It’s not easy for a hijabi bride to look unique. Dina Toki-O shares the process of tailoring two individual looks for her two walimas.
As many weddings as I’ve been to, and as many times as I’ve Googled, searched on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest for sources of bridal inspiration, never once have I come across a bride in hijab and said, “Wow, she really pulled it off.”
As beautiful as they look, and as amazing the dresses and hijab styles are, there’s always something that just doesn’t look quite right for me – whether it’s the cotton long-sleeved top to cover the arms of a boob tube dress, or the lion mane of netting encrusted in diamantes for the veil, or the ruffle over ruffle of meringue layered dresses or the satin open toe shoes with two perfectly French manicured toes peeking out!
There’s always something that niggles at me, and it’s annoying to me that we all end up looking the same on our wedding day. Of course, opinions will differ. Some of you may take this personally, but please don’t. I feel exactly the same way about my overall look, so the above is merely a rant of frustration of how difficult it is for a hijabi to look perfect on her wedding day!
So when it came to figuring out my dresses and the even bigger dilemma of how to cover my hair, it consumed my life for months. Generally, most Egyptian brides wear the traditional white dress. For my first walima, I pretty much chose to do the same. As similar as the idea is to most “white dress” brides, I did have in mind to make my overall look a tiny bit different with the finer details.
It was just my luck that I happened to find Rhiannon J, the perfect woman to turn my imagination into reality! Rhiannon is a Cardiff-based seamstress with whom I had my first appointment just four months before the big day – although we didn’t really start anything until only three months were left – and so we got to work!
I chose an ivory brocade fabric for the entire dress. I’m not a fan of using different fabrics and textures together for wedding dresses, so I figured I could get away with choosing a subtle printed silk for the whole dress if I kept the design simple, classic and timeless.
To cover the neck, Rhiannon went for a curved collar that went down into a tight v-neck, to keep the neck area elegant and prevent the “polo neck” of a full collar. The sleeves are a slim fit that went all the way down, creeping onto the back of my hand in a soft point (I’ve wanted this look ever since I tried on a vintage wedding dress and fell in love with the sleeves).The dress comes far out just under my hips. As for the trail… well, the trail I couldn’t control!
My favourite part was the back of the dress. Rhiannon added a second layer of shorter skirt from the waist to the back of the knees and because we needed it to flare out and keep its shape, she cleverly added a thin layer of foam inside to give it a slightly quilted look. I must say it did make the sitting for hours very comfortable!
It was a week until the big day, and my dress was sorted – but my shoes and scarf? I honestly put off deciding on how to style my scarf to the last minute because I was dreading it. I had no idea what to do and I knew my headpiece would either complement my dress or ruin it entirely. One night I was trying to sleep and of course I couldn’t – my mind was working away at conjuring up ideas and then it just came to me.
I was going to wear a print with a splash of colour on my head. Once I had got that idea into my head, I was adamant to go through with it, convinced it would be the only thing to give my “white dress” look any uniqueness from the rest. But of course nothing is ever easy and so began the frantic last-minute search for wearable fabric.
I traipsed around all three fabric shops we have in Cardiff. I looked in charity shops and high street stores (in case I could find a readymade scarf). But alas, all the prints were either too garish for a bride, or the fabric wasn’t suitable to tie on the head.
John Lewis, a department store in Cardiff, has a small fabric selection, so I went in to check with a little bit of last-minute hope. I found an off-white taffeta silk fabric with a delicate maroon, pink, green and yellow cherry-print embroidery. It wasn’t the print or the colours I’d had in mind, but the fabric was perfect for a bridal texture and I knew it would stay in place as taffeta is quite a stiff and sturdy fabric.
I managed to pick up the last metre they had left. Thankfully, it worked well with the dress on my last fitting, and so I decided to pair them! I styled the fabric into a small bun and paired it with a homemade veil made by my grandmother, Judy. The veil was attached to an ivory headband and I tucked the back of the veil into the bottom of my cherry-print bun while the front covered my face down to my chin.
As for shoes, I went for a hot pink suede heel to bring out the pink on my cherry bun, from River Island, and I ended up wearing them again, with dress number two!
That brings me to Rima Tadmory, couture designer and stylist. I came across her from a mutual friend. We had been exchanging emails with pictures, sketches and ideas for a good six months prior. When Rima finally agreed to design my dress and I had the honour of visiting her at her design studio, it felt like I had known this lovely lady for years and so I made myself at home.
For walima number two, my original plan was to go for a traditional Asian outfit. I’ve been a huge fan of Asian couture for years, but after hours of visiting London’s hotspots for Asian wear, Southall, green street and even boutiques in Essex, I’d changed my mind. I found the prices ridiculous for something that wasn’t very well-made, and I knew someone else was most likely to have the same one. I was looking for something with some individuality to it.
When choosing my fabric for Rima, I knew I was looking for a floral print as I wanted to keep the theme of prints going for both dresses. After hours of looking at Oscar de la Renta dresses for inspiration, I fell in love with his use of pleats and flare to create gorgeous and feminine strong statement pieces.
The fabric I had found was a bold floral print and I knew it was the one straightaway, but I was unsure whether I would have the guts to wear it. A few WhatsApp pictures later to Rima, and her approval confirmed it for me. Once the fabric was chosen, the pair of us could really imagine the dress. That said, the end result was rather far from what it had started as at the toile stage. But this dress ended up becoming my dream dress, ten times over! We spent hours on my final toile fitting – the final stage where you can make alterations to the design of your dress before the designer cuts into your fabric.
What I love about Rima is the fact that she’s on the same wavelength as me. She knew what I meant when I described my obsession for incredibly tight arms and waist, and how we had to make sure that the dress wasn’t “fattening”! She appreciated my fussiness and the end result was absolutely perfect with her own Tadmory twist.
She added small pleating to the shoulders of the dress and the back waist, and added a gorgeous curved trail. We ended up going for a dipped waistline to slimline my waist, and the sleeves also had the subtle point creeping onto the back of my hand (again to keep the theme). The dress fit like a glove; I could find no fault with it or Rima’s professionalism in any way.
I styled the dress in a simple taffeta silk turban-style again, and those hot pink River Island shoes. The dress and print were both bold, and so the less jewellery the better. A bouquet was an option, but truthfully I was the bouquet in all that floral print! Again, it would have been too much, with such a statement dress.
Plus, Rima had added some very couture hidden pockets for me to pose with! (Yes, that was a specific request because I have an obsession for pockets in skirts and dresses!)
I loved every minute of getting to know Rima Tadmory and Rhiannon J (both of whom I highly recommend), and cannot thank them enough for creating my dream dresses. There were tears from both of them when they had completed their work and I can understand why. The serious amount of hours, and the literal blood, sweat and tears they put in is unbelievable!
It’s very hard for a bride, especially a hijabi bride, to be genuinely happy with how she looks on her big day. I attribute this to the Muslim fashion world, where designers have seemed to be stuck in a fashion rut over the last few years (but that’s a whole other topic to talk about!).
It’s a huge deal for a client to be happy with designers or dressmakers, and I am very happy with mine.