Why Has Modest Fashion Become a Trend All of a Sudden?

A new exhibition in San Francisco unpacks “Muslim fashion”

After two years of arduous research and planning, San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museum has announced the launch date of this year’s most highly anticipated exhibition.


The exhibition, entitled Contemporary Muslim Fashions—due to open on 22 September—is the first of its kind in scale and scope and will explore  the style evolution of Muslim fashion around the globe, from the abayas of the gulf, to the turbans widely worn in America and Europe.


Courtesy of Amalina Aman


Although the exhibition’s intention is more than likely to be a showcase of the lives and dress of past and contemporary Muslims (and possibly even an attempt at celebrating Muslims and Islam as a whole) the exhibition begs a question surrounding the premise behind it, that neither the museum nor the exhibition’s curators have provided a clear answer for.


On their website, the museum speaks of “an increased awareness of Muslim dress as an important segment of the global fashion industry”. When asked about the intention behind the project in an interview with French publication Les Inrocks, the exhibition’s curators, Jill d’Alessandro and Laura Camerlengo (both of whom are neither Arab nor Muslim), cited the large Muslim population living in the area surrounding the museum as a qualifier for the institution to host the exhibition.


But most telling was what followed: an attestation to what is likely their biggest motivator. D’Alessandro and Camerlengo go on to discuss the fact that “modest fashion” has recently become one of the largest markets globally. They cite the Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard report detailing the 18% stake in purchasing power modest fashion has amassed as of this year.


This information is neither new nor surprising. At this point, the height of Muslims’ purchasing power is known to everyone around the globe. The number of international brands centring their focus on Middle Easten and Muslim customers nations has steadily increased over the last few years. 2017 saw the launch of Nike’s first hijab, and a few years before that, Dolce & Gabbana—and a few other luxury fashion houses—turned their attention towards the Gulf by creating exclusive collections in celebration of Ramadan and Eid.


Courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana


Despite the blatant capitalistic intentions behind these projects, this shift has been largely celebrated.


And in a sense, we shouldn’t necessarily reject these attempts to include our region—and religion—in global conversations. At the end of the day, the purchasing power our region holds isn’t something that anyone can realistically ignore or push to the backburner.


However, it’s important that we steer clear from false narratives and not fall into the tropes of capitalism masked through a face of ‘inclusivity’.


When it comes to the San Francisco Fine Art Museum’s exhibition—perhaps offering a wider audience a perspective on Muslim style could prove beneficial in a country where a Muslim ban is in effect. Simultaneously however, it’s difficult as an Arab Muslim to ignore the fact that it is just as much a capitalistic opportunity the institution is cashing in on—the same way others have done.


Photo courtesy of Faiza Bouguessa

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