It is quite amazing how fashion, particularly women's fashion, can
conjure numerous discussions and debates that fuel even further
discussions and debates! From the catwalks of Paris and New York to the
paved deserts of Arabia, the clothes donned by men and women have been
viewed negatively and positively, either way.
Dressed to Impress?Over the past few years, however, staggering debate has surrounded the issue of Muslim women's dress, and what is quite fascinating is that much of the debate is dominated mostly by non-Muslims, some of who consider the complete covering of a woman's body as oppressive, others seem to understand the logic behind it, and others remain indifferent, accepting that dressing in such a way is an individual's decision.
Who dictates what is fashionable and what is not depends on where in the world you come from.
If you are from West Africa, for instance, bright colors, long dresses, and fancy headgear usually dominate the fashion scene. If you are from Pakistan, it may be the beautiful salwar kameez that defines a keen fashion sense.
And if you subscribe to some extreme Western fashion trends, the norm is to pay often-exorbitant prices to wear as little as possible and leave almost nothing to the imagination!
Over the past few years, however, we have seen an increasing number of young Muslim women donning the headscarf and dressing more modestly than before. While this may more than irk supporters of "liberal" fashion, the trend seems to be growing.
While men's fashion practically never dominates the headlines, women's fashion is deeply entrenched in social and economic spheres.
If we dig a little deeper, we will find that even though a number of Muslim women are turning more and more to modest dressing, we will also find that women cover up for various reasons. In many Muslim countries, particularly in Arab countries, where the transformation to modest dressing has dramatically increased over the years, you will still find, however, that a number of women either wear the headscarf because their societies have done so through the generations and it is expected of them; you would also find a number of women wear the headscarf because it is part of the fashion, or they have conjured up many different and stylish ways of wearing the headscarf.
But you would also find a proportional number of women who examined their religious beliefs and understood their significance, and thereby have chosen to turn to the headscarf.
If we look at the Indo-Pak subcontinent, a different disposition exists in these parts. Women dress rather modestly, either in salwar kameez or saris. But among many of the Muslim, women would be found to have their heads uncovered or only partially covered.
There may be different reasons for this, but a more common reason is that hardly ever is it taught that covering the head completely is a religious obligation.
As a fourth-generation South African of Indian descent, I can recall that even we were never taught the obligation of covering our heads. It is only over the past 10 or 15 years that many Muslims in South Africa are seeking a greater understanding of their religion.
Have you ever consciously asked yourself, "Why do I dress the way I do?" Is it for religious reason, cultural reasons, or social reasons? Is your sense of dress influenced by your faith, your nationality, or your society/community? Are you influenced by local or international fashion trends?
We asked a number of young people, men and women, from around the world why they dress the way they do. Below are some of the responses, which are quite diverse.
I went through the phase of always wanting to look good and wear the latest brands. Then I got tired of it. I couldn't see the point.
Now I'm just more comfortable in casuals. Besides, it's a lot easier in these parts to wear cool and comfortable clothing because of the harsh summer climate. I still take an interest in latest fashion, but it doesn't dictate my life anymore.
Culturally the women in our society wear long dresses and cover up quite a bit.
But with all that's been happening around the world recently, I had a lot of questions and wanted to know my religion better. I started to wear the hijab and I feel a lot better about it.
No one close to me found it to be a problem because covering the hair for us is both religious and cultural. I chose it for religious reasons.
Ruqayya, 22South Africa
I love fashion! Previously, I used to think that being fashionable was contradictory to my religion.
But now I don't think so. I believe you can adhere to religion and still be fashionable, as long as you're fulfilling the obligations of the Muslim dress code.
I don't know if it makes any sense, but it was only two years ago that I started to think about the hijab.
I always dressed modestly (long tops with pants or longs skirts and dresses), but I never covered my hair.
I would like to cover my hair, and I tend to wear it on occasions. I know that it's not right to wear it on occasions only, but I feel I'm getting where I should be slowly.
It's not that I'm reluctant to wear it, but when I finally do, I want my intention to be sincere.
Fashion can be such an issue sometimes.
When you're with your friends you want to look "cool." When you're with family, it doesn't really matter. Usually, I just dress however I feel comfortable, not to impress anyone.
But I do like to look neat when I dress.
I dress to impress! I wish it were not like that, but I'm just being honest. It drives my parents crazy.
I don't dress openly, but I do like to dress "chic" and I love accessories. I think it does matter to me what my friends think of the way I dress.
I like the compliments and chatting about the latest fashions.
InfluenceFashion is something that will never die out.
Directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, people will always be influence one way or another by it. Fashion trends seem to move at a rapid pace, and many young people find themselves feeling pressurized into keeping up with the latest trends.
Few may find themselves unperturbed by all the fuss. Whereas some may argue that while fashion is all about making people look good, it can become a problem when it influences people's self-esteem.
It is important to know why you dress the way you do. That way you can assess if your choice of style is for the right reasons.