A young girl with a British accent speaks quickly into the camera. She shows off her beach attire—an alternative to what she calls the “horrific” burkini: cycling leggings, black-and-white printed head scarf, body-hugging turtleneck and a loose-fitting white scuba top. This is Dina Tokio, an influential Muslim fashion blogger.
In 2007, as the fashion-blog phenomenon was gaining momentum, Mariam Sobh was a Chicago-based journalist who wore her hijab while pursuing a career in TV news. Soon, she created a site called Hijab Trendz, the first online television and podcast entertainment series aimed at Muslim women in the United States. “When I started my website in 2007, I didn't find anyone else out there that specifically blogged about Muslim women's fashion from the perspective of what's hot right now on trends, and how to incorporate what was coming off runways into a look that still adhered to the Islamic requirements,” she tells The Daily Beast. Six years later, Hijab Trendz has evolved from a go-to Muslim style guide into a portal for all things concerning the contemporary Muslim woman. It averages 2 million hits a month and has over 38,000 fans on Facebook.
Now, Sobh has been joined by myriad women who blog on faith and fashion, and who adhere to a lifestyle in which being simultaneously modest and fabulous is possible. Miami-based blogger Yasmine Kanar—who calls herself “Yaz the Spaz”—came onto the scene in 2010, when she launched a series of hijab styling tutorials via YouTube. Her video on pashmina wrapping has over 762,000 views, and she now has 48,000 followers on Facebook and 24,000 followers on Instagram.
Many Westerners believe that traditional Muslim dress—and the vague category of “the veil”—is a sign of male oppression and backwardness. Freedom, we are told, is all about heels and lipstick. But the phenomenon of modern Muslim women testing out adventurous new styles on fashion blogs has proven quite different.
Now, Tokio, who’s half British and half Egyptian, has a headscarf and clothing line called Lazy Doll. She's a contributing columnist for an online Muslim magazine called Aquila. And there’s also New York–based blogger Sabrina Enayatulla, who runs the blog Slice of Lemon (another website for contemporary Muslim women); the Egyptian Dian Pelangi from Dianrainbow, Brooklyn-based half-British, half-Japanese Hana Tajima from Stylecovered, and Canada’s Saman from Makeup and Hijab Styles, just to name a few. What started in 2007 as part of the global blogger boom had peaked by 2009: now, these women are seen as influencers. Many have been summoned by fashion companies to act as representatives, ambassadors, and promoters for different brands.
The media may portray Muslim females as shrouded in black head-to-toe robes, feeding the stereotypical idea that modernism—not to mention fashion—and Islam cannot mix. But, as this crop of popular fashion blogs shows, wearing a hijab can mean a great number of things to a variety of women. Hijab fashion has always been around—but now the Internet has impacted it like never before. “When I started covering, at the age of 13, there weren't any tutorials or guidelines,” Kanar says. “Girls today have it much easier because they have far more sources of inspiration and they have the possibility to feel beautiful inside and out.”
But if the Internet has made hijab fashion visible, it has also proven that hijab can be eclectic. Some hijab fashion bloggers will often wear bold hues of lipstick with smoky eyes and curled lashes, while others prefer a more minimal look. Some of them will wear skinny jeans and heels but, like Yaz the Spaz, they will mix in tops that run down to the mid-thigh area, or choose vibrant palazzo pants with crisp blazers and gorgeous, colorful prints. Others, like Tokio, often wear loose trousers, emphasizing clashing prints, tomboy laid-back ensembles, vintage finds, and lavish jewelry. Sometimes hijab will be wrapped in the likes of a chic Poiret-style turban, while other times it will pop out because of its bright color or bold pattern. Hana from Stylecovered, for instance, will translate the collection of her multiple cultural background into her ensembles: Japanese-inspired silhouettes with high-end British sophistication and urban edge.
When it comes to ideas, Tajima says: “You have to throw out conventions, and look outside of mainstream fashion media. Those two things force you to be creative, and to find new ways of dressing. If you think about the intensely diverse and rich cultural heritage of women who wear the veil, you have such a vast pool of inspiration to draw from. Creatively speaking, you have an incredible starting point.”