As the hijab worn by many Muslim women symbolizes modesty and privacy in accordance with the Muslim faith, does the propagation of this garment in fashion and on runaways contradict the principles a hijab stands for? Moreover, should these religious symbols ever be viewed through the lens of fashion?
The practice of veiling has long preceded the rise of Islam in the seventh century as Jewish and Christian communities incorporated the use of the headscarf into their religious practices. Many women wear hijab and other forms of veiling as tradition while some women are required by law to do so, as in the case of Iran since the Islamic Revolution (1978-79). Veiling is therefore often not a religious requirement but rather a civil requirement.
Hijabi journalist Eman Mustafa Bare explains how growing up wearing a hijab post-9/11 was not considered “trendy”. On the contrary, her parents asked her not to wear a veil of concern for her safety amidst an increasing growth of Islamophobia. While hijab fashion had been increasing in the Arab world, Bare often found herself shopping in the men’s sections of clothing stores in order to purchase more modest items. As she states, “fashion did not include or feature women that looked like me”.
The hijab and other veils represent a polarizing global debate, gaining various international reactions where some states have enforced bans on such garments whereas others have mandated their use by law. As these ongoing debates continue, the use of the hijab in high fashion has developed this discussion, raising new questions on how we must approach such religious symbols.
While the recent sudden exposure of the hijab on the runway has led many to believe that its inclusion in high fashion stands as a resourceful means of combating Islamophobia, many still voice concerns over its implementation. As stated by Heba Jalloul, a Lebanese-American fashion blogger, “Muslim women launched the modest fashion industry and we are purposefully being left out.” While leading designer brands have incorporated this garment into their runway attires, a leading concern over its incorporation is the language surrounding the clothing, as well as the models promoting it. Although hijab-inspired looks are becoming more frequent in high fashion, designers seldom make references to the hijab, or to Muslim women.
Jalloul states that designers could have used Muslim women to walk in their shows in a hijab, yet such diversity and inclusion is a rare feat. “It’s almost like they are trying to erase us,” says Jalloul.
While the path is evident to promote diversity in an industry in which standards build even greater barriers, the incorporation of the Hijab in high fashion still stands as a form of inclusion for Muslim women. As Eman Mustafa Bare explains, although "the buzz around the hijab on runways is helping normalize public opinion of the garment, the high-fashion industry has a responsibility to do more for the women behind the veil.” Regardless of the recent incorporation of the hijab, it's evident that greater steps to uplift and empower the women wearing these garments are necessary.