Mumbai: Simultaneously with the ever increasing share of modest clothing in fashion industry, Hijab, widely perceived as a symbol of subjugation and a sign of slavery and oppression, is steadily, and at a rapid pace, also being successfully used by the Muslim women to exert political influence, a new research has found.
“There is an unintended consequence of making Muslim women and their clothing important symbols of the nation: Women and their dress are given prominent roles in constructing what modern citizenship means. So, even if modest dress resulted from attempts to politically control women, it has become a practice in which women can exercise political influence”, Elizabeth Bucar, wrote in an article published by The Atlantic.
The article has been adapted from Elizabeth Bucar’s book, Pious Fashion, published by Harvard University Press.
Pious or Islamic fashion in general is understood as women wearing modest clothing with long sleeves, descending to the ankle and having a high neckline. The outfits are non-hugging, with some form of head covering that could be draped in a variety of styles. Women who prefer to wear pants combine them with a long sleeved top that covers the buttocks and has a high neckline, along with a head covering, as explained by Faegheh Shirazi, Professor, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, in a recent article published by The Conversation.
"Over time, national and international designers came to be involved in the sale of chic Islamic fashions. Today, Muslim fashion is a lucrative global industry with countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey leading the way outside the Western countries. In 2010 the Turkish newspaper Milliyet estimated the global Islamic clothing market to be worth around US$2.9 billion", Shirazi noted.
"The Global Islamic Economy report for 2014-2015 indicated Muslim consumer spending on clothing and footwear had increased to $266 billion in 2013. This represents a growth of 11.9 percent of the global spending in a period of three years. The report predicted this market to reach $488 billion by 2019", she added.
The economic angle of modest clothing notwithstanding, Elizabeth Bucar, who has been researching Muslim women’s fashion since 2004, carried out the comparative investigation to find how Hijab is used to exert political influence, and visited Tehran in Iran, Yogyakarta in Indonesia and Istanbul in Turkey for the purpose.
“While there have been studies of Muslim women’s clothing in many individual countries, there are few cross-cultural and transnational comparisons. As I undertook such a comparison over the next dozen years, I found surprise, pleasure, and delight in pious fashion”, Elizabeth wrote.
“My conversations about modest clothing with women around the world also challenged those neat intellectual boxes to which I had grown overly accustomed in the United States”, she added.
Though described as a “bohemian” form of dress and also endorsed by the Iranian authorities because it is long and loose, many Tehrani youth, especially, those of “artist types” prefer the Arab chador.
“More than just a breezy look, this style conveys a vision of public femininity that, despite the strict rules of the Islamic Republic, valorizes a free spirit and sense of ease in the face of authoritarian rule”, Elizabeth wrote.
“My early preference for some Tehrani styles does not mean that they were objectively better but rather that their aesthetics were more in line with the aesthetics of my own style culture”, she added.
Noting that Indonesian women did not historically wear head coverings, as uncovered hair and shoulders are part of the traditional Javanese aesthetic of beauty and till recently modest dress was synonymous with lack of taste or provinciality, Elizabeth found that modest dress is increasingly becoming popular and a headscarf, not a bare head, is what reads as new, fresh, and forward-thinking in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
“For most of the last 100 years, sarong-style skirts and blouses were the clothes officially promoted by the government. That changed dramatically three decades ago when the popularity of modest dress—jilbab—skyrocketed after former president Suharto resigned.
“This style arose as an aesthetic critique of a regime that was repressing Islamic belief and practice. As young, college-educated women increasingly adopted pious fashion, it became a sign of a cosmopolitan woman”, Elizabeth noted.
“The diversity of jilbab styles does not mean that anything goes. My informants were quick to dispense severe judgments against women seen as aesthetically failing at jilbab”, she added.
Noting that pious fashion in Istanbul, Turkey incorporates a number of European aesthetics and hence visions of femininity in Istanbul take their lead chiefly from the West, not the East, Elizabeth wrote, “Still, it is considered important to select a modest outfit and headscarf that is visually pleasing in public; this allows women to represent Islamic piety in the best way possible, as well as to avoid the harsh critiques of the secular elite that veiled women are ugly and unfashionable.”
“In all three locations, traditional forms of patterned cloth have become incorporated into local pious fashion. Wearing these “ethnic” styles is not just a way to reclaim local aesthetic traditions—it can also be a way to express social or political critique by valorizing alternative sources of national pride”, Elizabeth noted.
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