The Haute Couture Hijab

201706HijabsIslamic dress is often viewed with hostility in the Western media, but will that change now it has hit the catwalks.

What Muslim women wear is often discussed in the Western media; often it’s about banning it, occasionally there is support for it, but in recent months Islamic dress has become a hot topic in the fashion magazines because it is on the front cover of Vogue and has featured on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week. Even with the stamp of approval that this might bring, it still managed to create a hailstorm of both positive and negative Twitter and Instagram comments.

A storm over Vogue

Vogue Arabia came under fire when model Gigi Hadid wore a hijab on the cover of its launch issue in 2016. The fact that Hadid is half Palestinian, but not a practising Muslim, offended some more conservative factions who claimed it was being “appropriated” as a fashion statement.  But, the editor of Vogue Arabia defended the model and the cover image saying that Hadid was the perfect choice to launch Vogue in the Arab world as she had grown up in a Muslim household and she is one of the world’s top models. Others complained that Hadid is being praised for wearing a hijab whilst Muslim women around the world are attacked for wearing it. In response, one has to say, “It’s complicated.”

The Hijab hits New York

Also in 2016, Indonesian fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan launched her latest collection at New York Fashion Week. It’s one of the premier and most prestigious annual events in the fashion world, which everyone who is anyone in the world of celebrity and couture attends. What was unusual about this collection is that Anniesa’s models were wearing a hijab. Many are calling this show an historic moment in bringing the hijab into the mainstream. Easier said than done when what Muslim women wear is a source of so much debate.

Inspired by her hometown Jakarta, Hasibuan presented trousers, flowing tunic and gowns, in luxurious fabrics and detailed embroidery, all worn with hijabs. Let’s remember that a hijab is just a head covering; it doesn’t cover the face at all. The 30-year-old designer received a standing ovation at the end of her show, but she has drawn criticism from those who are against the hijab, as well as those who think her designs are not Islamic enough.

Melanie Elturk, CEO of Haute Hijab, an American company was at the New York show and commented: “I believe fashion is one of the outlets in which we can start that cultural shift in today's society to normalize hijab in America so as to break down stereotypes and demystify misconceptions," she wrote on Instagram, "Last night's show was a huge leap forward in that direction."

A Modesty Movement

It seems that Muslim designers aren’t the only ones using the hijab. As the BBC reported, “Islamic fashion is definitely having a moment” and everyone from high street brands to high fashion labels want some hijab action. H&M released an ad featuring a model wearing a hijab, Uniqlo is partnering with a Muslim designer and Dolce & Gabbana are launching a line of hijabs and abayas aimed at wealthy Muslim women. Even Nike has put its Swoosh on a sportswear line for Muslim women.

Some commentators say that this isn’t just about following the money, and that it also coincides with a ‘modesty movement’ in fashion. Mainstream designers in the West are favouring a more covered up look, with the one-piece swimsuit back on trend as an example. At the same time, Muslim designers are getting more creative with their designs and are putting out collections that adventurous non-Muslims might just buy.

Indonesia is currently the region producing the most high fashion hijab lines. "Indonesian fashion has become more diverse and we've become more confident in taking our own culture and what we've grown up with into our influences," Putri Soediono, a Singapore-based designer with Indonesian heritage told the press. Soediono also thinks Hasibuan has proven that Islamic wear can be fashionable, and will make people see that there is much more to it than the plain black Arab-style burqa/abaya that many people think is the sum of Islamic fashion.  

The opposite view

Whilst many Muslim women welcome the modernizing of Islamic fashion and it must be said that some of Hasibuavin’s designs are colourful but subtle and use a wide range of fabrics that reflect a contemporary world. Some of her designs actually use trousers and they are not baggy harem pants. However, some conservatives in Indonesia see this way of dressing as “not Islamic enough.” Dr Eva Nisa, professor of Islamic Studies at Victoria University, who has been researching Muslim fashion in Indonesia since 2007, said "The belief among some is that the essence of Muslim dress is to wear something decent, to be modest. For women, they have to make sure what they're wearing doesn't attract the attention of men." And, she added, "Some people think what the Muslim fashion designers produce is totally against this kind of religious doctrine, because it can be seen to attract attention."

But, for many young Muslim women, the hijab is not a religious symbol or a statement, but just part of their cultural identity - an identity they are asserting more confidently.

Western values may see it as a symbol of enforced submission, but there are Muslim women of all ages who see it as their choice and just want more adventurous versions of a traditional style of dress from haute couture designers.  Now they have it!

Islamic dress code: 


A clothing style that covers the body and is not tight fitting. It should not cover the face, hands and feet. Some Islamic cultures believe it is compulsory, but many do not. There are many ways of wearing the hijab and each country has it is own style of draping it around the head.


The niqab covers the head and most of the face – only the eyes are uncovered. This is not considered compulsory within Islam.


An outer garment that loosely covers the body, rather like a floor length coat. It is a term more widely used in Central Asia. The style of burqa imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan has caused some confusion over what the burqa is. Whilst there it completely covers the body from head to toe, including all of the face, in other Muslim countries it is nothing like that. Arab countries prefer to use the term abaya for this garment.


A robe-like dress that is traditionally black and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head or a long caftan. The abaya covers the whole body except the face, feet, and hands.

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