May Issue 2014
Book Review: Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion
A compilation of academic articles, Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from North America and Europe takes on the controversial debate that Islamic fashion is an oxymoron, unable to coexist within the same sphere. The book provides great insight into the world of Muslim women in Europe and North America and how their history, environment, culture and individual interpretation of faith shapes their fashion choices.
The contributions include research from countries such as Italy, Sweden, Canada, England, Poland and Turkey to name a few. In each case, the authors shed light on the lives of Muslim women, which have been affected by daily encounters, histories and heritage, availability of an Islamic fashion market and Islamic fashion in the media. The authors make a conscious choice to highlight the external factors that affect Muslim women rather than the more popular literature on Islam and veiling that usually discusses identity politics or perhaps allegiance to Islamist movements.
While reading the book, one can’t help but think about the complexities intertwining Islam and fashion, but it becomes clearer that the decisions Muslim women make on how they should cover themselves are not as black and white as they seem. The generalisation that Islamic principles are the only component considered by Muslim women when deciding what to wear is taken apart. Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion makes a significant attempt to deconstruct the controversial debate about Muslim dress practices and explains the larger factors that are at play.
In one of the articles highlighting Muslim dress practices in Poland within the Tatar community, the authors conclude that because of “growing immigration from Islamic countries,” Islam in Poland is no longer equated with the Tatars, but with immigrants from the Middle East. This not only redefines Tatar identity, but also in terms of dress practices it means “delving further into their own (and borrowed) heritage; on the other hand, it means stressing the difference between Arab/Oriental and local dressing patterns.”
One of the contributors and editor of the book, Emma Tarlo talks to a Muslim fashion blogger, Zinah Nur Sharif, who was born in Somalia, but her family originates from Yemen. She was brought up in different countries such as Switzerland and the UK and currently lives in London with her family. Wearing the hijab since she was 11, Sharif started off with a turban-style hijab in Switzerland, but her style changed every year. The schools she attended, the questions she was asked, the bullying and racist jokes all added to the fashion transitions she has made.
Annelies Moors in her article titled ‘Fashion and its Discontents: The Aesthetics of Covering in the Netherlands’ writes, “Since the later 1990s, a wide range of styles of Muslim dress has become visibly present on the streets of the Netherlands. These vary from the layering of colourful, mainstream items that produce a highly fashionable yet recognisable Muslim outfit to the loose full-length outerwear in subdued, dark colours that seems far removed from the world of fashion.”
The Miss Headscarf contest in Denmark is another platform that allows Muslim girls to bring their headscarves into the realm of fashion and aesthetics.
Although the book fails to address Muslim dress practices in the other half of the globe mainly South Asia, Central Asia and South-East Asia, the editors in their introduction emphasise that the presence of Islamic fashion in these regions breaks the divide between the “fashionable West and unfashionable rest,” removing fashion from the so-called pre-existing frame of secular fashion.
This book will be of particular interest to anyone curious about the presence of Islam in America and Europe or students studying in the field of anthropology, fashion studies, media studies, religious studies, history, geography or cultural studies.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s May 2014 issue under the headline, “Islam’s Fashion Factor.”