From Oppression to Fashion

Written by: Nudar Chowdhury

The recent release of Dolce & Gabbana's clothing line featuring abayas and hijabs for Middle Eastern women has received notable admiration from the general public -- praising the company for its inclusion of modest Middle Eastern culture and for its "enchanting visual story about the grace and beauty of the marvelous women of Arabia."

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Let's start off by mentioning that inclusion is greatly commendable especially when taking into account the recent backlash against Middle Easterners and Muslims due to the growing global unrest. However, what the media and the company fail to mention is the persecution that regularly follows Muslim women who choose to dress in such a modest fashion -- a fashion that was significantly less popular before the release of Dolce and Gabbana's clothing line.

These are women who walk city and suburban streets with their children and are called terrorists. Women who go to job interviews and are rejected for unknown reasons. Women who walk to school and have their hijab pulled off by an unknown passerby. Women who are pushed onto subway tracks. Women who struggle to do basic tasks every day in a society that continues to reject them because of media bias and political statements.

These struggles will not be addressed and will soon be long forgotten as more clothing lines like this are released, simply for the sake of fashion. However, this is the situation for all cases of cultural appropriation where the better aspects of a culture are taken, and the less favorable traits are disregarded. In the case of Muslim attire, designer companies incorporate length to their skirts and dresses, but use sheer fabric and have high slits to modernize the style. Although the goal is to appreciate Middle Eastern and Islamic culture, this overlooks the main reasons behind why Muslim women dress the way they do.

And what these designers and the general public do not understand is that this "fashion" has been around for thousands of years. For these women, modesty is not the next trend, it is a choice and at times, a difficulty. However, they do it for the sake of pleasing God, and in the hopes that they will be praised and rewarded for this choice, especially in a time where they look so different from those around them.

It is easy to be influenced by popular opinion and the media and it is essential that we all be careful in forming opinions from the current trends, and simply by "what's in." It is wrong to say that the media does not acknowledge the dress of Muslim women, but in a matter of seconds, such clothing can go from being seen as a sign of oppression to fashion. The struggle of blending in and belonging in society is a hardship that Muslim women deal with every day, and it is wrong minimize such difficulties because a few highly-acclaimed clothing companies have decided this is a style/group of people they could profit from.