Monday, 30 March 2009

My Article in The Guardian: It's a wrap!

Today sees the publication of an article that I've been working on for quite some time now. Some of you may remember that back in July 2008, The Guardian published an article featuring Hijab Style, and now the team have given me the opportunity to write about Spring/Summer fashion and the challenges of finding hijab-friendly clothing as the weather warms up. Most hijab articles you'll notice tend to discuss the headscarf aspect only, but this is something a little different, in that it's a lot more sartorially focused. It's written from a pretty personal point of view, but I'm hoping that most other Muslimahs can relate! And of course, big up to Paula Cocozza, assistant features editor, for all her hard work and assistance :D Hope you like it ladies, and drop a comment to let me know what you think:

It's a wrap!

Wearing hijab and following fashion is all about layering, says Jana Kossaibati. So what do you do when the weather gets warmer?

Standing in front of the mirror each morning my thoughts travel along familiar lines. Are the sleeves long enough? How can I cover up that plunging neckline? And, more often than not, can I get away with wearing this with jeans? In fact, can I get away with wearing pretty much everything with jeans? If I face my wardrobe in the morning with a sense of adventure, it quickly vanishes in favour of the same one or two outfits - mainly those jeans with a white shirt dress - bleary-eyed and weary as I am after long nights spent with my nose buried in a book. Welcome to the sartorial challenges of a 19-year-old hijab-wearing Muslim medical student.

Wearing hijab is about more than throwing on a headscarf. It means committing to a broader dress code - for me clothing needs to cover everything but the hands and face, and be loose enough to hide my body shape. Since I like to shop on the high street, that's a bit of a tall order. Few among Topshop, H&M, Dorothy Perkins, Zara and Miss Selfridge can meet my needs in one or two garments. Fashions come and go, but I am committed to a life of layering.

I have a few staple formulas. A low-necked tunic goes over a round-necked T-shirt. A headband peeping out from under a headscarf can add a whole new dimension to a look. And a long-sleeved T-shirt will work under almost anything (I have a whole drawer full of them). Now, layering in winter is one thing - don't we all do it? Chunky knits, full sleeves, warm jackets and coats are available in abundance, so dressing for hijab is fairly easy. But it's a different story when spring comes around and the rest of the world is peeling off the layers. The challenge is to keep covered, keep cool and look good. A shopping trip is clearly in order - but what to buy?

"Cardigans to cover your bum, trench coats, and lots of bangles," advises Hasna Abby, 22, who works at H&M in London's Oxford Street. "When you're wearing hijab all the attraction goes to the face." So, she says, "create an alternative focus. Shoes, bangles ... And then all my money goes on bags, bags, bags." There are plenty of Abby's favoured trench coats on the shop floor, but I think colour-blocking - as seen on the catwalks of Richard Nicoll, Ossie Clark and others - is going to be the way I go. This is a fairly easy look to pull off with hijab - my outfits usually consist of at least three pieces anyway.

Browsing through the rails at Topshop's Oxford Circus store, there are plenty of vest tops and micro-shorts, but not much in the way of long-sleeved, thigh-length tops. That's to be expected, I guess. So I head to Uniqlo, where I know I can find plenty of long-sleeved cardigans. In Dorothy Perkins I spot a floral tunic I've had my eye on for ages (flowers being big this season) and a purple maxi-skirt. It turns out to be not quite so maxi though, so it is cast aside in favour of (yet another) striped scarf that I can use as a hijab. On the street younger girls are already sporting bright headscarves, which reminds me to dig mine out of my wardrobe.

When a hijab-friendly trend does come along, I stock up in case it doesn't stick around. Last season almost every Yves Saint Laurent model was sent down the catwalk in a polo neck. Good news for me, as the extra neck coverage allowed me to be more creative with the way I tied my headscarf. This season there have been hijab hits too. Reem Acra and Gucci featured beautiful, long kaftans. Inspired by the full-length ruffled skirts at Chanel, Mango swiftly brought out its own version. A little fussy maybe, but paired with a simple white blouse and silk scarf it would do the trick for special occasions.

And there is another alternative. I've been following carefully the emergence of Islamic clothing companies. Whereas a few years ago, Islamic clothing was limited to imported black abayas (or full-length gowns, popular in the Middle East), new designers are starting to cater to the diverse needs of Muslims living in the UK. Most of these companies trade online. is a favourite, offering a combination of on-trend styles and the right level of coverage. It launched in April 2008, because its founder's wife "loved the style of French Connection and Zara but found it difficult to find pieces that were loose or long enough". "The more I researched," says Abdulrahman Hummaida, "the more I found a need for trendy long women's clothing." He estimates that 45% of Losve's customer base is non-Muslim.

But this season, in theory at least, there is an answer on the high street. Harem pants have emerged, against the odds, as a key trend for spring. They should be just the thing for someone looking for loose clothing. Back in H&M I found a couple of pairs that were not too baggy at the crotch. I ventured into the fitting rooms and five minutes later was critically appraising my reflection. They weren't quite as horrendous as I'd first feared, but the sagging fabric wasn't doing me any favours in the height department. Factor in the need for a long-sleeved loose top and headscarf, and the look came across as more fashion-victim than modest-chic. I hurriedly handed the trousers back to the assistant and left with the safer option of yet another shirtdress. I had to admit, though, they were rather comfortable.

And perhaps that was the reason that not so long ago, men (yes, men) of my grandfather's generation wore the sherwal (as we call it in Lebanon) in many a Levantine village. Just the thing for hard manual work in hot climates - and perhaps Beirut's fashion elite are jumping on the trend too, which, if my suspicions are correct, began not on the spring 09 catwalks of Temperley, Michael Kors and DKNY, but with the revival across the Arab world of TV programmes such as Bab al-Hara (The Neighbourhood Gate), which is set in 1930s Syria, where the sherwal was standard clothing for all men. There, you see: sometimes fashion works the other way too.


Aminah said...

Mashallah a very well written article and a delight to read - keep up the great work jana!

Chica said...

fantastic article sis... you appreciate satorialism as much as I do! it's great!

another good place to find upcoming trneds is scott schurmans 'the sartorialist' section to see what fashion edtor are wearing off the catwalks cos i find you can get loads of hijabunista type style inspiaton from there!

~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu reading your blog

Anonymous said...

Hi Jana! Thanks for commenting. I hope you weren't offended by my labelling wearing a hijab as "alternative" - I just meant it's a different way of looking at clothes in relation to the body we put them on. Good work! xx S

Anonymous said...

Mashallah, the article is very good :) and how lovely to finally see you :D you're very pretty mashallah. very inspiring, never quit what you're doing. thanks for a great blog

lala said...

ha! i thought the tone of voice sounded familiar! i read ur blog often, and read the paper online last nite...didnt make the connection on the name tho:D

Salma said...

Love the article. Good Job.

BTW, I would like to say thank you for the fabulous Miss Selfridge Maxi Dress find. When it was on sale, I immediately bought! Can't wait for the summer. If it's still on stock. All muslimahs should buy it, it's worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

Very well written sister, finally our words are out there so that everyone can hear us...:D

Ashi said...

Mash'Allah, lovely read :)

Jennifer said...

Congrats! Nice article to have published!!

As I read your article I realized why as an American non-Muslim I appreciate your blog so much. You are able to blend two almost opposite cultures, what seems effortlessly. Or better yet, on one hand you want to remain true to your self and your true cultural identity and that poses challenges in an environment that may not support this or where this is not the first thought on people in the larger community's mind. And, on top of this, you do expose your weaker side to us- some of the struggles you face in pulling off this cultural melting pot!!

Thank you for being you and sharing you with us!!!

Enjoy and celebrate!

moonlight said...

thanx for the comment Jana. I'm so glad I've found your blog you've got many great ideas that I know I'm going to find useful. :)


Ben (England) said...

Congratulations on your excellent article in today's Guardian about combining hijab and fashion. In a society where wearing hijab is described as divisive and a symbol of female oppression it is refreshing to be reminded that it is simply a dress-style chosen by some women as an act of modesty. By telling readers that Muslim women can choose their clothes based on style and comfort like anybody else you have done an important job of dispelling some of the misconceptions that still surround hijab. That you are able to make these choices and articulate your reasons for them while also successfully studying for a professional career is the best proof possible that hijab is not an instrument of repression.

Tomorrow the Guardian will publish a letter from a Dr Gloria Spicer dredging up some of the Islamophobic myths often perpetuated by those who are ignorant about hijab. I think people could argue all day challenging her claims one by one. But it does beg the question as to why somebody who isn't Muslim, is not being asked to follow the practice of hijab and will never need to follow it feels the need to go out of her way to ridicule the free choices and beliefs of others. In contrast you should be proud of the openness of your own piece.

Naziehah said...

Great article. I find it entertaining and resourceful.

Keep up the good work!

Anchibride said...

Congratulations! Fab article!

Anonymous said...

Well done sister! It's a lovely informative article, a delight to read. You are an inspiration to all muslimahs out there. Keep it up.xx

Anonymous said...

Great article, thanks dear.
The quote below from your first paragraph exactly describes what I go through, it's a battle finding modest clothes now a days!

"Are the sleeves long enough? How can I cover up that plunging neckline?...If I face my wardrobe in the morning with a sense of adventure, it quickly vanishes in favour of the same one or two outfits "

sabrina said...

"Fashions come and go, but I am committed to a life of layering."

Ugh! LOVE that! I found you on the guardian before I even visited your site today -- see, we read foreign news, too:)

You rock, Jana, and may Allah (swt) always keep you steadfast on His beautiful deen! (Ameen)

Saloua said...

Mabrook sister wooooo :D

You should become a writer :P
i loved the article, cant wait to read more from you inshallah

jazakallah khier

nihad said...

i agree with saloua.. u shud take up writing. Masha Allah .. keep up the good work

Jana said...

Thank you everyone, I'm glad to hear you liked it!

Anonymous said...


I liked your perspective on this, its personal and confident. You describe your the problem (or perhaps adventure ?) and how you solve it without being defensive of your lifestyle choice - I dislike Muslim related articles that feel the need to justify and much prefer ones that aim to educate.

On layering it self, you already know that I feel strongly about the type of garments and sleeves that can be layered, but when done well layering can be a versatile option. Thats why at LOSVE we do long sleeve tops and ones that can be layered.

As Hijabis are less prone to bad hair days, how about "bad layering day" - is this a new term ?

I am delighted LOSVE is your favourite and your feedback and that of your readers has helped us make good progress since our launch - Thank you!

Abdulrahman Hummaida

Anonymous said...

salam jana I WANT THAT SCARF youre wearing in the pic!! do tell us where you brought it from. great article x

Juliana said...

Salam Jana..been ur silent reader quite sometime. Love ur writing and dressing style. May Allah bless u with good health and may u suceed in ur study.

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Jana said...

Anon - lol it was from Shepherd's Bush Market!

Anonymous said...

Great article, ma sha Allah. I did have a giggle at your mention of Bab al-Hara - it's a TV must for my husband during Ramadan, and something i have forced myself to enjoy - baggy pants a-go-go!!

Safiya Outlines said...

Salaam Alaikum,

Mabrouk and Masha Allah on your article. It was a really good read.

P.S I also giggled at the mention of Baba Al Hara, although I find it a bit dull. When I was in Syria last year, Layl wa Rajl was the soap I was glued to.

Anonymous said...

Hie Jana!

Great article & i just love reading ur blog. I'm a med student too & yes sometimes it's such a chore to find stg suitable to wear to wards. N ive long since given up trying to look good with the stethoscope. haha.. d:

Anw. Ur blog is inspiring! (: Love ur taste in clothes! N yes i too tend to stock up on hijab friendly trends!


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