A unique style of Muslim fashion is flourishing in Australia, where women increasingly choose to combine global trends with their faith.
Muslim women’s style and identity are explored in a new exhibition called “Faith, Fashion, Fusion” at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum.
Curator Tasneem Chopra says it’s about challenging perceptions of Muslim fashion.
“If people can come out of this exhibition and learn something they didn’t know, have a stereotype challenged, turned on it’s head, that’s what it’s all about.
Australian Muslims come from more than 70 different ethnicities – each with their own language and dress code.
But Ms Chopra says things are changing.
“Over a third of the Muslim community here are born here, and over half the population are under 25,” he said.
“It’s youthful, it has a very strong Australian identity.
“And I think that does inform the fashion because what you’re seeing is a lot of existing or contemporary fashion trends being appropriated to comply with I guess you might say Islamic standards of modesty.”
Sociologist Susan Carland says there’s no reason why Muslim women can’t combine faith and fashion.
“The only I suppose adjective that I wouldn’t use to describe the way a Muslim woman dresses when she’s outside the house is ‘sexy’,” she said.
“Everything else – you know, stylish, attractive, beautiful, pretty, feminine – all of those sort of things, different progressive, whatever – there’s no problem with any of that.”
The change has seen a new generation of Muslim women in Australia making their mark in stylish, edgy and distinctive fashion.
Dr Nasya Bahfen, senior lecturer in the Journalism and Media Centre at the University of New South Wales, says what’s emerging is a distinctly Australian Muslim style.
“What’s happening with Muslim women and their clothing choices in Australia – I think it’s a microcosm of what’s actually happening with the Muslim community in Australia,” she said.
“It is consolidating and becoming an Australian Muslim community – as opposed to a community that was say Indonesian Muslim, or Turkish Muslim, or Lebanese Muslim.”
Sociologist Susan Carland says the Australian Muslim women’s look has a clear Western flavour.
She says while modesty remains the cornerstone, there’s been a noticeable change in Muslim fashion in Australia over the last decade.
“I look back and 10 years ago there were very few options,” she said.
“What we did have was kind of ugly and also just very much suited to a different place.
“What would be stylish and appropriate in one country – it just didn’t transfer well to here for whatever reason.”
Dr Bahfen says Muslim women are bringing their interpretation of modesty to Australian fashion choices.
“One of the things I really like doing is going to a particular store and “hijabifying” the outfit,” she said
“I’ve gone up to someone on a tram and said I really like your dress where did you get it, and she’ll tell me and I ‘ll go and get the dress and mix it up.
“So I’ll wear it with jeans or leggings, or I’ll add something to it to make it work in terms of covering parts of my body that I think need to be covered.”
Designer, Gertha Imelda’s philosophy is to make women feel beautiful and present the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression.
She says she finds inspiration in Australia’s diversity, as well as in vintage stores and markets.
“I love the mix of everything,” she said.
“People going to op shops, or recycling stuff – it just really inspires me; from my background.
“From Indonesia everything is full of colours – I love colours and I don’t think I could live without colours.
Shanaaz Jacobs-Copeland designs hijab-friendly evening wear, and says Muslim women and girls don’t need to expose everything to be beautiful.
“Young girls now they are so impressionable by going through Vogue magazines – formals are coming up – special occasions, weddings and they want to look the part and feel gorgeous and glamorous,” she said.
“So I think with all these Muslim designers they’ve come up with amazing designs and we’re stepping into a new dimension.”
Tasneem Chopra says the spread of social media is also allowing young Muslims around the world to influence each other’s fashion choices.
“What really has literally changed…my dress inspiration on it’s head is social media,” she said.
“This morning I got up and I looked at my Instagram and saw somebody – I think maybe she was in Poland – she had a particular style of hijab and I just copied that and put it on.”
Susan Carland says the online world has also opened up new markets for Australian designers to sell their designs.
“I find I’m starting to order so much on-line I’m having to hide the packages from the family,” she said.
‘[I say] “oh, what’s the delivery man doing here again.. it must be for next door” – so I think I need to rein in the online shopping a bit to be honest.”