By SHABINA S. KHATRI
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY MAGAZINE
I began covering my hair at 16 years old in part to fit in with Detroit’s growing Muslim community.
Though hijab has brought me closer to God, we have had our share of tiffs. On a good hair day, for example, I can be downright resentful of the scarf – or humbled, depending on how religious I’m feeling. In those vulnerable moments, I go shopping for pretty headscarves.
My desire to look good, modestly, reflects a trend across the Muslim world among women who cover. From Egypt to Indonesia, fashion is playing a role in not only attracting women to wear hijab, but also motivating them to continue doing so.
Turkey, a Muslim country with a secular government that prohibits the covering of heads and faces in public buildings, is an interesting case study for this trend.
In the 1980s, educated, middle-class women began embracing modest dress in the form of long, loose overcoats and large headscarves – a uniform called tessetür. The movement shocked many in Turkey who viewed overt religious observance as a backward tradition observed only by poor rural women.
Fashion is playing a role in not only attracting women to wear hijab, but also motivating them to continue doing so.
Instead of being worn out of habit or simple religiosity, the scarf then came to carry a political identity, says Özlem Sandıkcı, an assistant marketing professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, who coauthored a study on how veiling in Turkey is becoming more commonplace.
For tessetürlü women, covering promoted a new Islamist vision for Turkey, which had been struggling to quell right- and left-wing secular politics for a decade. By endorsing religion as a political identity, the women distanced themselves from their parents’ secular politics.
Covering also provided women a spiritual boost and a way to reject sexualization – they were no longer stared at by men and didn’t feel pressure to be attractive. And women found comfort in a sense of community within their covered group, Sandıkcı says.
Over time, women began personalizing how they covered – shortening and tightening their coats, donning smaller scarves. The market responded by producing more fashionable clothing choices – scarves with sequins, tassels and bold patterns; fashion shows demonstrating the latest in Islam chic; blogs with instructions on wrapping the hijab to complement casual and formal wear.
More choices help to normalize the practice of covering, Sandıkcı says. They also make covering more attractive to women who found older hijab styles to be bland or austere, says Fadwa El Guindi, an anthropology professor at Qatar University who wrote a book on Egyptian women’s experiences with hijab, Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance (Dress, Body, Culture).
In other words, fashionable hijab choices may be that extra nudge Muslim women need to embrace the headscarf.