A version of this was originally posted on my fashion Tumblr, where you can see how much I care (obsess?) over my presentation.
I think a lot about clothing and the way in which I present myself because I have yet to shake the sense of wonder I feel both at my expanded sartorial possibilities and the fact that my such choices are far more my own than they ever were before.
I grew up a very practicing Muslim and was certain that I would stay a Muslim forever. As I was an unmarried girl with no husband to impress behind closed doors, I didn’t see the point in bothering with fashion that didn’t fit my interpretation of hijab. This meant precluding almost all jewelry and most clothing options.
Finding clothing that not only conformed to my then-religion’s modesty standards but that also fit my always-generous frame was a challenge, to say the least. As my mother disliked pants and jeans, which she thought would show the shape of my legs (more like show that I had legs, since any pairs of pants I owned were always incredibly wide-legged), in high school, I generally wore skirts. They had to be loose-fitting, ankle-length, and lacking in slits.* The tops had to be long-sleeved, loose, and lengthy enough to hit below the bottom of my buttocks, since, if a shirt hit mid-buttock, even with a skirt, my mother would loudly complain about my “tiny shirts.” She would have definitely preferred that I start exclusively wearing abaya, jilbab, or shalwar kameez.
The clothing restrictions meant that the peasant/boho trend in clothing was a great boon to me. I adopted it out of convenience at first but later grew fond of certain elements of the aesthetic. My fondness most certainly did not extend to the logistics of getting dressed and staying covered up.
Most peasant skirts are pretty sheer, so I had to wear a slip more often than not. If the skirt was extremely sheer, the slip would be skirt-style. Along with a skirt slip, I would also wear long socks or stockings to properly cover my ankles. If the skirt wasn’t totally sheer, I would wear pant-style slips so that I could cover my ankles without the added burden of socks or hosiery. In my quest to cover up my ankles, I tried wearing multiple layers of skirts for a while but stopped after my mother teased me about it.
Like their lower-body counterparts, peasant tops tend to be on the sheer side. I had quite the collection of close-fitting long-sleeved cotton tees to wear under the loose peasant blouses. If the blouse was a light color, I’d have to wear a light-colored cotton top underneath, but that often wasn’t enough to obscure the shadow of my bra, so I’d have to wear a sleeveless undershirt under that. If the peasant top was opaque enough to where my only concern was my bra showing, I’d wear only the sleeveless undershirt, often paired with pull-on “sleeve socks” because the bell sleeves were too wide and loose to properly cover my forearms, especially when I’d gesture dramatically (a trait I still have).
I laughed very heartily when one of my high school teachers claimed that we modern people couldn’t understand just how cumbersome Victorian ladies’ layers upon layers of clothing could be. I was fairly certain that I had some idea, at least.
Had I caved into my mother’s demand that I wear clothing such as the Pakistani long tunic and baggy pants or the Arabic-style cloaks, I would not have had to wear as much in the way of layers. Knowing that, why did I resist?
I thought that such clothing would have more easily marked me as an outsider.
At least in loose jeans and a long top or a skirt with a blouse and a headscarf, I could shop at somewhat “normal” stores and cast as normal of a silhouette as I could while still adhering to Islamic standards of modesty. While I doubt that my peers would have cared, since they found the amount of clothing I wore at least a bit odd no matter what its ethnic origins, I found it important to my identity as an American Muslim.
Post 9-11, my identity issues became an even more obvious factor in my clothing choices. After I would don my many layers of Western-style clothing, I would affix my scarf to my shirt with an American flag pin. Such a patriotic symbol would have felt out-of-place to me had it been used to affix my scarf to a kameez or jilbab.
* At the ripe old age of 11, I laughed condescendingly when my cousin, who had just started covering herself at age 18, complained to me of her clothing troubles. She had gone to the mall and asked the employee at the Express store for a “skirt with no slits”; she was shocked to be shown a mini-skirt. I told her that she would learn to love Marshall’s, Ross, TJ Maxx, Mervyn’s, Robinson’s May, and sometimes Old Navy.