Free Religion And Fashion: Head Covering In Islam And The Fashion Industry Literature Review Example

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Head, Skin, Women, Muslim, Islam, Fashion, Religion, Practice

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/09/24

In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements in

Although it seems that religion and fashion are two worlds apart, both fields merge at one point due to religion’s influence on fashion. In this research study, we are going to explore the link or relationship between religion and fashion – two different fields that seemingly differ in views, perspectives, and practices but also share some aspect that relate to fashion. Religion has long inspired fashion in many ways (Tarlo & Moors, 2013, p. 203). Men and women adopt different styles that show some aspect of religion such as accessories made after the image of the crucifix or clothing emblazoned with various religious symbols (Gudorf, 2013, p. 105; Howard, 2013, p. 27). With the scope of religion and fashion, it is important to focus on one particular issue in the research. To narrow down the scope of the research, the succeeding review of existing literature focuses on one topic – head covering as a fashion statement influenced by religion.
Since most people that wear head covering are Muslims and from the Middle East and other Muslims countries, the discussion will explore this practice within the context of Islam. Nonetheless, other religions that encourage the use of head coverings will also be mentioned. Apart from exploring the history of wearing head covering among women, the succeeding discussion will also focus on various aspects related to the issue such as the significance of wearing head covering among Muslim women and other populations following different religious traditions, the controversies surrounding this practice particularly in relation to social and political issues, and finally, the impact or influence of this practice in the fashion industry.
The latter illustrates the influence of religion on fashion as evidenced by a number of fashion trends that incorporate head covering in styles or ensembles. A number of designers and fashion labels have utilized head covering as the main feature of their collections and ensemble pieces (Tarlo, 2010, p. 65). As a result, the practice of wearing head covering has influenced fashion not only in the Middle East but also in other countries, particularly the West. The incorporation of this practice in fashion has allowed it to penetrate popular culture especially in relation to fashion.

History of Wearing Head Covering among Women

Most people associate head coverings to Muslim culture. Middle Eastern men and women, as well as those from other Muslim countries, wear head coverings in the form of head scarves such as the hijab, the burqa, or the niqab, and turbans (Nanda & Warms, 2013, p. 211). Historically, however, monographic evidences prove that the use of head coverings is not exclusive to nor primarily influenced by Islam and Muslim nations. Many ethnic groups, especially in Africa or the small island nations in the Pacific also use different types of head covering. Headdresses made of different indigenous materials, for instance, are common in different tribes or ethnic groups (Smith, 2008, p. 246).
In early times, the first group of people that used head coverings were from pagan cultures and those that practice monotheistic religions (Toprak & Uslu, 2009, p. 43). Wearing head covering then not only illustrated women’s virtue but also purity, as well as freedom and independence to practice their religion and observe religious traditions and practices. A traditional and common practice in Catholicism, for instance, is the women’s use of white cloth or veil to cover their heads whenever they would go to church (Smith, 2008, p. 244). This practice is also observed in other religions.
Aside from Muslims, Jews also wear head covering. Jewish women were expected to cover their head with veils and scarves to show modesty. Due to modern practices, however, this practice among Jewish women evolved to include the wearing of wigs as an alternative head covering (Smith, 2008, p. 245). The Talmud encourages women to always cover their hair especially when they get married to show purity and virtue, which are valued by Jewish men (Becher, 2005, p. 284). The men also wear head covering called the yarmulke especially when they go to church or attend Jewish festivities (Becher, 2005, p. 284).
Muslim women wear different types of head covering. The hijab refers to a scarf that women wear to cover their head and neck. When Muslim girls reach adolescence, they are expected to wear hijabs. Older women, on the other hand, are expected to wear the jibab (Nanda & Warms, 2013, p. 211). Other similar garments or accessories include the dupatta and the chador. The jibab is a long coat that covers most of the body. Older women also wear burqas. Burqas not only cover the body but also the head and face. The niqab is similar to the burqa but it does not fully cover the face. People can only see the woman’s eyes when she is wearing a niqab (Smith, 2008, p. 244).

Issues Related to Wearing Head Covering

The purpose and significance of head coverings or scarves may also vary depending on a number of factors. In religion, such as Islam, wearing head coverings often indicate the virtuousness of women. In other contexts, head coverings indicate the personal relations or socio-economic status of women among others. “For centuries the headscarf has carried a religious, sexual, social and political meaning regardless of whether it has been used as a means of erotism, insult, romantism, piety or purity” (Toprak & Uslu, 2009, p. 44). Hence, wearing head covering could mean different things depend on context and purpose of women observing this practice.
The expectation from women to wear head covering, especially in Muslim society, is often criticized by some particularly by liberal groups. Political debates surrounding the wearing of head covering among Muslim women focus on their lack of choice or option in the matter. “Some argue that practices of veiling are a sign of the subjugation of Muslim women” (Smith, 2008, p. 244). Related issues include gender inequality, gender identity, religion, freedom or liberty, and human rights. In fact, this issue is widely debated particularly in the understanding and argument of feminist theories. Scholars often hold opposing positions.
Some feminists who study this Muslim practice highlight the influence of men in patriarchal Muslims societies. Research studies into Islam reveal that Muslim teachings do not oblige women to wear head covering. “The feminist theorist Bronwyn Winter demonstrates that only three verses in the Qur’an mention body covering in relation to women, and none of them prescribes punishment for women who do not cover their bodies” (Smith, 2008, p. 244). For this reason, advocates of feminism argue that Muslim women need not use head covering and that doing so must be a personal choice, especially because Islam teachings do not hold women to this practice as their obligation. Consequently, feminist groups argue that Muslim societies only do so in order to establish the place and position of women in the community (Smith, 2008, p. 244).
In most Muslim countries, wearing head covering is a must. Women who do not follow this practice are sometimes punished. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, a political figure in the country, ordered that women wear head covering at all times in public. Although some resisted, this practice has become a part of Iranian culture (Sciolino, p. 134). In countries like Iran, women are left with no choice but to follow political and religious practices (Ganji, 2008, p. 21). In some countries, however, some groups promote the freedom of Muslim women to choose whether to wear head covering or not. In France, feminist groups have opposed policies that oblige Muslim women to wear head covering. Feminists in the country argue that France is a democratic country. Therefore, Muslim living in the country must have a choice when it comes to wearing head covering (Cornell, 2007, 12). Consequently, the French government has banned Muslim women’s use of head covering in public places.
Another important issue concerning the practice of wearing head covering is stereotyping. In September 9, 2001, terrorists attached the World Trade Center in New York as well as other notable institutions in the United States by hijacking and crashing airplanes. Racism and discrimination were rampant even before that but the terrorist attack multiplied feelings of fear and hatred towards Muslims (Gottschalk & Greenberg, 2008, p. 267). Many people stereotyped Muslims as terrorist and went on to attach negative connotations to Muslim images and symbols. As a result, when people saw men and women wearing head covering, a known Muslim practice, they would assume they were terrorists. Racism and discrimination were evident in the way that Muslims were treated in public, particularly in airports (Bullock, 2002, p. 76; Esposito & Kalin, 2011, p. 146).

Head Covering in Fashion

Muslim women wear head coverings such as the burqa or the hijab for different reasons depending on their country of origin and tolerance or acceptance of their religious customs and traditions. Older Muslim women mostly wear the traditional burqa or hijab in black or other neutral colors. On the other hand, younger Muslim women incorporate fashion trends or personal style in the way they wear head coverings. Some young Muslim women wear head coverings in different colors or those that were made from patterned fabrics (Rosenberger, 2011, p. 147).
Many shops in Turkey vend colorful head coverings and even sell them along with other items of clothing that match the pattern or color of hijabs (Rosenberger, 2011, p. 147). For this reason, many Muslim women visit shops in Turkey or patronize Turkish-made garments and accessories including head covering because these are mostly fashionable and stray away from traditional designs and colors of the hijab or burqa. In this manner, Muslim women, especially younger ones may remain fashionable despite their clothing option’s limitations on their wardrobe and personal style.
In Yemen, most women also follow fashion trends when dressing up. Although Muslim women in the country are ordered to wear head covering and long garments that hide their bodies, women still look for various ways to remain fashionable. Moors (2007, p. 319) studied the practice of Yemeni women in dressing and observed that globalization has had an effect on fashion practices in the country. Due to globalization, women have been exposed to Western fashion trends. Bent on following these trends, women try to incorporate fashion statements in their dressing while also balancing fashion with religion. Young women in Yemen use head covering and wear long garments but also choose to clothing that are fashionable in terms of the style or design, color, and type of fabric used by designers (Moors, 2007, p. 321).

The Influence of Wearing Head Covering on Western Fashion

Head covering in men and women, particularly in the Middle East and other Muslim countries, has influenced the fashion industry even in the Western world. Various known designers and fashion labels show how their creations were influenced by Muslim culture. Burberry, a British label carrying high end clothing and accessories, created a head scarf using the brand’s widely known pattern for Muslim women (Bowers, Ochs & Jensen, 2009, p. 149; Tarrant & Jolles, 2012, p. 141). The fashion industry also adopted other types of head covering such as the turban. Muslim men wear the turban mainly for practical reasons but the fashion industry adopted this practice and turned it into a fashion statement (Bartlett, Cole, & Rocamora, 2013, p. 76).
Overall, wearing head covering has become mainstream in the fashion world. Head coverings such as the hijab or the burqa are no longer objects or symbols of religion and a woman’s values but also evolved into a fashion statement. Fashion designers and labels’ adoption of head coverings as alternative accessories has redefined this piece of clothing not only as a religious object but also as an aspect of fashion and personal style. The influence of Muslims – both men and women who wear turbans and head scarves – is evident in the frequent use of head covering in fashion. Popular magazines such as Vogue have featured women wearing head covering in a stylish manner. Fashion designers also sometimes incorporate head covering in their collections. Furthermore, head covering has become a fashionable piece since experts often talk about the fashionable ways that women may use them to enhance their style (Bartlett, Cole, & Rocamora, 2013, p. 76).


The foregoing discussion illustrates the link between religion and fashion, particularly between Islam and fashion styles or trends adopted internationally. Wearing head covering is an ancient practice in various circles as it is not only exclusive to Muslim women. In fact, various religions encourage their followers to wear different types of head covering. In the modern world, however, the practice of wearing head covering is mostly associated with Muslims. Hence, to narrow down the research, the discussion focused on Muslim women and their practice of wearing different types of head covering, from the hijab to the niqab among others.
Existing literature about head covering show that people hold opposing views about the practice of wearing head covering among women. In Muslim countries, women wear head covering as a means to show virtuousness mainly although this practice holds different meaning depending on the context. Although wearing head covering is considered as a religious practice, certain arguments and debates surrounding the issue focus on its relation to gender inequality and identity.
Feminist theories argue that wearing head covering must be women’s choice and that the forceful enactment of this is a form of discrimination. Furthermore, feminists argue that Islam teachings do not oblige Muslim women to wear head covering. Other controversies surrounding the practice of wearing head covering involve stereotypes. Since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 that devastated the World Trade Center and claimed thousands of lives, many people have come to attach images of Muslim culture, including head covering, to terrorism. The 9/11 led to rampant racism and discrimination to the point that women wearing head covering were stereotyped as terrorists.
Despite the issues surrounding the practice of wearing head covering among women, it is important to note that it still brings about positive outcomes such as the enrichment of fashion trends especially in the West. As formerly noted, many designers and fashion labels have adopted this practice and incorporated them in their designs. Consequently, men and women view this practice as fashionable. The influence of head covering on fashion illustrates that religion may influence fashion despite related issues or controversies.


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