In the 1980s, wearing the tudung and covering the aurat or modesty was all about a Muslim woman’s responsibility to adhere to her faith.
At that time, wearing the tudung or hijab was not as common as it is today. There were very limited modest clothing options in the market. For instance, tudung types were confined to the standard diamond-shaped (similar to the tudung worn by school children) in black or white, the elongated tudung (tudung labuh) or the small scarf in simple prints worn by tying it with a knot at the nape of the neck.
But today, covering the aurat has gone beyond being a faith-related choice.
The tudung, for example, has evolved from a standard shape to hundreds of cut, styles and designs in a plethora of colours and materials.
Rather than typical loose-cut outfits like the jubah, the present lookbook of Islamic fashion includes an ensemble of figure-hugging top, culottes, rip jeans and knee-high boots topped with a trendy turban. “Modest wear”, “Muslimah fashion” or “Shariah-compliant” are used interchangeably as marketing buzzwords to reflect Islamic wear.
What the world is witnessing is a religious requirement transformed into a freedom of fashion expression championed by an emerging generation of Muslims called “Muslim futurists” (as categorised by the Islamic Fashion and Design Council) – a generation who want to look trendy and chic yet covering up their modesty.
The Global Islamic Economy Report 2017-2018 states that consumers spent US$254 billion in 2016 on Muslim attire and predicted that the market could be worth US$373 billion by 2020. With the lucrative factor in place, it came as no surprise when renowned designer brands and retailers like DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Uniqlo, H&M and Zara started inching their way into the market and rolled out special collections (usually during Ramadan) to woo the Muslimah fashion market.
DKNY, for instance, put fashion for muslim women in the spotlight in 2014 with its inaugural Ramadan summer collection, while Dolce & Gabbana rocked the runway in 2016 with its collection of loud and luxury abaya. But what exactly is Islamic fashion?
SHALLOW KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING
Yasmin Siddik, founder of Women 2 Women boutique, has been in the fashion industry for 20 years. She was also the mastermind behind Malaysia’s first International Muslim Women’s Textile and Apparel Conference held in Kuala Lumpur in 2004.
“The Islamic resurgence here began in the late 1980s. It was during that time we started seeing women donning the tudung, but not as many as we see today,” says Yasmin, whose former brand Musulman was among the three pioneering players (besides Munawwarah and Shamensi) of fashion for Muslims in the Klang Valley.
“When I started 20 years ago, the Western world was not interested to retail or showcase Muslim fashion on the runway. Now, you have Muslim and non-Muslim fashion designers and designer brands showcasing Islamic fashion at Fashion Weeks. But, the understanding about Islamic fashion or fashion meant for Muslims is not there. The concept of covering up in the Islamic context is slowly pushed aside,” she says.
Islamic fashion has to conform to the requirements set by the Quran, she says.
“Women are given a high status in Islam. They are meant to be respected, hence the requirements to cover up. Covering the aurat means only the face and palms can be seen by people other than her immediate family members.
“But that requirements have not been taken seriously in fashion. It’s more like a compromise or an interpretation of what people think or believe is ‘Islamic.’
“And that’s why we see creations showing off the neck, chest or the body contour, or we see women covering the hair with a turban,” she adds.
DRESS FOR THE BODY
Yasmin says when it comes to fashion according to Islamic requirements, the concept should be “dress for the body” and not “body for the dress.” The cut, materials and design inspirations as well as styling must be done accordingly too.
“A woman’s body and beauty are not meant to be shown off or ogled at. So, the design must comply with Shariah requirements and cover up. This is unlike the West where it’s about studying the body and how to enhance or complement it with fashion.”
In terms of cut, loose cut silhouettes are the way.
“There are science and principles behind the loose cut – It relates to the practicality of the clothes when carrying out daily duties. The loose cut enables smooth blood circulation and make movements easier especially during prayers.
“And the cut must be right, too. For instance, the length of a blouse must cover the buttocks and the sleeves must be wrist-length.
“Tight pants as well as figure-hugging or short-sleeved tops are a no-no and there’s no such thing as covering the exposed arms with extra materials like inners or handsocks, or wearing skirts with leggings.
“Material-wise, the textiles must be opaque. Materials like chiffon, jersey or lycra that are see-through or show body shape are not Shariah-compliant. If we use chiffon, we must ensure that it has an opaque lining.
“The motifs or patterns on the fabrics must be taken into consideration too when it comes to dressing up Muslims. Animal prints, for instance, are prohibited.
“The fundamentals must be thoroughly understood. Going over-the-top in the name of creative work is not the way in Islamic fashion. In Islam, anything can inspire a creation or a design but it must have a foundation. What is an Islamic collection when it’s inspired by Japanese geisha or African safari?”
Cultural mix-up has blurred the line between dressing up in true Islamic way and looking chic while donning the hijab, says Norish Karim, founder of Norish Kareem Couture which is known for its luxury and contemporary abaya showcased at Fashion Weeks.
“It’s fine for retailers and designers to come up with their versions of Islamic collections. But, they shouldn’t based their designs on what is deemed culturally accepted by Muslim communities. This is because what they see can be just a cultural mix-up or improvisations of ideas of what the wearers think are right and not based on the exact code of dressing according to Islam.
“They should also be aware that the way Arab women dress is different from Muslim women in London, Shanghai or here,” she adds.
DOING IT RIGHT
When it comes to Islamic fashion, the designs must be done with a thorough understanding of the religious requirements and not based on shallow interpretations.
The wearers themselves – especially those who are social media influencers – must be knowledgeable and be responsible in the way they dress.
Yasmin says: “What we see in the fashion world at present are designs that tend to overlook the basic principles and requirements.
“When you do something in the name of Islam you must do it right. We don’t want to be the laughing stock of our own Muslim community or the non-Muslims just because we don’t understand the fashion that we want to portray.”
Copyright New Sraits Times