Dina Toki-o shares a daunting personal experience and a top tip on how to expand your fashion range.
There’ve been countless times that I’ve entered a high street store, whether in London, Cardiff or Cairo, and left feeling ever so depressed and disappointed, passing up on so many gorgeous clothes for the basic, simple, and sole reason that they’re just not ‘hijab friendly’ enough.
Those were dark, sad times I endured before I found my calling in life to toil in fashion. Thank God, I have since moved on and now very much look forward to a habitual ‘retail therapy’ session – whether on an anticipated search for inspiration or to fulfil my weekly clothing cravings! Either way, the task is a joyful one: I now have a completely different outlook on how to dress while allowing myself to benefit from broadening my mind to new and maybe not so ‘impossible’ ideas.
In this week’s column, I’d like to share one of those ideas with you. I hope it solves some of your problems when looking for and finding those much-needed ‘hijab friendly’ wardrobe staples!
The answer to your wardrobe woes? Menswear.
When searching for that basic, long ‘underneath’ top that you need for most of your outfits to cover those womanly curves, grab yourself a plain T-shirt from the menswear section! When scouring shops and struggling in endless stuffy fitting rooms for those perfect ‘not-too-baggy and not-too-tight’ denims, grab yourself a pair of menswear bootleg Levi’s! When rummaging for ‘oversized’ and ‘slouchy’ sweaters for your ‘lazy’ looking days, try on a plain menswear jumper in your size! You’ll find it slouching perfectly over your little lady shoulders and flowing just above your knees. Pair it with some killer heels and you’ve automatically created an elegant daytime look!
I’m not sure about you, but I’m sick of finding myself thinking, ‘That would be perfect if it was just a little… ’ (feel free to finish that thought off as it suits you). I’m sure it rings a bell from some point in your life. If it doesn’t, then congratulations! You have a great eye and need no help when it comes to figuring out what to wear with what, for where or when. If it does ring a bell, please continue.
Just because you’ve got your brother’s T-shirt on, it doesn’t mean that you look like a brother that day
Throughout the past two years I’ve discovered that menswear can indeed be very beneficial to us ladies who’ve embraced the hijab in all its glory. I repeatedly splash out on bits and pieces of outfits from the menswear departments in high street stores, small boutiques, online shops and vintage stores. I’ve come to realise that the fundamentals of menswear fashion like T-shirts, shirts, sweaters and jeans are of quite a standard fit and in reality look great in certain styles on a woman.
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I have undoubtedly received tremendous amounts of criticism and ‘religious advice’ for declaring that my ‘outfit of the day’ includes a menswear sweater, jeans or even sneakers. Notice I say ‘declaring’, because it’s amusing that nobody will ever realise that my sweater is actually a menswear sweater unless I’ve stated it in the outfit details. This shows how a menswear item can easily be styled with women’s fashion. Had my critics seen me in my outfit but not read the outfit details, none of them would have batted an eyelid.
In Islam, imitating or dressing up as the opposite sex, or cross-dressing, is haram. For example, a man is forbidden to wear silk, as silk is seen as a feminine fabric. There are many hadiths and various views on this topic. So I understand the root of where the ‘religious advice’ is coming from.
However, taking a menswear garment and adjusting it to fit and benefit your womenswear outfit is, I think, a different situation altogether. Just because you’ve got your brother’s T-shirt on, it doesn’t mean that you look like a brother that day. And many of us girls whose style is said to be more ‘tomboyish’ aren’t intentionally looking like guys; with a headscarf to accompany our looks, we’re not exactly imitating a man, either. The imitation doesn’t just come with the clothing, but also refers to acting masculine, walking in a masculine manner and so on. Fashion is more of an attitude than simply what you wear. So a woman’s persona, confidence and femininity will always appear in her style. I could be wearing a men’s T-shirt yet be rocking it tucked into an 80s flared skirt! The whole image and style itself most certainly doesn’t reflect those of a man’s. It’s up to you how you want to style that particular garment.
Half of the menswear items I choose to purchase are usually because, nowadays, the women’s version is shorter, short-sleeved and tighter than the men’s equivalent. Of course, this is because women are constantly being persuaded by the media, magazines and television adverts to show off our figures as much as possible. We’re constantly displayed and portrayed to match with how society expects a woman to look. But as hijabis, we try our best to dress modestly and conceal our figures to concentrate on what’s inside as much as possible.
Of course, appearance will always matter. But for me, rather than it being about attractiveness, I like to express my personality and interests in the way I dress and have fun with fashion. Pairing a nice, oversized menswear sweater or vintage blazer with a pair of jeans, and then accessorising your outfit with a clutch bag, heels or jewellery, will in no way lead anyone to think that you’re cross-dressing. It’s all about your intention. By that I mean you hopefully aren’t attempting to look like a man, but merely adapting something that’s a lot looser and more comfortable to your look, in order to cover as much as possible. The final step, of course, is to tweak the look to give you your feminine elegance!