Muslim women are stylish with a wide range of choices, which will be showcased at a modest fashion show in Redmond this weekend. It’s part of a trend that has high-end designers and mass-market retailers focusing on the Muslim market.
When Muslim-American women gather, their clothing tells a varied story. Some wear robe-like gowns that flow to the floor, in plain dark colors or in elaborately sparkling hues and patterns; others might don coordinated outfits of loosefitting pants and tunics that hint at the country of their heritage; and some simply choose jeans and shirts. Many, but by no means all, cover their hair, with flowing veils or simple headscarves (known as hijab, a word which also refers to the Muslim practice of dressing modestly).
“In the U.S., you have Muslims from Indonesia, from Iran, from Pakistan, from Tunisia — different places. And they all have their own attire, their own beautiful garments,” said Sara Jamshidi, a journalist who recently relocated to Seattle from Wisconsin. For several years, she has been working on a project called Fashionable Muslim Women (available to view at goltune.com) in which Jamshidi and others travel to different cities to photograph women, in their varied attire, at large gatherings of Muslims — with the goal of presenting Muslim women as stylish, unique individuals, with a wide range of choices.
The same idea is behind the Expressions of Style Fashion Show this Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound mosque in Redmond. It’s a women-only event that will showcase the work of five Indonesian and two local fashion designers. The clothing will be modest — which generally means long sleeves, long hemlines, loosefitting garments — but undeniably elegant and even playful.
‘Expressions of Style’ Fashion Show
6 p.m. Dec. 10, Muslim Association of Puget Sound, 17550 N.E. 67th Court, Redmond; tickets $35 general/$20 student/$75 VIP. Women-only event; no children under age 13. Information: facebook.com/azizahfashionshow
It’s timely, said event organizer Sherine Abbas, because of the many stereotypes around Muslim women. Some Westerners, she said, “might look at someone who is dressing a certain way, and they have a certain idea — maybe she is oppressed, she is uneducated, she has no job. As opposed to, if they go to an event that is run by Muslim women, they can see that [Muslim women] are doctors, designers, entrepreneurs.”
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The show also comes at a time of increased interest in modest fashion. In September, the first New York Fashion Week major runway show with all hijab-wearing models was presented from Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan. Both high-end designers (Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger) and mass-market retailers (Uniqlo, Marks & Spencer) have, in the past couple of years, launched modest lines aimed at the Muslim market — and the Cover Girl cosmetics company recently introduced brand ambassador Nura Afia, a Colorado native who appears in commercials and on billboards in her hijab.
Reşat Kasaba, a Middle East expert and director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, says that this rise in visibility can be explained by the significant growth of the middle class in a number of Muslim-majority countries worldwide over the past decade. “These families have more disposable income, and it has generated a huge market for fashion,” he said. “In a business sense, it’s become a huge opportunity.” Those years have also brought, he said, more acceptance of “a public expression of religion.”
While modest fashion may not yet be entirely mainstream in the U.S., the industry seems to be moving in the direction of inclusion — which is welcome news to local Muslim women who want to be both covered and stylish. “I felt like when I was in school, my peers didn’t understand why I would want to do modest fashion,” said Sabika Makhdoom, a Woodinville-based designer whose work will be featured in the show, of her time studying fashion design at the University of Washington. “I think it’s come a long way in people’s eyes and perceptions.”
Kent-based designer Rahma Yusuf, whose garments will also be included in the Expressions of Style show, agreed. “I feel like it’s going in that direction,” she said of the increased mainstreaming of Muslim-inspired fashion. “The fashion industry is seeing a gap, a sector of women who are invisible. Now it’s starting to open up.”
Aania Aslam, a senior at the University of Washington who blogs about beauty and fashion on Instagram, says she’s seeing more recognition of modest style across social media. “To see a hijabi model in Cover Girl, it’s kind of like seeing yourself portrayed in the media, as a positive person,” she said.
The fashion show is presented by Azizah magazine, a quarterly print and digital publication aimed at Muslim-American women, as the first of a series of events designed to emphasize both modesty and empowerment for Muslim women. All women, however, are welcome to attend — and are likely to meet Muslim women in a wide range of attire at the event.
The guiding principle for Muslim women, Azizah creative director and co-founder Nina Soerakoesoemah said, is modesty — but the interpretation of that is very much up to the individual. “Modesty is more than the clothes that we wear,” she said. “In Islam, modesty is one of the things that characterizes you, not just how you are dressed outwardly, but how you interact.”
“It is a fashion show for clothes,” Soerakoesoemah said, speaking to newcomers who might be curious about the runway styles, “but we want to remind them that it lies in the heart.”