Fashion and faith in our words
In a society where a reductive narrative of Muslim women has dominated mass media, there is a dire need for the multi-dimensional stories and experiences of Muslim women to be recognized and celebrated. In particular, there is a fixation around the way in which Muslim women dress, and their perspectives are often absent from these conversations. This is one attempt to challenge normative stereotypes and provide a more comprehensive media portrayal of Muslim women in our own community. Here, we asked several Muslim women on campus to speak about the factors that shape their personal sense of style. These nine students and their reflections are by no means a complete representation of the diverse Muslim identities and narratives present at the University of Michigan. However, their individual approaches to style are each inspiring examples of empowerment through fashion and faith.
Graduate student, School of information and School of Public Health
To me, combining my faith with my fashion has always been something that I’ve been proud of, and ever since I started wearing hijab, I wanted to incorporate my love of fashion into the way I dress. I think post-election era there was a lot of uncertainty, especially with minorities, and this feeling of “we don’t really know what’s going to happen next.” But for me and other Muslim women I’ve spoken to, it’s a time of empowerment for us to use our faith and to have these conversations with people and to allow them to ask questions. I know for me that’s something that I’m open to, and I hope that by showing that I dress a certain way because I like to, because I want to. At the same time I’m a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, those two things are not mutually exclusive for me and I hope that this can create dialogue in the future for us to embrace each other’s diversity and be more inclusive.
I would describe my style as somewhere between classy and hipster, and obviously because I’m a hijabi, faith plays a role in how I dress and how much I choose to cover or not. Because of that, I like to choose really light, flowy pieces — simple but still cute. Especially growing up in the south, or just in general, I always felt like there was a stereotype of “the Muslim woman in black.” Even my mom would always be like, “Oh, don’t wear black,” so I would always try to wear different colors.
I feel like my style is very random, in the sense that I'll throw on pieces of different patterns and colors, hoping they'll look good together. I think that as long as you're confident in what you wear, whether it's high fashion, or street style, it'll look put-together with a positive attitude. This skater boy chic thing I've got going on is not a regular for me, and could just as easily have been a midi dress with a shawl! I don't usually conform to any specific style type, it just depends on my mood. In terms of Muslim fashion, people wouldn't automatically associate what I'm wearing today as their stereotypical image of a Muslim woman. But that's the beauty of it, there's no typical style for a Muslim woman. My Muslim identity is a part of what encourages me to look like a white boy at a skate park one day and yet wear a long flowy dress the next. I want to push out of the box while maintaining the lessons I've learned from my religious identity when expressing who I am through my clothing — especially my socks.
Growing up, it was really easy to think that Muslim women can’t be fashionable, and that modesty and fashion are antithetical to one another. And so, I’ve always tried to find ways to mend those two together — to both be modest and cover myself, but also make sure it looks nice. I think as far as my personal fashion choices go, I tend to match a lot because I also wear the hijab, so there are just more items that I have to put on. If every single thing that I wear is a different color, it just clashes, and so making sure that there are at least similar patterns or colors that go well together is something that I try to do.
Senior, Ford School of Public Policy
I aim for comfortability, so I tend to wear clothes that are sporty and pretty minimalist. I like to stay physically active, since it helps regulate my energy levels and can help me unwind, but mostly it makes me feel empowered. So, when I dress in athletic wear, I feel just as empowered as if I were biking or running on the treadmill, and they make me feel better prepared to take on the day. I generally don't show too much skin, but I don’t think it is necessarily religion that has influenced this choice — it's mainly because I'm not comfortable wearing revealing clothes. Both of my sisters and most of my friends, both Muslims and non-Muslims, happen to wear clothes that aren't as revealing and look great doing so, and I look to them for fashion advice. So, my style isn't necessarily shaped by my religion — it's all about what makes me feel strong and comfortable, and what I think looks good.
When I’m shopping, I look for things that are unique. I really like things that are different and things that stand out. At the same time, obviously, I have to keep modesty in mind because I do wear the hijab and I have to make sure that any piece of clothing that I purchase can be made into something hijabi-friendly. When I’m putting together my outfits, it’s definitely difficult because the hijab is another fabric I have to add onto my outfit, which makes matching and coordinating more of a challenge. I think that my fashion sense has grown over the years as I’ve worn the hijab. I’m definitely a huge fashion person, and I do think someone’s sense of fashion speaks a lot about them. I don’t necessarily put together my outfits and think, “Today I want to break a stereotype,” but I definitely do try to convey that I’m a fun and interesting person. The hijab is just an addition to tell people another fact that I want them to know about me: That I'm Muslim.
My sense of style could be described as comfortable. It’s about what I walk out of the house and feel the most confident in. I think fashion is such an amazing art form because it's a way to bring people together and celebrate who you are. I'm a Pakistani-Muslim, and there are aspects of my culture and upbringing that have infused themselves into my style without realizing. I unintentionally gravitate toward wearing pieces that reflect my background and I like when people ask me about it so I can explain it a bit more. So, I guess in that sense, fashion allows me to make a statement, often times without realizing.
I would describe my style as feminine, chic, business casual. I like to dress professionally and I often joke about that being the reason I want to be a lawyer: I’d get to be fancy all the time! Even if some days my outfit is casual, I’ll throw on a statement necklace just to feel good. I’ve always viewed fashion as a tool for self-expression, and as someone who wears hijab, I think it’s empowering that this fact doesn’t change for Muslim women who cover.
One of my biggest fears about being a lawyer, as trivial as it sounds, is how I’m going to dress. I know a few hijabi Muslim lawyers, whom I respect and admire so much, but they dress differently than how I would imagine myself dressing. I’ve never doubted that I could be a lawyer who wears the hijab because it seems ridiculous to say but I also do worry about it being such a huge part of my physical identity that it might drown out other parts of my professional identity in a way.
I wouldn’t say I have one particular look, but more so I find a piece that I really like and play with it. I started dressing nice when I came to college and was more active in the Muslim community because when speaking with non-Muslims, the way that you look often plays into how people perceive you. Looking more put together, I think people are more likely to listen. And that’s something that has motivated me to look nice, but it’s also so much fun to put different pieces together and feel good about yourself. I try to wear modest clothing and the best compliment I get is when someone says, “Your clothing is so flowy, but you look so stylish.” A lot of people find it really hard because clothes don’t seem like they’re made for Muslims, especially when you have a curvier body type.
I even had a friend from high school text me the other day saying, “I didn’t understand your culture and your religion and I’m so sorry for always trying to get you to show off your body.” There was always the pressure to wear a tight dress or wear the “Kardashian” look because people assume that women with curvy bodies or shapes want to wear tight clothes. But coming to college with a Muslim community that was so confident in its style, it really transformed the way that I viewed modest fashion.