Dolce and Gabbana, a luxury fashion brand commonly recognized for its sleek styles and shock-inducing price tags, recently released a conservative, hijabi-friendly line of clothing, featuring loose, full-length dresses with long sleeves and headscarves, targeting Muslim shoppers in the Middle East. Muslim women have been gaining traction in the fashion industry for a while now, as proven by H&M’s September ad campaign featuring a hijabi model and DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta all producing clothing lines targeting the Muslim market, and every bit of progress is uplifting. Companies that make a conscious effort to be inclusive towards Muslims, especially at a time where there’s so much hatred and misunderstanding concerning Islam, are companies that I believe deserve recognition and support.
When I started wearing the hijab, finding conservative yet trendy clothes was not as big a challenge as I’d expected. Not only were vibrant maxi skirts and dresses easy to come by, but there was also no shortage of inspiration in how to style my outfits or scarves, thanks to the prevalence of fashion-conscious hijabi stylists and bloggers that can be found all over sites like Instagram and Youtube. These women have spent years proving to the world that it’s not necessary to compromise one’s personal style in pursuit of faith; the two can coincide. D&G’s new release is frustrating, however, in that the brand seems to be reaping far more credit for bringing style to the Muslim world than it deserves. Women like Summer Albarcha of Hipster Hijabis, or brands like Austere Attire and Haute Hijab are trendy, affordable, and conservative, yet receive little recognition for doing far more than D&G. These brands aren’t releasing a single, glorified line of Abayas; their entire collections are based on the premise of modest fashion.
However, these styles haven’t always been so accessible. When my sister started wearing the hijab sixeen years ago, a lot of her skirts were home-made, with trips to the fabric store and my mom’s expertise at the sewing machine put to good use. Progress in the field of conservative fashion is undeniable, and I appreciate Dolce and Gabbana’s effort to recognize the fact that Muslim women can be as relatable and fashion-conscious as anyone else. Personally, I put a lot of pride into maintaining an up-to-trend yet conservative appearance and it’s nice to feel supported and acknowledged by such renowned designers. Promoting Islam in a positive, relatable light contrasts with mainstream media’s consistently negative coverage of the faith tradition and ceaseless efforts to perpetuate of an “us vs. them” ideology. Promoting inclusivity within the fashion industry is a welcome step towards inclusivity elsewhere, and allows Muslims to feel like they’re an audience whose voice is finally being heard, rather than silenced.
When I first heard news of the line’s release, excited was an understatement. I finally felt represented, and by as distinguished a company as Dolce and Gabbana, no less! But after some thought, I realized that I look forward to the day when this becomes a regularity, when a clothing line targeting the Muslim market, valued internationally at 96 billion dollars, doesn’t make headlines for weeks, when Muslims playing as significant a part in the fashion industry as anyone else is no longer considered breaking news.
News of Dolce and Gabbana’s collection for the Arab World taught me more about myself than I ever thought a casual news announcement would.
At first, I shrugged it off as a timely publicity stunt aiming to bring attention to the upcoming spring collection by using the recent media hype on Islam and Muslims. I expected to see improvised outfits that remotely, if at all, resembled the proper Islamic attire for women, so I did not even bother to check it out.
I have to admit that the first thoughts that came to my mind were, “What would two western designers know about Islamic traditions? How much regard would they have for such details? And why would they target a market that could potentially put their brand at risk?”
Then, another newsflash about the collection came across and still did not get much of my attention, but my reaction to it did. I paused at my skepticism of the fashion designers’ intentions and goals while I am one who believes that judgment is not my business. I was surprised that I fell into the “us” versus “them” trap when I always work to bring people together. I also questioned the fashion house’s ability for proper research and adequate representation. Graceful, inclusive, and positive sum up the attitude that I choose to maintain, so I wondered what led me to shut down the way I did.
It is possible that the accusatory, divisive, or sarcastic nature of common talk about Islam and Muslims lately has resulted in a defensive reaction on my part. I did not want something that is so meaningful to me to become a topic of contentious debates and spiteful remarks. I already spend a lot more time explaining and justifying differences than exploring commonalities. The need to expose lies and refute misconceptions clearly supersedes reflections upon remarkable expressions and symbolic actions.
It is also possible that I felt apprehensive about the fashion house taking liberties with a concept that is so meaningful to me, especially that some of the liberties that are commonly taken at the present time go far from the guidelines set by the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions. It is not that I want to impose my views on others. It is simply that when an issue is linked to the Quran and its teachings, I believe that accurate information from credible sources has to be shared and details should be clarified before we each step back and continue to make individual choices and mind our own.
The Islamic attire for women is referenced twice in the Qur’an, one time as a head cover that extends to also hide the neckline or the chest, and another time as a garb that reaches as close to the ground as possible. Islamic traditions complement this general description by stating that while the face and the hands can be optional, a woman’s appearance is always natural and simple. Her attire is to cover the whole body in a way that is not form fitting, transparent, or flamboyant.
So I finally came around to browsing the Abaya Collection, and regardless of how closely my definition of simple, natural, form fitting, transparent, or flamboyant aligns with that of Dolce and Gabbana’s production, I noticed commendable effort to follow the guidelines offered by the tradition. I saw a hand extending to the “other” with consideration for important concepts.
This experience served as a cautionary reminder that a better tomorrow would not allow us today to get impatient, exclusive, or judgmental.