Islamic veiling is a global political issue and the debate tends to move in two different directions: it’s framed as either a matter of the freedom of female self-expression or as emblematic of gender inequality and suppression. Its role as a fashion statement is rarely discussed.
The biggest players in the development of Islamic fashion are young Muslim fashion bloggers. These young Muslim women, sharing ideas, styles and trends with one another, have become pseudo-celebrities within the blogging world.
Last year Vogue reported that demands for designer fashion in Middle Eastern and Islamic regions have grown in the last few decades. This boom has given rise to Muslim fashion designers who create clothing especially designed to cater to a market of fashion-loving modest women.
Muslim fashion bloggers
In 2007 a Chicago-based journalist, Mariam Sobh, developed the first online entertainment site for Muslim women wanting to keep up with Western culture and fashion. The website, better known as HijabTrendz introduced fashion trends to Muslim women living in the United States. Many Muslim women have since followed suit by posting videos on YouTube, providing step-by-step tutorials and how-to guides on different ways to wear hijabs.
As interest grows on YouTube, many of these women create blogs to further enhance a relationship with their “fans” and generate greater content beyond YouTube. Some post “full-body” shots in order to display designer garments that can be worn with hijabs. Others emphasise the need to accessorise with jewellery, bags and shoes including high-heels, sandals and so on.
These two bloggers upload images of themselves showcasing newly purchased scarves and other garments, including wearing clothing from popular commercial fashion chains such as Forever21, H&M, Zara, ASOS and Boohoo.
Dina Toki-o and YaztheSpaz have also created their own online hijab stores, allowing their readers to buy headscarves designed by the bloggers.
Expression and exposure
Sydney-based blogger Delina Darusman-Gala created the first Muslim fashion blog in Australia, posting images of herself wearing “everyday” hijab styles. Such blogs have encouraged other Muslim women to freely express themselves without political constraints.
Even though these young women may be re-forming representations of Islamic identity, there is an irony that exists here. Posting imagery for the sole purpose of fashion could indicate that these women are exploiting their bodies for materialistic appeal.
Many blog posts focus primarily on styling headscarves to suit tight-fitting jeans, body-wrapping dresses (and skirts) and high-heeled footwear. This suggests that these bloggers are revisiting the precepts of Islamic veiling. In such images the veil serves to entice and intrigue and not necessarily to hide.
The images posted on these blogs portray enjoyment of Muslim femininity. The veil does not act to conceal or obscure conventional markers of female attractiveness as is typical of the modesty of Islam.
Rather, these veils become accessories to a carefully made-up face or curves of the female form. In response, many of these Muslim bloggers have received negative commentary on the way they present themselves to the online world.
Evidently, such opposing opinions do not deter these young women from exposing themselves.
The work that these young women do can be considered as a movement toward finding a better way to accept women who choose to wear headscarves. This is especially true for women who have grown up and lived in Western societies such as Australia, the UK and the US.