Chal­leng­ing stereo­types

Three things we can learn from con­tem­po­rary Mus­lim women’s fash­ion.

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - By LIZ BUCAR

MA­JOR art mu­se­ums have re­alised there is much to learn from cloth­ing that is both re­li­giously coded and fash­ion for­ward.

Ear­lier this year the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art hosted a fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tion in­spired by the Catholic faith ti­tled “Heav­enly Bod­ies: Fash­ion and Catholic Imag­i­na­tion.” With more than 1.6 mil­lion vis­i­tors, it was the most pop­u­lar ex­hibit in the Met’s his­tory.

And now the de Young Mu­seum of San Fran­cisco has the first ma­jor ex­hibit de­voted to the Islamic fash­ion scene.

“Con­tem­po­rary Mus­lim Fash­ions” dis­plays 80 swoon-wor­thy en­sem­bles – glamorous gowns, edgy streetwear, con­cep­tual cou­ture – loosely or­gan­ised by re­gion and em­pha­sis­ing dis­tinct tex­tile tra­di­tions. This ex­hibit is a bold state­ment of cul­tural ap­pre­ci­a­tion dur­ing a time of height­ened anti-Mus­lim rhetoric.

A deeper un­der­stand­ing of Mus­lim women’s cloth­ing can chal­lenge pop­u­lar stereo­types about Islam. Here are three take­aways.

1. Mod­esty is not one thing

While there are scat­tered ref­er­ences to mod­est dress in the sa­cred writ­ten sources of Islam, th­ese re­li­gious texts do not spend a lot of time dis­cussing the ethics of Mus­lim at­tire. And once I started pay­ing at­ten­tion to how Mus­lims dress, I quickly re­alised that mod­esty does not look the same ev­ery­where.

I trav­eled to Iran, In­done­sia and Turkey for my re­search on Mus­lim women’s cloth­ing. The Ira­nian pe­nal code re­quires women to wear proper Islamic cloth­ing in pub­lic, al­though what that en­tails is never de­fined. The moral­ity po­lice ha­rass and ar­rest women who they think ex­pose too much hair or skin. Yet even un­der th­ese con­di­tions of in­tense reg­u­la­tion and scru­tiny, women wear a remarkable range of styles – from edgy ripped jeans and graphic tees to bo­hemian loose flowy sep­a­rates.

In­done­sia is the most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion in the world, but In­done­sian women did not wear head cov­er­ings or mod­est cloth­ing un­til about 30 years ago. To­day, lo­cal styles in­te­grate crys­tal and se­quin em­bel­lish­ments. Pop­u­lar fab­ric choices in­clude ev­ery­thing from pas­tel chif­fon to bright batik, which is pro­moted as the na­tional tex­tile.

When it comes to Turkey, for much of the last cen­tury, au­thori- ties dis­cour­aged Mus­lim women from wear­ing pi­ous fash­ion, claim­ing th­ese styles were “un­mod­ern” be­cause they were not sec­u­lar. That changed with the rise of the Islamic mid­dle class, when Mus­lim women be­gan to de­mand for ed­u­ca­tion, to work out­side the home and to wear mod­est cloth­ing and a head­scarf. To­day’s lo­cal styles tend to be tai­lored closely to the body, with high neck­lines and low hem­lines and com­plete coverage of the hair.

A stun­ning range of Mus­lim fash­ions are found in the United States as well, re­flect­ing the di­ver­sity of its ap­prox­i­mately 3.45 mil­lion Mus­lims. Some 58% of Mus­lim adults in the US are im­mi­grants, com­ing from some 75 coun­tries. And US-born Mus­lims are di­verse as well. For in­stance, more than half of Mus­lims whose fam­i­lies have been in the US for at least three generations are black.

This di­ver­sity pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for hy­brid iden­ti­ties, which are dis­played through cloth­ing styles.

2. Mus­lim women don’t need sav­ing

Many non-Mus­lims see Mus­lim women’s cloth­ing and head­scarves as a sign of op­pres­sion. It is true that a Mus­lim woman’s cloth­ing choices are shaped by her com­mu­nity’s ideas about what it means to be a good Mus­lim. But this sit­u­a­tion is not un­like that for non-Mus­lim women, who like­wise have to ne­go­ti­ate ex­pec­ta­tions con­cern­ing their be­hav­ior.

Many women use their cloth­ing to ex­press their iden­tity and as­sert their in­de­pen­dence. I met Tari, an In­done­sian col­lege stu­dent who cov­ers her head at her par­ents’ ob­jec­tions. Her par­ents worry that a head­scarf will make it harder for Tari to get a job af­ter grad­u­a­tion. But for Tari, whose friends all cover their hair, her cloth­ing is the pri­mary way she com­mu­ni­cates her per­sonal style and her Mus­lim iden­tity.

Nur, who ma­jored in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Is­tan­bul Com­merce Univer­sity, dresses mod­estly but is highly crit­i­cal of the pressure she sees the ap­parel in­dus­try putting on Mus­lim women to buy brand­name cloth­ing. For her, Mus­lim style does not have to come with a high price tag.

Leila works for the Ira­nian govern­ment and con­sid­ers her off-duty cloth­ing choices a form of civil dis­obe­di­ence. Mon­day through Fri­day she wears dark col­ors and long baggy over­coats. But on the week­ends she pushes the lim­its of ac­cept­abil­ity with tight-fit­ting out­fits and heavy makeup – sar­to­rial choices that might get her in trou­ble with the moral­ity po­lice. She ac­cepts the le­gal obli­ga­tion to wear Islamic cloth­ing in pub­lic, but as­serts her right to de­cide what that en­tails.

De­sign­ers have also used cloth­ing to protest is­sues af­fect­ing their com­mu­ni­ties. The de Young ex­hibit, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes a scarf by de­signer Cline Se­maan to protest against Trump’s travel ban. The scarf fea­tures a NASA satellite im­age of sev­eral of the coun­tries whose cit­i­zens are de­nied en­try to the U.S , over­laid with the word “Banned.“

3. Mus­lims con­trib­ute to main­stream so­ci­ety

A 2017 Pew sur­vey showed that 50% of Amer­i­cans say Islam is not a part of main­stream so­ci­ety. But as Mus­lim mod­els and Mus­lim de­sign­ers are in­creas­ingly recog­nised by the fash­ion world, the mis­per­cep­tion of Mus­lims as out­siders has the po­ten­tial to change.

Mus­lim mod­els are spokesper­sons for top cos­metic brands, walk the cat­walk for high end de­sign­ers and are fea­tured in print ads for ma­jor la­bels.

To­day cloth­ing in­spired by Islamic aes­thet­ics is mar­keted to all con­sumers, not just Mus­lim ones. Take the most re­cent col­lec­tion of Bri­tish Mus­lim de­signer Hana Ta­jima for Uniqlo. In its pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als, the global ca­sual wear re­tailer de­scribed the gar­ments as “cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive and extremely ver­sa­tile,“cloth­ing for cos­mopoli­tan women of all back­grounds.

To be hip to­day is to dress in cul­tur­ally in­clu­sive ways, and this in­cludes mod­est styles cre­ated by Mus­lim de­sign­ers and pop­u­larised by Mus­lim con­sumers. Fash­ion makes it clear that Mus­lims are not only part of main­stream so­ci­ety, they are con­trib­u­tors to it. – AP

Main­stream trend: Hana Ta­jima de­scribes her lat­est col­lec­tion at Uniqlo as ‘cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive and extremely ver­sa­tile’.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.