Dressed for success: Sunshine, heat, and the professional Muslimah

Listening to the weather forecast on my way to work, I pondered on the challenges the professional Muslimah faces when dressing appropriately. Whether it is finding modest clothing that suit her workplace, or finding an outfit that complies with safety requirements for risky jobs, we are often haunted by making the right dress choices that will enable us to get the job done while climbing the corporate ladder.
Listening to the weather forecast on my way to work, I pondered on the challenges the professional Muslimah faces when dressing appropriately. Whether it is finding modest clothing that suit her workplace, or finding an outfit that complies with safety requirements for risky jobs, we are often haunted by making the right dress choices that will enable us to get the job done while climbing the corporate ladder.

Thus it is not uncommon to find sisters in black-stripe suits and a matching scarf, or in long-sleeves tunics and slacks. After all, dressing modestly is part of corporate America’s dress code. The challenge arises as the temperature rises, when some women trade their professional clothing for revealing, inappropriate outfits. No sooner do the sun shines and temperatures hit the 80’s, than some career women switch their pants for mini-skirts, their button-down blouses for v-neck shirts, and their casual shoes for flip-flops. Interestingly enough, male counterparts often maintain their business-like presence throughout the summer, and do not show up to work wearing tanks, shorts, and sandals. This is how business attire double standards are reinforced: by men continuing to uphold the dress code in the summer while their female colleagues disregard policies on appropriate workplace fashion.

Women for Hire, a leading provider of career advancement services for professional women nationwide, has excellent advice on how women can dress professionally and stay cool. Their site offers classical tips on the Dos and Don’ts of proper business attire. “Avoid ultra-short skirts, low-cut necklines, super-high heels, too-tight clothes, and anything bordering on too sexy”. This is common sense to some, and dogma to others, who rather show up to work as if vacationing at Disney World or auditioning for The Bachelor.

Add to the mix the recurring publicity and lawsuit filing by Muslim women who are discriminated against in the workplace, and strict sexual harassment laws, and you’ve got yourself an everlasting recipe for frenemies. This is why when your supervisor bends down to pick up that pen and you are disgusted by her red thong showing, or when your colleague’s cleavage is all over her keyboard (and sometimes yours), Muslim women are torn between keeping silent or reporting their discomfort to HR, for fear of being accused of “jealousy”.

Female colleagues, who are not in tune with the reasons of why we dress modestly, can sometimes take offence of our covered figure when compared to their revealing one. At times, it is misinformation or ignorance that leads them to believe we secretly crave to take off our clothes and just show more.

Moreover, wearing hijab in the workplace comes with the perception by peers and superiors that our professionalism is skewed by our docility. Not only are we less likely to come across as strong leaders and managers but also less likely to appear dead-set on that promotion we’ve been striving towards. The lack of sensitivity training to address cultural differences further robs professional Muslim women from their entitled assertiveness, gained through hard work and an impeccable work ethic.

In reality, most small companies deliberate between establishing a strict dress code or having an unspoken expectation on what is and what isn’t acceptable workplace attire. It is only when dress code can negatively impact business that upper management takes the necessary actions to prevent a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit, or a dreaded comment from a client on the attire of the firm’s employees.

For the professional Muslimah, the struggle is never ending. Regardless of policies, colleagues, and how preconceived notions affect the perception of her job’s performance, she is first and foremost God-conscious and working to abide by Allah’s dress code for the believing woman. Whether in full hijab or not, Muslim women strive towards modesty, and their dress makes a statement about their faith and persona. In the workplace, this is particularly indispensable, as mixing of the sexes is bound to occur.

So as the summer heat cranks up, the professional Muslimah re-designs her workplace attire to stay fashionable and fresh, while still looking professional. In the end, modesty gives a Muslimah the upper hand in the business world, and her character, work ethic, and performance are appreciated by their true value.

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”: indeed this common piece of career advice could not suit a Muslimah any better.

(Photo courtesy That’s Nice Photography)
Enith Morillo is Events and Publicity Editor for Altmuslimah.


  • Anjum says:

    Great article, Enith! I’ve also noticed how many professional women’s wardrobes get rather skimpy in the summertime while men’s do not change, except perhaps for a short-sleeve button-up! Personally, I don’t feel uncomfortable about other women’s wardrobes and haven’t thought to bring HR into it. But you do make a good point that is a great one for professional women, Muslim or not. My company has had issues with young women dressing more scantily than they should have, especially while at a client site; I’ve found myself to be more respected because I wasn’t dressing or behaving like they were, even though we were the same age.

  • Enith says:

    JAK Anjum & thanks for sharing your experience.  I would hazard a guess that most professional Muslim women who dress modestly encounter positive experiences based on the respect they command by doing so.  That does, of course, leave room for those sisters who even when dressed modestly, are hit on by men (Muslim and non-Muslim) in the workplace.  I personally know of a sister who practices law and shared with me how Muslim men in particularly gave her a hard time, because she did wear the hijab.  Go figure!

  • Enith says:

    Thanks for your feedback @ ma2010.  I agree that there is just way too much emphasis placed on the outer appearance of Muslimat; their dress, their looks, even their skin color.  It’s the same old issue of our community judging a sister’s religiosity by whether or not she wears hijab, and to what extent.

    Given our diversity and depth, there are many layers to our character, attitudes, and goals that are yet to be reveleaded.  Perhaps you can suggest some of the issues we should be dicussing.

  • ma2010 says:

    Thank you for your really polite response to what I now I realize wasn’t the most polite of comments, I apologize for the rudeness of my response.  Also thank you for taking the time to contribute to any discussion, which is more than I can say of myself.
    What I love about our faith is the oral narratives that
    growing up my father would tell me; about the kindness and integrity of the Prophet (pbuh). They were beautiful narratives of the life of one of the most beloved figures a young Muslim person’s life, that allowed my faith to grow, spiritually speaking. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that many young people didn’t have that, either their parents didn’t spend time on lengthy narratives, or they spent much of their time mastering the finer points, for many of us, Quran classes and Sunday school was the extent of our religious education. It would be wonderful if we could show people by the Prophet’s (pbuh) example that faith is inside a person, that you can’t wear it, it just is. I wish we would talk about that oral tradition, and learn from it how we aren’t so different from our counterparts, and maybe that is what I learn from it, but I am willing to hope that everyone will learn at least something from it, be it different from me. 

    Anyways I guess I just wish a person’s faith was not measured by what they wear, I wish it weren’t measured at all. at least not by fellow humans.

  • Enith says:

    @ ma2010 – Your comment was not rude, so no need to apologize (thank you, though 🙂

    Indeed, you sound very fortunate to have received oral narratives of the life and character of the Prophet (saw).  Yesterday, at the ICNA-MAS convention, countless sessions were dedicated to the topic of parenthood, and the how-to’s of instilling love of the Prophet (saw) in our children and youth.  Being a parent is the toughest job on Earth!

    Not to digress from the original topic, but I agree that being judgmental of another’s faith is far from ideal.  As Muslims we ought to be concerned for humanity and strike a balance in living an exemplary life without passing judgment.  Whether at work or home, our goal should be to contribute to the betterment of society.

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