Warning: This post may become almost essay-ish because I have a tendency to ramble. Skim read if you please.
JAAN’s (Justice and Arts Network) first Q & A session of the year focused on a timely topic and one obviously relevant to this blog. On their Facebook page, they described the topic of discussion to be “all things fashion, discussing local and international trends and how they affect Islamic style.”
There was a panel, consisting of about five people in the fashion industry, from Tarik the founder of Hijab House, Karima creative director of Saveus, Basilia a freelance stylist, Sara from Blog and Instagram, Sara_why and Langston Hues, photographer embarking on photographing “Modest Street Fashion” around the world, to be published in a book. The audience showed the wide array of interpretations of ‘modest’ fashion, from high waisted acid washed denim, to bright colours, statement necklaces, tulle maxis with sneakers and lots of pattern.
Image source: Benny Baharuddin via JAAN Fashion Forum Facebook page.
The forum began with a heated discussion of the definitions of the words that were the focus of the Q & A, that is, ‘fashion’, ‘modesty’ and ‘style’. What was made evident from the get go was that the definitions of these vary from person to person, and therefore, how they are expressed in terms of what people wear would also naturally vary. What was made clear was that there was a distinction between ‘style’ and ‘fashion’ and was outlined particularly nicely by Karima, as “fashion is the structure, the bones and style is the DNA”, or it’s “what you do with fashion.”
When it came to defining ‘modesty’ there was a lot more controversy. Karima defined it as having little to do with one’s dress, but something that actually espoused one’s character, an ‘unassuming character’ a ‘freedom from vanity’. Langston Hues, on the other hand, asserted that, at the base level, it was about ‘covering up’ and here he brought in the Quranic ayah regarding ‘khimar’ and ‘hijab’, where ‘khimar’ is the term actually used to denote a covering up of some form. He emphasized that interpretations of how this actually manifests itself differs across the schools of thought, or madhabs.
To me, a discussion of modesty necessitates an exploration of the spiritual. I wear the hijab because I try to please Allah (swt). It reminds me of my status with regards to the Creator. It is also a reminder to me of the need for a detachment with the self. Along side this, I also strive to dress nicely and presentable, because to me, it is a form of thankfulness for the blessings that Allah (swt) has given me. Allah (swt) loves beauty, and loves to see beauty on his created beings. The important point to note however is that we do not become attached to these beautiful things, whether those things are clothes, cars, our houses, even our children. The most beautiful example of this is in the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him), who used to name his clothes, and treat them with the utmost care, but was also happy to give them away when the time came, to those in dire need.
What I find is that the more one delves into the world of fashion, the harder it is to be detached from it, particularly the type of fashion that is promoted here in the West. The Western notion of fashion is an exaggerated and consumerist industry, objectifying women. And although this has become almost a catch-phrase, there is no denying the truth in it. Linking ‘fashion’ then, to ‘modesty’ vis a vis Islam is almost an oxymoron. They are polar opposites. One espouses cyclical consumption of ‘trends’, cheap clothing and an emphasis on it as the most important expression of the self, the other emphasizes quality over quantity, of cherishing our belongings, of being scrupulous with regards to where and how our clothes are manufactured, because it values human rights, and environmental sustainability over our need to ‘express ourselves via fashion.’
Me (in white) and Iman from ‘faithfusion’ on Instagram in discussion. Via Benny Baharuddin.
I know this post is becoming much too long, but I need to address one more thing before I end my spiel. At the forum, there was of course a discussion of the role of ‘turbanistas’, ‘mipsters’ and ‘hijabisters’. They were seen as being positive role models for young girls who were struggling to be confident and comfortable in their hijab. To some extent I agree. I used to trawl Hana Tajima’s blog, particularly in her early days, and try to emulate her vintage, oversized shirts and masculine denim with maxi skirts and belts. I’ve watched Dina Tokio’s hijab tutorials and they’ve made getting dressed in the morning that little bit easier. And I’ve followed Ascia AKF on Instagram and been simultaneously inspired and a little envious of her designer wardrobe. In the end though, I always felt that I never looked good enough, I was constantly questioning my clothing choices, and ended up in the same state of despair, with a bed piled with clothes, the way that I used to feel when I didn’t wear the hijab.
What I fear is that such figures can create an ideal that is created for girls, a ‘look like me’ complex. The struggle to emulate these role models only continues, as it does in the secular fashion world with celebrity style and models obsessed over. It doesn’t really imbue self-confidence, and just results in homogenization, or ‘trends’ being formed. Just type in ‘Hana Tajima hijab style’ to see what I mean. Does it really promote individuality, which was emphasized so heavily at the forum? Or is it just another impossible ideal to aspire to? Because let’s face it, these modest fashion bloggers have a team of photographers, make up artists, sponsors who send them clothes, and possibly spend hours creating a ‘look’. The average woman does not have such access to such people. Rather than instilling confidence, it seems to feed into the cycle of insecurity, and “never looking good enough”.
I suppose what I’m trying to say in the end is that we need to be more scrupulous with our intentions, to understand that essentially, they’re just clothes, and that what we need to work on is instilling true confidence in our Muslim identity and self. I believe this can only be possible through gaining knowledge of Islam and also as a community we need to stop vilifying each other for the choices we make with regards to our external appearance, and live what we keep parroting, that what we wear shouldn’t be our top priority. That what we need to work on is our relationship with our Creator, and try to emulate the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) to the best of our ability, and anything that takes us away from this, is probably not worth pursuing.
So here are some photos of my stall. I will post a DIY tutorial on how to create the ribbon backdrop and the flower crown.
Details of the dress: The dress is a wool dress from the 1950s I found at a thrift store here in Australia called Vinnies. It was about $15. Seriously. The skirt and belt were attached for the purposes of the Forum. It fits with my love of an “elegant but restrained aesthetic” or in other words, minimalism lol, and also I’m into the whole repurposed vintage thing.
Image of me courtesy of Sarah Chaabo or sarah_and_the_city on Instagram.