London Fashion Week is known for showcasing the best of couture and this season will undoubtedly be no different.
But there will be one surprise addition to fashion’s 2016/17 offerings – hijabs.
The headscarf that some Muslim women choose to wear over their heads has officially hit the mainstream. Last month, Dolce & Gabanna became the latest designer brand to release a ‘modest-wear’ range, joining the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger.
Hijabs are also making their way onto the high street. Last year H&M released its first advert featuring a Muslim model in a hijab, and House of Fraser began stocking ‘sporty hijabs’, designed for Muslim women to wear while exercising and swimming.
The benefits for brands are clear – the Muslim fashion market is estimated to be worth £226 billion by 2020, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy.
Fashion graduate Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq, 25, who designed a ‘poppy hijab’ for Remembrance Day, welcomes the arrival of mainstream Muslim fashion and calls it “a good move for the business of fashion”.
She’s always loved Liberty’s scarf prints – they’re not designed to be worn as hijabs, but some Muslim women do just that – and thinks the arrival of headscarves on the high street is a great thing, as women from all backgrounds will have more choice.
Mariah Idrissi, the 23-year-old Muslim model who wore a hijab in the H&M advert, agrees. She recently told The Telegraph:
“It’s hard being a Muslim and needing to dress conservatively but loving fashion. Nice ‘going out’ clothes are particularly hard. Everything’s either really dressy or really casual. Seeing Dolce & Gabbana launch in this market is definitely a positive thing.”
But not everyone feels the same way. Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love In A Headscarf, agrees that the rise in Muslim fashion is encouraging – but only to a point.
She stresses that hijabs are there to be worn for religious reasons and these should not be forgotten.
“If you’re discussing sparkles and spangles then I’m up for glitz to a point. But when I get dressed and look in the mirror, I stop and ask myself if I’m observing the letter [of religious doctrine] as well as the spirit of modest wear,” she says.
“Many would say I’m still too flamboyant, while compared to others I’m pretty conservative.”
The issue, for her, isn’t just that designer headscarves and hijabs can feature loud patterns and Western influences, it’s the fact they can come with hefty price tags. Spending hundreds of pounds on religious head wear isn’t something she believes in:
“Today’s fashion industry is about consumerism and objectification – buy, buy, buy and be judged by what you wear. Muslim fashion is teetering between asserting a Muslim woman’s right to be beautiful and well-turned out, and buying more stuff than you need, and being judged by your clothes – both of which are the opposite of Islamic values.
“Modesty isn’t just how you look, it’s what you purchase and what you waste. Plus (and H&M was criticised for this when it featured a Muslim model), it might be liberating for the Muslim women purchasing these fashions on the high street, but how liberating is it for the Muslim women who made them in the sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere?”
The ethical side of the argument is one that interests Muslim Sabah Haneen Choudhry, a third-year Social Anthropology student at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies in London).
She believes that, in 2016, the rise in Islamic fashion must be seen as a political matter.
“My issue is this: why is the hijab ‘acceptable’ only when it’s appropriated and managed by major corporations— Western regimes that, in other words, have the power to permit and regulate what is deemed tolerable, capitalisable and not?” she asks.
“Why can’t Muslim women decide the parameters of their Islamic identity and sexual morality, without facing harsh scrutiny from within and outside the ‘imagined’ Muslim community?”
To her, this is a critical moment for Muslim women as “the common visible marker of their identity” is entering the mainstream.
On one hand, she sees it as an example of the West deciding what Muslim women should wear. But on the other, she thinks it’s “a slap in the face to the racist bigots who identify Islam, and the Islamic marker of the hijab, from an Orientalist perspective” – i.e. those who see religions different to their own as ‘exotic’.
It’s clearly a controversial subject and one that many Muslim women feel strongly about. The difference in their opinions seems to come from their initial understanding of the hijab and why they choose to wear it.
The reasons for wearing a hijab can vary. A recent Reddit thread on this topic had answers ranging from women wanting to identify as a Muslim, wearing it as a sign of modesty, avoiding sexual harassment, following god’s word and even to making a ‘beautiful, religious fashion statement.’
Women who want to express themselves through their religious clothing tend to favour the increase in choice they now have. But those who wear the hijab strictly for conservative, religious reasons don’t support the Western influence on Islamic clothing.
Idrissi thinks the problem is that people just aren’t used to seeing Muslim women in fashion: “I’m trying to explain to people that fashion is such a big, influential part of life. If we were more used to seeing Muslim women, then for all the negative media we hear about Muslims, there would also be a positive side to it as well.”
But ultimately, as designer Ishaq suggests, it doesn’t matter what the critics think because they don’t have to wear them.
“I am not surprised that their might be some backlash from those claiming that the high fasion hijabs are immodest or counter to the religious messages,” she says. “To those people I say that luckily they have plenty of other choices, and choice is the most important thing.”
Originally published on www.telegraph.co.uk