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Who wears Western-style Islamic clothing?

By Dara, 2006

Western-style Islamic clothing looks like mainstream clothing styles in the West but is modified for Islamic modesty requirements. Long skirts, long tops and blouses, loose trousers/pants, dresses, duster suits, and pantsuits are a few examples. So who wears this style of Islamic clothing? There are at least four groups of Muslim ladies who wear Western-style Islamic clothing.

The first group that comes to mind are ladies who live in the West and became Muslims in adulthood (converts to Islam). Because there is no requirement in Islam that the clothing Muslims wear be Middle Eastern in style, some of these ladies want to stay in their comfort zone and continue wearing Western-style clothing. Other converts like to wear the clothing of predominantly Muslim countries, and some wear different styles at different times depending on where they are going. For example, in America, one might wear a pantsuit to work and a shalwar kameez to a Pakistani gathering. In Pakistan, the same person might wear a shalwar kameez to work (or at least outside the home) and jeans inside the home.

There is no restriction in Islam about what may be worn in the privacy of one’s own home. Muslims may wear the latest styles of skin-bearing clothing in their own homes if they wish provided it is not an extended family home.

A second group of Muslim ladies who like to wear Western-style clothing are those who were raised Muslim and grew up in Western countries. Certain Muslim girls I know who grew up in the U.S.A. do much as converts have done—change their style of clothing depending on where they are going. They might wear jeans, a long top to cover the bum, and a headscarf to a public school and shopping, and the same girl might wear a shalwar kameez or abaya (and a headscarf) when she is going to be around a lot of other Muslims like at an Islamic center or in religious classes.

A third group of Muslim women who wear Western-style clothing are immigrants to Western countries who grew up in predominantly Muslim countries. Generally, these Muslims are most comfortable in the clothing they grew up wearing and continue to wear that style of clothing in their new homeland, which is why one sees distinctive clothing styles out and about. However, sometimes these Muslims feel a need to leave their comfort zone and wear Western-style clothing. Taking a professional job is probably the most prevalent reason for someone who is not comfortable in Western-style clothing to don it. As time passes, these Muslims will probably become comfortable wearing both styles of clothing.

A fourth group of Muslim women who like to wear this style of clothing are upper-class Muslims living in Pakistan. This phenomenon could possibly be true of other predominantly Muslim countries, too, but I cannot be sure because I have no experiences in other predominantly Muslim countries. Upper-class Muslims in Pakistan wear all of or any combination of traditional clothing (shalwar kameez, trouser suits, etc.) and Western-style clothes like jeans, activewear (in the women’s gyms), and sophisticated, elegant pantsuits.

More and more choices of modest mainstream styles are available to Muslims every year. More brick-and-mortar shops are popping up in Western countries, and online shops that specialize in modest mainstream clothing for Muslims are growing in number as well. This could be due, in part, to the fact that children of Muslim immigrants who have grown up in Western countries are coming of age and are going into the fashion industry. They have hopes of increasing clothing options for youth coming after them.

The presence of more online modest clothing shops catering to Orthodox Jews and Christians increases the options as well. The Modest Clothing Directory (SM) at http://www.modestclothes.com showcases all the options on one website, increasing the chances that ladies of the three Abrahamic faiths will venture into each other’s sites to shop for clothes.

2006 by Dara. Permission is granted to reproduce excerpts of this article up to 250 words in electronic newsletters or on websites provided that the text is unchanged, the text is represented as an excerpt and not a full article, and the following and verbiage is attached:
“2006 by Dara. This article was originally published at http://www.modestclothes.com/islamic/articles/who_wears_western_style_islamic_clothing.html.”