A short while ago, Samantha Elauf won a religious discrimination case against clothier Abercrombie & Fitch. A Muslim woman, she argued she was denied employment because her religion requires her to wear a headscarf, a look the company felt was contrary to their fashion image. (Click)
The case made me wonder if religious clothing and fashion could ever be compatible. Take the Amish, for example. No one’s going to accuse them of being trendy. If I donned a blue denim dress, a white apron and a bonnet, I doubt anyone would think I was making a fashion statement. They’d think I was Amish. The same would be true if I picked up a nun’s habit from Amazon—though, as nuns in this country don’t wear the habit anymore, I might be taken for weird or engaged in nefarious activity.
As I don’t equate Muslin dress with fashion, imagine my surprise when I came across an article about Muslim designers who appeared on a panel at a London fashion conference. Some of the young females wore western clothing but all of them defended a woman’s right to declare her faith in her manner of dress. They also said that since 9/11, the trend toward religious outerwear had increased among Muslim girls living in the west, not because of coercion, but from a desire to express their identity. The panel was moderated by Reina Lewis of the London College of Fashion who added that Arab garments were a growing niche market. In 2012, it represented $224 billion for the clothing industry and that number was expected to grow. (Click)
If Muslim dressing is morphing into fashion, I wonder if women of any faith could be included. Frankly, a hajib might be just the ticket for bad hair days. Flowing gowns can disguise a bloated tummy or unshaved legs. Many sins can be hidden under Muslim attire, and there’s always something to be said for a little mystery.
Of course, I’m not talking about those black shrouds women in the Middle East are forced to wear, but designs like those fashioned by the young women on the panel. Frankly, some of the examples are gorgeous. Americans have already adopted Middle Eastern foods like humus and shish kabobs, why not democratize the attire so young women like Samantha Elauf will no longer feel they are subject to discrimination? Who knows, maybe Abercrombie and Fitch might add hijabs to their inventory. But if western women of any faith were to do a little “cross dressing” would we offend our Arab sisters by seeming discourteous to their religion? That’s a question that arises when fashion and faith are integrally linked. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.