Muslim women’s dress has always been a debated topic in the West and the Middle East throughout history because women’s clothing has major political significance. In the past countries like Turkey experienced the banning of the Hijab by Ataturk in the 1920’s in an attempt to westernise the country. Similar attempts of westernisation also took place in Iran whereby the Shah banned the full body covering called chador in 1963. However, in other countries such as Saudi Arabia wearing the abaya, a long loose over-garment and hijab are mandatory, thus revealing the different ways in which women’s dress is regulated. These regulations have been imposed by male politicians in an attempt to assert political control or implement political change. However, against this, there exists a long ‘under the radar’ tradition of women using their pious dress to influence politics. Muslim women use their dress to communicate with society, consumers and to show dissent.

Ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979 in Iran, the hijab became mandatory and women were urged to wear clothing that is compatible with Sharia law. However, there is no clear definition of what qualifies as a hijab or what clothing is appropriate with Sharia. Yet, by social standards, women are expected to cover the shape of their body for example specifically their chest, waist and hips. Even though Iranian women are faced with such regulations they exercise their freedom by choosing how to interpret these regulations, for instance, many women wear tailored trousers with short military jackets and loose fitted headscarf’s. Nevertheless, women also use their clothing to protest and show dissatisfaction, for example, white Wednesday protests saw women wearing white headscarves. There were even protests of women removing their headscarves and waving them around to fight against the legal dress codes. Women also utilise the symbolism of their dress to send messages amidst family relations, for example, there are accounts of Muslim women in Egypt using their headscarves to indicate hostility with male members of the family because women choose when to wear the hijab.

This also highlights how women are reinterpreting traditional notions of modesty and redefining fashion. There’s a movement of women reinterpreting the Quran and Hadith to fit into their realities allowing them to form their own understandings of scripture moving away from patriarchal interpretations. Fashion has enabled women to challenge stereotypes in society and allowed women to connect through social media to explore the relationship between fashion and faith. Recently there has been some great improvements in the Fashion industry with Nike releasing a sports line for Muslim women, the emergence of Vogue Arabia and big brands have now offered modest fashion lines like H&M, DKNY and Mango. Muslim women have become influential within the fashion industry by creating their own lines and demanding recognition by other brands. This has led women to redefine modesty as a fashionable statement rebuking the idea that covering oneself constitutes to a lack of style and knowledge of fashion.


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