Modern Muslim Women’s Fashion Debuts at San Francisco Museum

27 September, 2018

The head covering is among the most identifiable parts of Muslim women's clothing.

Their choice of dress is often thought of as uncreative and restrictive to many Westerners.

A new exhibit in California shows that the covering used by some Muslim women can be very colorful.

The show, called "Contemporary Muslim Fashions," opened September 22 at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. Visitors can see fashion products from nearly 60 designers from around the world, including the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The clothes are colorful, beautiful and playful. They include high-priced, made-to-order fashions and bright, lively streetwear.

Creating a deeper understanding of fashion

The show is said to be the first major museum exhibition of its kind. Organizers say they hope to create a deeper understanding of the women who are part of the second-largest religion in the world.

Gisue Hariri is one of two Iranian-born sisters whose company designed the exhibit. She told the Associated Press that "Muslim women are being increasingly targeted for using their fashion choices to assert their independence and identity. We hope that this exhibition will allow a positive review and examination of a community that's often talked about, but rarely given the chance to speak and present itself," she said.

In this photo taken Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, a number of headscarves and ensembles are seen in the exhibit Contemporary Muslim Fashions at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.
In this photo taken Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, a number of headscarves and ensembles are seen in the exhibit Contemporary Muslim Fashions at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.

The exhibit comes at a time of conflicts in Western countries over Muslim clothing.

Denmark's government recently barred women from wearing face veils in public. It said the move was needed to ensure public safety and to support Danish values. Austria, Belgium and France have similar laws.

Jill D'Alessandro is the curator for costume and textile arts for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the de Young Museum.

D'Alessandro said ideas for the exhibit started to develop before the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. She said the issue was raised in 2016, when people in France protested a ban on "burkini" swimwear worn by some Muslim women.

At the same time, D'Alessandro said she was seeing examples of stylish "modest fashion" by young Muslim women who also wanted to show their religious beliefs.

Now, modest fashion has become a $44 billion industry, with more Western fashion houses creating products for Muslim people.

Last year, Nike began selling a headscarf made of high-technology fabric. A Max Mara fashion show in 2017 had a model wearing a hijab and a long coat, which is a common look among wealthier Muslim women.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding studies American Muslims. The group released a study that showed most women said they wear a hijab for religious reasons. Only one percent said they were required to do so by family.

Dalia Mogahed, the institute's research director, is happy the de Young Museum agreed to the exhibit. Mogahed is not allied with the show. She says she objects to governments that force Muslim women to cover themselves in a certain way and those that won't let women cover up as they wish.

One of D'Alessandro's favorite finds is a 2012 "Hoody Dress" by British designer Sarah Elenany. She created long-sleeve, knee-length dresses for the Scout Association in the United Kingdom so Muslim girls could play sports and climb. The dresses were worn over leggings.

Also among the pieces is a traditional Pakistani wedding dress by Saba Ali, a San Francisco-area stylist who served as an adviser to the exhibition.

"I feel it's so important in this day and age and the climate we live in. A lot of people don't know Muslims," Ali said. "Art is a means to a conversation for people to get to know a culture or people better."

I'm Phil Dierking.

This story was originally reported by Janie Har for the Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

assert - v. to state (something) in a strong and definite way

curator - n. a person who is in charge of the things in a museum, zoo, etc.

fabric - n. woven or knitted material

fashion - n. a popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people

hijab - n. a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women

modest - adj. not showing too much of a person's body

positive - adj. good or useful

review - n. a report that gives someone's opinion about the quality of a book, performance, product, etc.

veil - n. a piece of cloth or net worn usually by women over the head and shoulders and sometimes over the face

wedding - n. a ceremony at which two people are married to each other