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It has been years since designers in the West are commercializing symbols of religious identity as well as Muslim models in the name of breaking barriers. Hijabs have been everywhere at runways, photoshoots and magazine covers, but the designers themselves are not calling them that yet. In addition, mostly the women wearing them are not Muslim, or stylists don’t even respect its religious value, thus alienating a major population of Muslim women by cultural appropriation and turning a religious headgear into a fashion trend.

For the West, modest fashion is majorly a means to capitalize on a previously uncharted market. The profit-making business model has not much to do with empowerment or inclusivity because it is continuously trying to put hijab — one of the most visible Islamic symbols of modesty — into the mainstream market without making any effort to create awareness about the value of the headgear. According to a report published in 2017 in Allure, it is like a bandwagon effect: Nike unveiled Nike Pro Hijab, H&M cast its first-ever hijabi model, Mariah Idrissi, in their campaign, American Eagle debuted denim hijabs with Halima Aden, high fashion label Dolce & Gabbana launched a collection that included hijabs and abayas, and the list goes on.

Forbes qualified it as the “smartest move in years,” in parallel with the burgeoning Middle Eastern luxury market of $8.7 billion. A few years later, it seems that now everyone is jumping on the lucrative bandwagon without much thought.


Michael Halpern


Most recently, pictures of Bella Hadid surfaced in which she is donning a hooded design at Proenza Schouler’s runway show at New York Fashion Week. And days later, there are collections from Michael Halpern and Richard Quinn at the London Fashion Week. Both the designers experimented with cowl hoods and designed a garment that look like an inspired version of a hijab and burqa. While International publications are highlighting them with headlines like: Being a no-neck monster is the coolest trend and Hoods get a glam makeover at Halpern and Richard Quinn, it is a no-brainer that yet again the head covering is being glamourized by the fashion industry while hijabi women in places like France and India are still being denied the right to cover their hair.



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Richard Quinn



Richard Quinn


Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn


The month of February has been an unfortunate one for hijabi women in Europe and South Asia. In France, a new law that would prohibit the wearing of “religious symbols”, including the hijab, during sports competitions, was approved by the French senate in January. In Karnataka, India, six teenage girls were banned from wearing the hijab in the classroom of their government-run college.

Earlier, Kim Kardashian wore a head-to-toe black look at the Met Gala, with unsettling similarities to a burqa. Her outfit was deemed “iconic” or “unique” but not once any critic called it “oppressing” like it is said for covering heads. Kanye West has also worn a full-face covering mask in Paris in violation of the country’s niqab ban, and who can forget how Vogue France praised Julia Fox’s headscarf but remained silent when the country’s senate voted to ban hijabs on women under 18.



So, the question arises that is using symbols of religious identity in fashion, when it is not directly by, on, or for Muslim women, is inherently cultural appropriation? Is it a really a nod to a faith, religious practice or just another tone-deaf activity or does it actually increase visibility for underrepresented groups?

Read: Muslim model Halima Aden quits fashion shows over religious beliefs

Halima Aden, the trailblazing Somali-American modest fashion model who quit in 2020, has said in an interview that she felt like one of the “biggest tokens” in the fashion industry. She spoke of the “internal conflict” she felt in the last two years of her career. “My hijab kept shrinking and got smaller and smaller with each shoot,” she told the BBC. Aden detailed where she felt the religious covering hijab had been respected – for example in a campaign for Rihanna’s Fenty beauty line – and where it had gone astray, showing an instance when her head had been wrapped in jeans.




It is beyond doubt that Western media has the power to introduce new ideas and create awareness about values of inclusiveness. Case in point: a hijabi Muslim student in Spiderman: Far From Home, played by a British-Pakistani Muslim woman Zoha Rahman. However, it is highly unlikely to propel a movement or talk about an identity without having any knowledge about it. Like TV, films and other industries that are gradually trying to be inclusive, and sometimes failing miserably at it, fashion industry will also take decades to stop using hijab or Muslim women for the sake of mainstream commercialism.

Fashion houses or designers should make note that they cannot play around a religious identity, by giving it different names, (be it Muslim’s hijab or Sikh’s turban) just to normalize it for fashion, and not accept it in the real world where it matters as part of someone’s existence. What is happening now in Western fashion is not depiction, but exploitation. The thin line should not be muddled if the aim is to showcase diversity and positive representation.


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