According to Webster’s dictionary, fashion is described as “the prevailing style of dress or the prevailing custom”. Different countries have different fashion. For example, in America, fashion plays a big role in society. It means that Americans wear clothes for various reasons, like protection, religion, identification, and attention. Americans also follow famous people in terms of clothing trends and guidance on fashion. But in Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, people cover their bodies for various reasons including religious, attention, protection, as well as for identification purposes. Although the styles of dresses and dressing differ, the reasons and influences for the people in Middle East and America in dressing are almost similar.
The religion a region is associated with can have a defining choice for a particular style of clothing. According to the Statistics of Muslim Population, Islamic people represent about 22% of the world’s total population and most of them are concentrated in the Middle East and they make the second largest religion in the world. Therefore, the dominant religion in the Middle East, Islam, greatly affects fashion and style in this part of the globe. The Muslim Bible, called the Qur’an or Koran, has different teachings both to men and women on modesty and its importance, and so guides on what the people should wear in many ways. Islam however has no fixed standards as to the type or style of clothing that Muslims ought to wear, but it is worth nothing that there are requirements that have to be met. It is generally accepted that the appropriate clothing here should be modest and should not be excessively fancy like jewelry as gold or silver.
How Women in the Middle East Show Their Sense of Style
Generally, in the Middle East, women are required to dress to reflect a woman’s environment, religious beliefs, traditions, personality as well as her personal taste that can reflect on the prevailing fashion trends. But again it depends on the individual country. In a country like Kuwait, most women dress in western clothes simply because there is no dress code, but clothing should be modest or chosen from a verity of traditional arrays. However, in countries like Iran, there are government guidelines that have to be met for modest purposes and this involves wearing a combination of the hijab (which is the headscarf) with a long overcoat that can conceal arms, and legs (called the abaya). (Middle Eastern dress Vocabulary, 2).
In the Middle East, women are required to wear the following dresses:
Thawb – this is a loose, but long sleeved ankle-length garments that may have a neck and the embroidered front part as well as decorated with beads.
Salwar – this are cotton/silk pants that are worn under the thawb.
Abaya – this is a large black cloak that is worn over the thawb and flows around the whole body. The Iran women usually refer to the abaya as chador. But due to emerging difference in fashion, women are allowed to wear fashionable clothing under their abaya instead of thawb.
Hijab – this is a distinctive headscarf that is worn around the head. It is tied and tucked at the back mainly to help conceal the hair and part of the forehead, but it leaves the face unveiled. Women are required to cover everything except their face, feet and hands. In Islam, the word hijab means modesty and therefore refers to the responsibility that women have to retain in order to prevent attracting the opposite sex.
Niqab – this is a veil that covers the face and can be worn as part of the hijab. In Saudi Arabia, Muslim women are required to wear both the hijab and the niqab but the niqab is optional for non-Muslim women (Middle Eastern dress Vocabulary, 3-4).
Howeve, the fashion was recently redefined in the Internet. In the last decade, the fashion industry has changed from an exclusive world of magazines and use of established editors to a greater community that is accessible to a wider society and especially to those who can access computers and appreciate style. It means that Internet has given rise to a very distinct cultural movement and Middle East has not been left behind. The Middle East, as can be shown through the example of Morocco, especially in major towns like Casablanca, has emerged as a fashion city in the world. A significant economic liberalization in the Middle East with increased work opportunity for both men and women has influenced the growth of fashion. It is worth nothing what was established by international brand chains like Zara, Sandro, Galariea Lafayette and Elite Model Management have their offices opened in major cities in the Middle East. These towns, including Casablanca in Morocco, do host a fashion week, which is smaller than the one held in cities like Paris, Milan or New York (Smith).
According to Forbes.com, the Middle East Fashion Week is now a regular activity. It reports of an event in the Sultanate of Oman, a three days event that shows designer collections from different countries in the Middle East including Oman, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Several women mingled in the city’s capital in their decorative Abayas and headscarves and greeted each other with champagne. The men were not allowed in the first two evenings but married men were allowed on the last day only if they attended with their wives. It seems that the fashion industry has gotten a bite from the western world. As forbes.com reports, a renowned designer, Robert Abi Nader from Lebanon, started the show by showcasing mostly western collection including miniskirts, wedding dresses, and plunging necklines. There were models too! They wore platform heels that were sometimes seen to be too high that one stumbled. Another designer, Nawal Al Hooti, showed her designs that were made by designing traditional Oman collection and modern collection. Silver Arabic jewelry is allowed and even straight-leg embroidered pants. It shows how women have been liberalized and they have changed a lot, so they are now allowed to copy western designs. Another designer Amina Al Jasmin, from Saudi Arabia, started showcasing her collection with a black fabric, she then moved to a bright jewel tones for the flowing dress she was wearing. The dress was lime green, covered with a translucent jacket and worn open to expose the midriff of the model. Her collection further included an intrigue head covering with metallic turbans and hats, echoing the Turkish fezzes. Interestingly, her sister had a Vouitton handbag showing the extent of assimilation of the western outfits in these Middle Eastern women (Middle East’s Fashion Week – Forbes).
For the stylish Middle East women, there is no solitary answer to what it means to be stylish. The taste and preferences have changed and the focus now remains on the women sharing an engaged phenomenon across the different cultural differences. An example of a street style in Morocco helps to understand how it has helped to foster an appreciation for what women chose to wear, and to what extent they can incorporate trends into their own lives (Smith).
Men’s Wrath on Changing Mode of Dressing in Middle East
It is allegedly against the Muslim religion to dress “inappropriately” and as such. Muslim men have reacted angrily to the changing fashion trends among Muslim women. They feel that the women are exposing themselves too much. The men, who are the majority in government, have opted to discipline the wayward women. An example is in Iran where the regime agreed that women who get “out of line” can be beaten. It is alleged that women who are not dressed appropriately could be beaten and dragged by religious police. Most men believe that there are standards that need to be followed and that respect has to be there for all people. They feel that if women want to address the way they want, then they should do it at their homes but not spread the “bad habits” for all people to see (Jihad Watch).
Middle East Women in Europe
The report by Wendlandt and Fuchs in Reuters shows that the Middle East women are some of the biggest buyers of high fashion especially when they are in western countries like Europe. This is surprising considering that these women are usually under wraps (in the hijab and veil) in their own countries in the Middle East. The report indicates that the traditional buyers of designer clothes are mainly members of the royal families, expatriates and rich industrial families. The trend for buying high fashion clothes tends to pick during their social calendar including more than a dozen weddings a year, private parties each month and thus creating a bigger demand for fashion design and a high society party in Europe or America. The head of a Christian Dior in Paris was quoted as saying that all royal families from the Middle East are their customers especially during the Paris Fashion Week. These customers have also shown to have a fetish for designers from Lebanon including the famous Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab.
For fashion executives, they reckon that Middle East women will remain to be the top couture in Europe and even North America. Interviewing a daughter of a major construction tycoon from the Middle East was discovered that she wanted to be different from other people. She wanted unique, chic and extravagant stuff. It was established that she makes regular flights between the world’s top fashion cities like Paris, Dubai, Beirut, and London and she is a regular buyer of a couture. For these types of women, couture is not only a symbol of success but also social status. They want to shine at parties and even impress potential mothers-in-law. The women are said to opt for dresses that use a lot of gems, crystals or are heavily embroidered.
Women of the Middle East love fashion but this is limited by their religious affiliation: Islam. According to the Koran, men and women are meant to dress modestly. For women modesty is interpreted to cover all other body parts except the face, hands and feet. Women generally dress modestly when they are in their own countries in the Middle East with some combination of western style as long as it is deemed modest. But when they are out of the country and say in Europe, women are seen to have a high sense of fashion and dress in high end designer clothes. They love to show success and their social status thus going for couture especially during weddings or social functions. Men have however warned women against exposing themselves in the name of fashion. Women in Iran have been beaten if they are deemed to dress inappropriately.