Modest fashion has been quite a controversial term, especially for the last few years. Besides the booming sector with designers, fashion shows, and upcoming instagram gurus, it is easy to find yourself reading or involved in the discussions on ‘modesty’ and ‘fashion’ even if you don’t have any knowledge or interest.
“What?! Did you call that hijab?” is only one of the most frequent reactions you hear in such discussions.
“If any sister thinks that she is modest and pleasing Allah by putting on makeup and being fashionable, then she is only deluding herself and needs serious psychiatric help.”
These are only few examples. Essentially, people hold different views. Those who strictly criticize the marriage of two terms (modest & fashion) claim that there is no place for fashion in Islam, thus these two terms are incompatible with each other. Fashion and trends always do change. One year the length of skirts gets shorter while another year, oversized ones spiral upwards. Considering this, is it then the case that the length and shapes of modest clothing will change in accordance to the latest trends? What about the core meaning of veiling? These kinds of concerns are raised.
It’s said that fashion and modesty don’t go together. There are “certain limits.” But we are at the point where we should move away from the surface and think in depth. What does “modesty” mean? What are these “certain limits”? As you continue to ask yourself these things, you realize that there is no single indisputable definition of these tricky terms. For instance, as an unveiled Muslim woman I define myself as “modest” when compared to most of my peers. But does the fact that I’m not wearing hijab make me deviant? Or is someone who opts for chic clothes from high-quality fabrics deviant or sinful, too? Or if we are to take it the other way around, is it the appearance of hair, the color of our clothes/shawls that make us not modest and even immoral? What is the Right idea–with capital R?
“But to expose one’s beauty in front of millions of men and wear tons of makeup and tight clothes in order to fit the latest trends and fashion and then believe that one is ‘modest’ and maintaining the values of ‘Hijab’–then such a belief is no less than self delusional and the person is in need of serious help (sic)”
“I don’t think they represent the true Hijab. Hijab is all about being modest and covering your beauty as much as possible by not attracting the opposite gender.”
“…these materialistic fame-seeking vloggers have turned hijab into a tease for the eyes of millions of men to watch on YouTube by covering their heads but exposing their beauty with overload of makeup and clothing that defies the very purpose of hijab.”
When we try to brainstorm and reflect on these kind of questions, we hit our head on the wall: The discussions – unfortunately – revolve around ‘male gaze’, ‘attractiveness’, and ‘sexuality.’ Women’s bodies are left to the fate of the male’s judgments. Yes, in Islam our brothers have a right to warn their sisters, but this does not – and should not – necessarily mean that they are the one and only decision-making mechanism over the women and their bodies. It’s really worrisome that such a delicate issue is rendered to and explained by the male gaze and femininity. Women are found ‘guilty’ of triggering men to committing sins, because they are visible to the eye of the male; the fault (if there is one) does not fall onto the male.
It seems that the Muslim men change the channel and enjoy receiving no criticism about veils and garments. In fact, the terms of modesty and fashion have affected the lives of devout men in the long term, but they are assumed to be the same. The outlet of discussions and what is made the topic of interest is problematic. Don’t you think that it’s time to change our perspective and give up putting women’s bodies in the middle of discussions and focusing on the issue from a socio-cultural level instead?
Written by Burcu Özgüçlü