On My Pre-Apostasy Apparel

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.

Heina as a teenager in front of her high school, wearing a white headscarf, a beige blouse, and a beige-and-pink-patterned skirt
Square scarf folded into a triangle, peasant blouse, long flowing skirt. See the sleeves peeking out of my blouse? That was a whole extra shirt under there.

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.

On My Pre-Apostasy Apparel

15 thoughts on “On My Pre-Apostasy Apparel

  1. 1

    I’m always perplexed when I see young Muslim women wearing a scarf and long sleeves, but everything is skin tight. I want to ask them why they just don’t get rid of the hijab altogether.

    1. 1.1

      See, I used to feel that way, too, then I reconsidered. They might be pressured or even coerced into wearing a scarf and the clothing represents some kind of rebellion or resistance. Hijab might mean something different to them than it did to me.

      A big factor in my reconsidering my feelings about the matter are the thoughts of my fellow FTBer, Hiba, who wrote about it here.

  2. 2

    I don’t mind religious symbols, but really wish Muslim girls had found something else express their religiosity. Hijab plays so well into the hands of Mullas. It legitimizes their claim of so called modesty, their power over female body.

    1. 2.1

      I can assure you that there were no mullahs around where I grew up (Southern California) into whose hands I might play by having covered up.

      I wonder what you mean by “Muslim girls finding something else express their religiosity”. I expressed my religiosity in many ways as a Muslim girl. This was the most visible aspect of it, sure, but you can’t really blame girls who follow a religion for what’s in the religion. A man came up with it, after all.

        1. Do you think it is any different than the way that Pentecostal women wear their hair long? Or all of those girls with promise rings? I think those are just as visible as hijab, personally.

  3. 3

    I was raised with a fairly strict (evangelical) style of modesty. I remember when my mom snipped up my spaghetti straps because I had worn one outside. Didn’t I know that that would reflect poorly on my dad?

    I find now, all these years later I sometimes struggle to know whether something is appropriate or not, because of the skewed teachings of my youth. It is really annoying.

    I think we should do away with ‘modesty’ all together and use a utilitarian sort of understanding as a guide:
    1. Is it weather appropriate?
    2. Is it task appropriate?
    3. Is it comfortable?

    1. 3.1

      I don’t know, I enjoy uncomfortable yet beautiful-looking clothing sometimes. Ditto for cold-weather clothing. I have a dragon-scale turtleneck that’s way too warm for Southern California weather, but I wear it sometimes anyway because it’s cool.

  4. 4

    Fair points, so perhaps number one should be: Do you like it and want to wear it? I guess when I was coming up with those it was during a discussion about school dress codes, for young children. No dress code needed for adults, really, we should know what we want to wear.

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