Muslim women seek to be chic, Islamic fashion
Turkey, a country in which 70 percent of the female population wears a form of hijab, the Islamic-style headscarf, has witnessed a major change in Muslim women's clothing in recent years -- a change in accordance with developments in the fashion world.
The number of women who want to reflect smartness harmonized with hijab in their clothing has increased significantly. These women have started to wear more colorful, chic clothing with exclusive patterns that are different from the styles of older times.
In the streets Muslim women are clothed in increasingly vivid and fashion-centered designs. As a result of the growing demand by Muslim women for fashionably designed clothing, uniquely Islamic clothing has begun to be an important sector for clothing companies. Brands such as Tekbir, Peçe, Armağan, Huzur, Aker and Armine have started to produce Islamic clothing and headscarves with different designs. However, what are the exact demands of the women these companies are attempting to cater to; and are firms succeeding in meeting the exponential demand?
Most women who wear headscarves want to wear fashionable clothes and pursue the latest trends. They also want to see equivalent quality and originality in Islamic clothing sector products as in the rest of the fashion industry. However, these women complain that their demands are not being paid attention. According to most of them, Islamic clothing companies have not achieved success in following fashion developments, while other shops do not meet their needs as Muslim women and do not attach sufficient import to the growing Islamic clothing sector.
Clothing companies that cater to veiled women produce clothes that are a little too chic, many Muslim women say. Younger women in particular complain that there is no casual wear designed for them and that originality is severely lacking in Islamic clothing store windows. Hijab clothing stores tend to produce clothes that are too elegant and smart, not what most women await from producers. While a great deal of casual wear produced by general clothing firms are unsuitable for hijab-wearing women due to their being short-sleeved or transparent, the Islamic clothing sector has not been able to catch up to the trends.
Thus, young girls who wear hijab are not pleased with their options in any clothing sector. For example, Nihan Cici, a student in Selçuk University's Management Faculty, says there are no shops that appeal completely to her style of dress, which is more casual. Shops have clothes that are either too womanish or too tight and revealing. According to her, these clothes do not comply with Islamic rules because they draw much attention even when one is covered. Emine Uzun, a student in Istanbul University's American Culture and Literature Faculty, indicates that the quality found in the Islamic clothing sector does not match that of other clothing producers.
According to these young women, fashion is not only about elegance and being extra chic. They want to wear and be able to find both casual and formal clothing that is original, fashionable and of good quality that is also in accordance with Islamic principles of modest clothing.
However, from here stems the biggest issue in the Islamic clothing industry. Does the desire to follow fashion exceed the limits of hijab? Are firms careful enough about Islamic boundaries when designing fashion for Muslim women?
According to most covered women, both fashion designers and hijab-wearing women have exceeded the limits of modest Islamic clothing. While couturiers design clothes that are too tight, transparent and attractive, women buy whatever they find in the shops, without thinking much about Islamic rules. Turkish fashion designer Rabia Yalçın says when a woman cannot find the dress she's looking for in a shop, she buys whatever is closest in her reach.
Due to this, producers do not lose any money, but the female customer tries to solve the problem on her own, and the vicious cycle continues. According to Yalçın, there is a small group that determines world fashion standards, and this group imposes a particular aesthetic perception upon the world. Many veiled women give striking example to this control of fashion by a small group. They say unanimously: "It is like imposing small sizes on people. If you wear size large clothing, it is very difficult for you to find the kind of nice dress you want in shops. All clothes come in size small, as if everybody has to fit them. It is the same in the fashion world. Fashion designers impose the clothes they design, at odds with Islamic principles, on women by neglecting the demands of covered women for clothing that is both chic and abiding by the rules of hijab. They do not seem to pay much attention to covered women's principles when designing clothes."
Yalçın agrees with this assessment. "Even though many people in the world wear large sizes, many companies produce small-sized clothing. This is an imposition." This means that many famous brands, holding the power to control world fashion in their hands, do not produce clothes preferred by covered women. For example, covered women say, long skirts cannot be found in high-quality shops. This is interpreted by most covered women as neglect on the part of the clothing sector, or its refusal to facilitate an alternative for covered women. On this point, both designers and women are guilty of the negativity in Muslim women's' clothing.
Yalçın also says that "the design of modern clothes with exclusive, fashionable patterns -- that is, giving a choice to veiled women, is an issue of supply and demand. Although veiled women complain about not being able to conveniently find clothes that are chic, modern and observant of the rules of Islamic dress, they adjust their dressing styles to current market conditions by buying whatever they find."
Veiled women agree that not only the clothing sector but the women themselves are at fault. For example, Şeyma Didem Aslıer from Selçuk University's Sociology Department complains that women, not finding clothes in alignment with hijab rules, solve their problem by buying whatever they find, regardless of whether or not those clothes are in accordance with Islamic principles. What this ultimately means is the determination of the boundaries and limits of hijab by fashion designers.
Renowned fashion designer Neslihan Yargıcı objects to this, saying, "The borders of hijab should be determined by theologians, not by fashion designers." However, this is what designers are ignoring.
Cici thinks that some covered women are guilty of conflicting themselves over their clothing choices because they, consciously or subconsciously, want to maintain the same level of fashion that they dressed in before they donned the headscarf. She says: "They still want to wear pretentious clothes. However this does not conform to the meaning of hijab. Hijab means covering the body in an unattractive way. Fashion and hijab cannot go hand in hand."
Theology Professor Vecdi Akyüz gives support to this approach and says: "Hijab should be modest. Too vivid colors and attractive styles should not be used; one should be decent."
According to Uzun, covered women who abandon some Islamic clothing rules have not understood the real aim and meaning of hijab. In her view, one can be both properly covered and chic.
Aslıer agrees, saying: "Fashion and attractiveness are not the same thing. Because the quality of the fashion sector cannot be found in the Islamic clothing sector, some girls try to create their own styles. However, one has to be careful about Islamic principles when arriving at that point." She also connects to this issue the desires to be different from others having a high position in society and interprets these as social problems.
Cici also thinks that covered women exceed the limits of hijab while struggling to have a position in the society. For her, the evolution of hijab in a negative direction began when fashion started to enter to the lives of Muslim women. However, she is not against having a nice, neat appearance.
Esma Aydın, a student at Istanbul University's Faculty of Contemporary Greek Language and Literature, says: "While preserving and abiding the principles of Islamic women's clothing, one should wear nice and chic clothes. Being chic and being attractive are very different from each other." Uzun also says that covered women should wear well-kept, quality clothing in order project the good image that a Muslim woman should.
On that point, Yalçın warns that "those depending on the Islamic clothing sector for their shopping needs complain of being démodé. However, women buying from famous brands attract more attention with clothes that run contrary to the real aim of hijab. Therefore, women dressing in accordance with their religious beliefs should know what to wear and what not to wear very well. They should not leave this issue to the hands of irrelevant parties for the sake of being modern."
Another complaint of covered women about Islamic clothing companies is their domination of the sector. Since famous and fashionable brands do not make clothes suitable for covered women, some companies remain the only alternative in the Islamic clothing sector. This is the biggest complaint of veiled women. Women say that even though the sector does not produce modern, original and fashionable clothes, clothing prices are very high in many of these shops.
As monopoly-holders in the sector, some companies make use of their situation to the disadvantage of the customer, although they fail in responding to women's demands. Not only do they present a complete lack of style and variety, but they also sell at prices much above the norm and the worth of their wares.
Yalçın says as a final note: "In our designs, the woman stands at the forefront. Veiled or not, this is the first priority. Why? Because a woman is a woman; her demand for beauty and her delicacy of soul is always the same. Women determine our designs. After that, her personal belief and faith determine and complete the dress. Also, creating a different style within the perception of fashion without moving away from current boundaries is important."
Sunday's Zaman Last Mod: 02 Eylül 2007, 11:51