I am a proud Muslim veiled woman and I love helping other veiled women find confident in themselves through fashion. Dressing modestly shouldn’t be a barrier to being stylish, but there are a few more considerations we need to make when we go shopping.
There are a lot of misconceptions about modest fashion in Australia and instead of brands being proactive and asking for feedback from diverse customers, they often shy away from the topic and pretend that a huge portion of prospective customers don’t exist.
In the past, it’s felt like brands believed that veiled women weren’t fashionable – that we just needed long, dark garments and we’d be set. That’s just not the case. With the rise of social media, in particular Instagram, the broader community has been able to connect and see more icons of hijab fashion, like the incredible supermodel Halima Aden and fashion influencer Leena Snoubar who have portrayed veiled women in a whole new light. And in recent years, designers like Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Chanel and Dior, have put modest fashion in the spotlight by creating special collections for veiled women.
There’s a long way to go for Australian retailers but opening up the conversation and getting people talking will help action change.
The elusive trifecta
My experience of shopping in Australia is up and down. As a veiled woman, I struggle to hit the elusive trifecta when I’m shopping: quality, suitability, and style. One or two always have to give and it can be a tiring process. Finding all three at a price that doesn’t break the bank is a task in itself.
In saying that, the modest fashion landscape has evolved over the years and more brands are realising that they have an obligation to fit the needs of diverse customer groups.
There are many considerations those who dress modestly need to take, especially in summer. I need to constantly factor in layers, the fabric a garment is made from, and how it will make my skin feel as the temperatures rise. I find it hard to find suitable long sleeve options in summer, with most long-sleeve items designed out of winter fabrics.
It can be tricky shopping for dresses and skirts that are long enough without needing to add extra layers. Needing to layer clothing can spoil the look, but sometimes it’s the only option. Likewise, finding blouses with the right necklines and sleeve length can be hard.
Finding the right items is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. Retailers who make appropriate clothes, also need to know how to approach marketing effectively, so modest shoppers can find them quickly and easily without hours of rack sifting.
In-store versus online
I’ve felt uncomfortable walking into Australian retailers before. It hasn’t happened often, but enough to make me feel as though I’m not a store’s clientele or that I don’t belong. I was once in a store where the retail staff looked at me as if to say, “Why are you here? You can’t wear these clothes.”
At the end of the day, we should be able to live in a world free from any kind of judgements or barriers around fashion. It just comes down to making diversity the norm and for retail staff to have more understanding of their diverse customer’s needs.
My biggest frustrations around shopping in Australia come from the outdated fashion options for veiled women and to be honest, I find that even for non-veiled women, Australia’s fashion industry seems a step behind the eight ball. That’s generally why I shop mostly online through overseas outlets in Turkey and China, where I can get the right clothes to suit my needs.
Overseas retailers seem smarter in attracting diverse modest buyers because they often show how an item will look with accessories and a veil, which makes it easier for the buyer to shop the look. They also understand the requirements around veiled fashion, and as such, stock bigger ranges of long clothes with long sleeves, but in a fashionable way, taking into account what is new and on-trend, such as colours, patterns and cuts.
Shein is one of my favourite go-to online brands. While the quality is not always up to scratch (the elusive trifecta strikes again), they do offer modest, fashionable pieces at competitive prices. Shein also filters its items into categories that make it super easy for veiled shoppers to find long clothes and sleeves. This can make shopping less daunting and less time consuming.
Finding style inspiration
I find my personal style inspiration comes from following international fashion weeks, where I get a broad idea of the latest styles, such as colours, cuts, trends and historical eras which inspired the designers. I also pull a lot of inspiration from social media and fashion bloggers. I’m a contributor on the Mys Tyler app, which connects women across the globe and allows us to find fashion inspiration that actually fits.
The Mys Tyler app helps me engage with other women like me from diverse walks of life and we can share style inspiration and shop each other’s looks directly through the app.
I filter my love of fashion and style into my work as a designer and stylist helping other veiled women find the right clothes for them. After studying for 10 years and reaching a pre-doctoral degree in history, politics and economics, I decided to follow my passion and study fashion design and styling. I’ve worked with some brands in Kuwait as a stylist and I have even participated in the Cairo fashion show. My goal is to make veiled women feel empowered in stylish pieces.
In the future, I’d love to collaborate with some big brands to bring ideas around veiled fashion to consumers at affordable prices.
Change needs to start now
I believe that any diverse or marginalised group wants to feel seen and heard. We want brands to get to know our needs, requirements, and desires and then we’ll be able to connect and shop easier.
Inside stores, I think retail staff need a broader view and open mind to more diverse customers. But I find a bigger problem in advertising. There is a definite lack of appreciation for diversity, especially with veiled women from some brands in Australia.
Imagine never seeing someone who looks like you in advertising content, like across social media. I’ve continuously watched brands who re-share posts from influencers and non-diverse customers, but when it comes to re-sharing content from diverse groups, they fall short.
We need to put more veiled women front and centre. We need brands to ask for our feedback and take it on board to produce clothes that are right for us. We need to be seen and heard.