When I think about what I wore in high school, I cringe. One outfit in particular comes to mind. Picture this: a short black halter dress with a ruffled skirt, topped with a cropped denim jacket and jeans underneath. Oh, we’re not done yet. Can’t forget the pink, stretchy sequined belt around the waist and, not one, but two hijabs wrapped in a way that could only be described as a candy cane, to finish off this winning look. Yes. I was a hot mess.
I want to call myself an innocent victim of the fashion trends of the time, but truthfully only my cropped jean jacket could corroborate my claim. The rest was all me. It’s some consolation that I was not alone in committing such travesties. Don’t lie—many of you were there with me.
Remember those beaded swimsuit cover-ups we thought doubled as tunics? And the short dresses we would wear with jeans, unaware that the jeans created unsightly bumps and lumps beneath the thin fabric. Don’t tell me I was alone in this. Let’s not forget the grandma jilbabs that buttoned up the front and only came in three colors: black, navy blue and brown. Sigh. Still, we did what we could with what was available to us at the time.
Muslim women today are enjoying what is probably one of the most fashionable times in the recent decades to dress in both modest and modern styles. In 2010, the global Muslim fashion industry’s estimated worth was a whopping 96 billion dollars. In the last four years, the market for modest attire has only grown, and retailors are picking up on this money making trend. With everything from chic maxi dresses and long-sleeved tunics, to high-low blouses and billowing ankle-length skirts at our disposal, it feels like we’ve finally arrived.
Along with mainstream department stores across America offering modest apparel that is in keeping with fashion trends, we can now also shop at niche Muslim clothing boutiques and online stores. This is not to say those stores didn’t exist before (after all, my grandma jilbabs had to come from somewhere), but you would find drab clothing at these stores that was purely functional and not at all in tune with current styles. Just a few years ago Bulbul Clothing Store, an incredibly chic shop in Somerset, New Jersey with modest fashion for all ages, had its grand opening. Other businesses are not far behind. The rise of social media has only helped accelerate the growth of the modest fashion industry. Through the use of a simple hashtag or a Facebook post, fashion bloggers can share their finds with thousands of Muslim followers eager to snag the same piece of modest chic clothing.
It’s not all roses though. While the market for clothing that is both modest and stylish is burgeoning, the demand still exceeds the supply. In short, you often find yourself buying that long-sleeved maxi dress at a price that doesn’t sit well with your wallet. Sure, we want to get our hands on that adorably tailored skirt while giving our money to a fledgling Muslim business, but when we find a similar skirt at a department store for half the price, it simply doesn’t make sense to go to the niche boutique. If Muslim labels hope to have a loyal and consistent client base, they have got to reconsider their exorbitant price tags.
And while I’m giving out unsolicited advice to retailers, let me also say that there remains an untapped market that Muslim designers should really consider—plus sized Muslim women. I had the privilege to model at the annual Hijabfest in New Brunswick, New Jersey, an incredible event that celebrates sisterhood and modest fashion complete with a bazaar and fashion show. There was no shortage of talented Muslim designers showcasing their creations, but only one, “Styled by Zubaidah“, featured dresses that focused on flattering fuller figured women. Muslim women of all sizes deserve to feel confident and beautiful in modest designs.
At times, I wish I could teleport back to high school and reassure that dweeby, fashion-challenged 10th grader that it is all going to be okay. Modest fashion is just around the corner and insha’Allah it is here to stay. Oh, and lose the belt, kid.
Souad Haddara is a recent graduate of Rutgers New Brunswick. In between studying for the LSATs, she enjoys watching documentaries about serial killers and playing with kittens.
(Photo Source: Souad Haddara)