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The Problem with Fashion When it Comes to Faith

“It always feels like women who wear hijab are ignored when it comes to fashion,” Mariah Idrissi said.

The 23-year-old fashion model knows what she’s talking about. This past September, during her first time working with a large company, Idrissi stepped up as the first hijab-clad model to be featured in an ad by a mainstream brand. Close the Loop, produced by H&M to encourage the recycling of clothing in fast-fashion markets, featured many customers who often go unnoticed. Some say that the best part of the ads is seeing the models express their faith alongside their fashion sense.

“H&M’s campaign was a huge move for those of us on the modest fashion blogging front,” Sobia Masood, an International Trade and Marketing major and fashion blogger, said. Masood, who wears the hijab as well as turban-style scarves in her interpretation of hijab, shared her beliefs with The Huffington Post in 2014. “Islam doesn’t tell us exactly what to wear. Rather, it gives us a certain guideline — and every Muslim woman has the right to interpret it how she wants to,” She continued, “Hijab and fashion are not mutually exclusive. Just as fashion is a form of self-expression, hijab is a form of religious self-expression.”

Because of her blog,  Masood has met many women that the fashion industry has failed to cater to. Instead of having a simple, stress-free shopping trip, women from all different faiths struggle to find a garment that they can comfortably wear as is — or style into wearability.

“It is a struggle for a lot of women — even those who are not religious — to find a garment that is flattering but doesn’t show everything,” Ayala Tiefenbrunn, a Communication Design major, said. As an Orthodox Jew, she said she believes every person comes into the world with a mission. “My personal mission is to dress in a way that helps me to be a better person. Modesty holds me to a standard because people remember me and what I do since I dress differently.”

As part of her faith observance, Tiefenbrunn dresses more conservatively than the majority of women her age. In order to dress in accordance with her faith, she often buys basics from Israel to wear under all the clothing she buys here in the U.S. “I wouldn’t want to place my personal preferences on everyone in the world. But I know there are more women out there like me who are looking for clothing to suit their lifestyle.”

And there are. Not only do Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women have a difficult time finding clothing that does not need to be altered, but many Christian woman do as well. Soobin Im, a freshman in Fashion Merchandising and a fashion blogger, faces similar challenges when shopping on a budget. “Modesty to me is not just limited to the clothing choices I make. It’s the way I speak, carry myself and act towards others,” Im said. “But where it does apply to how I dress, it can be difficult to find clothing that I feel comfortable in and can afford.”

One only has to do a little research to find that Im’s statement rings true. Long skirts tend to have huge slits and little to no lining, while shirts are typically low-cut or thin enough to showcase a woman’s bra. For the modest customer who adheres to even the fewest guidelines, shopping and getting dressed in the morning can be a chore. And while brands like Shabby Apple, ModCloth and MikaRose offer more conservative and attractive clothing options, most of their pieces retail at a price point higher than the average college student, struggling to balance coffee and design school supplies, can afford.

H&M seems to be setting a great standard with its latest campaign, but the question is whether other brands are going to step up to the plate as well.  While the desire for religious affiliation appears less important among millennials as a whole, one only has to speak briefly with a religious millennial to realize that they take their faith very seriously. This is a worry for fast-fashion companies because a young woman who continually has trouble finding modest clothing at their stores is likely to cross them off her list.

“In my opinion, modesty means dressing in a way that shows your inner confidence, but above all, your dignity,” Im said. “That’s not something I’m likely to compromise.” The modest customer wants to feel beautiful as well, without having to compromise her religious expression or drain her bank account.

Tiefenbrunn summed it up best: “I think that all women should have the opportunity to feel beautiful, and it’s the industry’s responsibility to enable all of their customers to do that. If that’s not what’s happening then something is flawed in the system.”

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