use of wool dread­locks on a run­way in 2016 was widely panned as be­ing cul­tur­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate) paired mile-high tur­bans with vo­lu­mi­nous flow­er­power sep­a­rates that com­pletely ob­scured the models’ frames. Gap and H&M have both fea­tured hi­jab-clad models in their ads. And a wel­come face on the run­way is Halima Aden—the first hi­jabi model— who has walked for Yeezy in New York and Max Mara and Al­berta Ferretti in Milan. She’s been fea­tured on the cov­ers of Vogue Ara­bia and Al­lure and is the face of the Nike Pro Hi­jab.

If main­stream fash­ion brands are tak­ing no­tice, there must be rel­e­vance to mod­esty in dress, right? It’s kind of cool to see how things are shift­ing, but the cynic in me won­ders if it’s in­clu­siv­ity or just a way to cap­ture new con­sumers. (There’s no ques­tion that Dolce & Gab­bana has iden­ti­fied a niche mar­ket that is the elite Mid­dle East.) Per­haps it’s just a trend—a short-lived fad that will be gone be­fore we even re­al­ize it.

For now, Aden is prag­matic about her rel­a­tive suc­cess. In an in­ter­view with

Fi­nan­cial Times, she said, “If what is hap­pen­ing to me is sim­ply the fash­ion com­mu­nity mak­ing some sort of fleet­ing state­ment, then I am go­ing to make that state­ment work as hard as it can.” She said she won’t con­sider her­self a suc­cess un­til she sees more hi­jabis walk­ing down the run­way, and she rec­og­nizes that she is a to­ken fig­ure. But she wants to use this op­por­tu­nity to give girls some­thing she never had: the chance to see them­selves pos­i­tively rep­re­sented in main­stream me­dia. And maybe when that hap­pens, govern­ments will cease to po­lice what women wear—and I can once again sleep easy.



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