Aamina Farooqi
5 March 2022

Tweed jacket. Platform wedges. Pink hijab. 

Staring at my old sketchbooks strategically tucked under my bed, I shake my head in embarrassment at my fashion sense as a child. Wedges? I hate wedges. I’m reassured by the fact that my purpose was not merely in the style of the clothes but who I had in mind while designing them.

I remember how I felt designing those outfits–half bitterness, half pure delight. Every shopping experience was filled with “no” upon “no,” not because I was picky or had some vendetta against department stores, but because I felt the clothes did not align with me for a reason I couldn’t put into words at the time. The delight was fueled by an interest in fashion from the time I was old enough to remember original airings of What Not to Wear (another choice of mine that I now cringe at the thought of). More notably, my mom inspires me, whose unique personal style proves that fashion does not have to result in compromising personal values.

I used to spend entire evenings studying her every move on the nights she would go out. Perhaps to a wedding, dinner–some place I definitely did not want to be as a nine-year-old. My joy came from being included in her creative process. Which necklace do you think? The silver or gold? How about my jacket? Do these match? I almost squealed each time she asked for my advice. I learned most during the moments of silence, of intense deliberation where I could sense the thought and intention she contributed towards every decision. More specifically, I noticed all of the opportunities she had but didn’t take to sacrifice her physical modesty for an easier, more accessible presentation.

Embracing an interest in fashion within my religious identity did not go beyond my mother’s bathroom, however. In search of some semblance of authenticity, I remained hindered by a growing consciousness of how others saw me. I no longer embraced the practice of hijab as I once did in amateur crayon drawings. I was restricted by the expectation to be who I knew the increasingly-Islamophobic world wanted me to be. A heightened awareness hovered over me, carefully monitoring my every thought to make sure I never said anything that could be perceived as too bold, daring, or different, no matter how sincere it really was. I just wanted to be normal, and, at the time, I felt like being Muslim fell completely outside of that. I began to see the practice of physical modesty the way I was told to: something other, and, as a result, undesirable in the exclusive world of fashion that has historically neglected and refrained from incorporating Islamic dress into the mainstream.

My sense of belonging has since been shaped by a struggle to grasp onto myself in a society that regards my existence as a flaw. As defeated as I felt amidst the overwhelming misinterpretation of Islam in my childhood, the realization of the stark contrast between its perception and reality reinvigorated my drive to pursue my passions. I have been forced to see the difference in what is said and what is true–a cognizance I often repressed for the sake of temporary ease. Placing pressure on myself to abide by what is deemed “fashionable” in order to somehow soften the distinctness of my hijab is not only immensely difficult due to its identifiable quality but goes against exactly what modest dressing aims to do in a religious context. If I am going to be visibly Muslim, and therefore visibly myself, why not do so unconditionally? The crisis I previously experienced every time I stood in front of my closet faced with the choice of dressing the way I saw myself and the way I knew others wished to see me slowly subsided into no more than a lingering hum that, though controllable, still manages to remind me of where I started. In those moments of relentless back-and-forth, remembering my mom offers me a glimmer of grace and rationality. Despite having no reason other than personal conviction to preserve physical modesty, she proved the virtue of dressing with intention, rather than solely “in fashion.”

While still being the only visible Muslim in most spaces I enter, I am no longer bothered by the burden to positively represent through my clothing what is likely irredeemable. What once used to be the origin of my frustrations is now my greatest source of motivation, and I celebrate the commitment to represent myself in accordance with my principles instead of others’. “Modest fashion” should not be confined to the paradox it is currently understood as in the fashion industry, and I know now more than ever that I should look upon those sketchbooks tucked under my bed and memories in my mother’s bathroom not with shame and embarrassment but with pride and satisfaction.

I still don’t like wedges, though.