When you think of the words ‘modest fashion’, longer hemlines, higher necklines and opaque fabrics probably come to mind.
But Pretty Little Thing’s recent Eid edit seemed to have other ideas.
Advertised with the tagline ‘look super chic for that big celebration with our modest dresses’, the clothes on offer seemed no different to what you’d usually expect to find on the site: bodycon dresses and mini skirts, plunge v-neck tops and a whole lot of flesh on show.
Not exactly what you might think of as ‘modest’ and certainly not an indicator of any special attempt to cater for a Muslim market.
Predictably, Pretty Little Thing has faced backlash from Muslim women online – many of whom found the Eid edit inappropriate and ill-informed.
Some even found it downright offensive to associate the festival of Eid with a way that many Muslim women would not dress in public. Although, of course, it’s worth mentioning that Muslim women are not a monolith and there is no single way that we all dress.
But as put by 30-year-old Iman Javaid, a Muslim woman from London who wears an abaya and hijab on a daily basis and sometimes a niqab too: ‘No one is rocking up to the mosque in a bodycon or to see their nana (grandad) in a scantily-clad cut-out dress. The whole thing felt like a cash grab – like they just whacked the word ‘Eid’ under a random bunch of outfits.’
Iman goes on to explain that some high street fashion brands have got it right when it comes to catering for Muslim women – in fact, she bought her own Eid dress this year from H&M because, for her, it was clear that the brand had made a genuine effort to listen to what Muslim women want with their ‘well thought out, Middle Eastern inspired collection’. They’re the type of outfits she recalls her mother’s generation ordering from Muslim countries, she says, now readily available to us on the high street.
Pretty Little Thing has said it didn’t intend ‘to cause offence’ with the Eid edit, but this is not the first time a major brand has got it terribly wrong when attempting to cater to the Muslim market.
Fatima Shaikh says the Pretty Little Thing blunder reminds her of MAC releasing a ‘suhoor’ makeup look a few years ago – a 3am meal that most British Muslims eat in their pyjamas at home. At the time, MAC said the tutorial was inspired by the brand’s ‘global fans’ and designed to celebrate ‘the beauty of Ramadan’.
‘It just goes to show that they aren’t working with real Muslim women. All it would take is one message to a Muslim influencer to get their feedback, but it’s like they’ve put no real effort into representing us,’ Fatima says.
Fatima would like to see more brands offering modest versions of best-selling items, just like we can shop for petite or maternity ranges.
But for her to believe that a brand cares about the Muslim consumer, they’ll need to do better than Pretty Little Thing. ‘You shouldn’t need to buy a bodysuit and leggings to make an outfit modest,’ she says. ‘We need more options.’
Of course, as 31-year-old Hafsa Lodi points out, not all Muslim women are hijabis or necessarily cover their bodies.
‘It’s important to keep in mind that not all Muslims adhere to modest fashion. Some of them may very well be attracted to the clothing in PLT’s Eid edit, short hemlines, low necklines and all,’ says Hafsa, who is based in Dubai and has written a book about modest fashion called Modesty: A Fashion Paradox.
‘And that’s fine, it isn’t anybody’s place to judge what Muslim women should or shouldn’t wear. Some critics have said this sort of clothing is inappropriate for going to the mosque in – but not every Muslim woman goes to the mosque on Eid, some celebrate the end of Ramadan with a girls’ night out.’
But Khadijah Hasan, 22, from Luton, points out that even Muslim women who don’t wear the hijab do tend to adhere to certain standards of modesty – ones that can often make them the subject of ridicule or make them seem alien to wider society, like not bearing their arms and legs, even in the summer.
She feels Pretty Little Thing’s Eid edit reinforces damaging beauty and fashion standards, promoting an ‘ideal of femininity which many Muslim women do not fit’.
In Khadijah’s mind, ‘this cannot be excused as being a mistake, I can only think about how young Muslim girls who may already be struggling with their body image would feel after being confronted by something like this’.
For me, this poses the alarming question of whether brands are catering to our needs as Muslim women or whether the fashion industry, as influential and dominating as it is, is in fact moulding religious codes of modesty to fit their own capitalist aims. Does the modest fashion industry actually serve Muslim women or simply those at the top?
Whatever the parameters for modesty are – and who they are determined by – all the evidence suggests one thing: Muslim women do spend significant money on clothes that truly cater to their own religious, cultural or personal beliefs and will support brands that make an effort to represent them.
The modest fashion industry is massive and ever-growing. It’s estimated that $375 billion (£302 billion) will be spent on modest fashion by 2025. From hijabs in Primark to abayas in John Lewis and Eid pyjamas for kids in ASDA, it seems like everyone is cashing in on the Muslim pound. But that’s what makes Pretty Little Thing’s faux pas so disappointing for Muslim women like me, who are finally beginning to see the representation that our teenage selves so craved.
We can also never discuss consumption under capitalism without breaking down the myth of representation itself. Do fast fashion and high street brands truly care about the liberation and progression of Muslim women? When we’ve seen big brands accused of selling goods made by forced labour from Uyghur Muslims, it feels unlikely.
As Hafsa Lodi goes on to say, the focus should actually be less on the clothes and more on ‘brands recruiting Muslim women to work with when producing and marketing these collections. You can’t design for this demographic without consulting with them’.
The paradox of modest fashion leaves some Muslim women confused about where they stand – like Nargis Akhter, 29, from Sunderland, whose own uncertainty echoes my own: ‘On the one hand I’m happy that modest fashion is more accessible, however when it’s aligned with fast-fashion, sweatshops and abuse of workers I’m unsure how “modest” it is and where it starts to become misaligned with our values as Muslims.’
For me it’s complicated too. I started wearing the hijab as a teenager in a small town with very few visible Muslims. I had to wear about five layers to turn a garment into something I felt was suitable for a hijabi: at the time, modest fashion simply did not exist. Everything was slightly too transparent, had a low neckline, was too tight or too short. The prospect of seeing a hijabi mannequin in Primark or full-length maxi dresses in H&M was something made of my wildest teenage dreams.
So, over a decade later, despite knowing the downsides, there’s still a little hijabi inside of me who is so excited to be able to pick something off the rail in the high street and wear it without adaptation.
But some Muslim women point blank refuse to buy into the appeal of modest fashion going mainstream – like Mariyah Zaman and Charley Mohammed, who both feel that even if a garment is physically modest (e.g. covers the whole body), the way it is manufactured has the potential to render it un-Islamic.
Charley Mohammed, 38, a blogger from Birmingham, who goes by ‘ModestlyWrapped’ online, says: ‘Muslims should not be buying from these fast fashion brands at all. They are entirely unethical and go completely against what we believe in as Muslims’.
Mariyah Zaman, 24, from Wales, has actually stopped buying clothes from high street retailers altogether for a number of reasons.
For one, she feels there is a total lack of genuine consideration for the Muslim consumer, with dresses having slits or backless designs that make them unsuitable for her.
Above all this though, she feels that her moral compass prevents her from shopping in most high street shops: ‘I feel like the items have literal blood on them’.
Mariyah wants brands to focus on increasing the pay of the (predominantly) Muslim women who manufacture the clothes in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey, rather than making Eid and Ramadan collections for western Muslim consumers.
It seems to me that if high street brands continue to misinterpret our priorities or refuse to acknowledge Islam’s strong moral code surrounding spending, many brands will start to see the ever-growing Muslim pound head elsewhere.
Source : Metro