Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of a woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (21)

Welcome to the 21st installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Less a song and more of an experience, this week’s selection is an excerpt from one of my favorite movies: Los Tarantos (Spain, 1963). This excerpt of the famous and talented Carmen Amaya, is just a snippet of the flamenco and gitano culture the film richly displays. She brings to life a rich subculture that has also married Arab, Spanish and Romani people. Amaya was born in Barcelona, but traveled the world including to Argentina and New York with her family and her dance company.

#musicamondays #MUSICMONDAYS (2)

Welcome to the second installation of #musicamondays & #MUSICMONDAYS, which features music from around the world. Each song is designed to start your week off with a new energy and new country(ies) to explore! You’re welcome 😉

Oum – Morocco

Bostonian meets Bedouin

JenniferJennifer Barefoot Smith is a world traveler who hails from the great city of Boston. She is a teacher  and college counselor who prides herself on making her students college-ready and world savvy. Jennifer spends her vacations traveling to far flung corners of the world – often alone. Her adventures are many and her experiences diverse. Her goal for this year is to bring her country count up to 70.  Whether she is traveling or at home, she enjoys taking pictures, talking (in various languages), dancing, cooking, and eating. The Howard University alum doesn’t shy away from the road less traveled. And somehow she always manages to return safely and with a smile!

I always enjoy traveling in predominantly Muslim areas: North Africa, Turkey, East Africa, and, this week, the Middle East, Jordan specifically. Generally, the atmosphere is family oriented, bright and richly colored, and inviting. As a woman, I always feel respected and safe—protected almost. As someone who travels frequently, and sometimes alone, this is refreshing and allows me to relax in a slightly different way. While every country is different, of course, there is something in being purposefully respectful and knowing that I will be respected in turn by choosing to be modest. It is also nice to feel that women are appreciated, as a group and as individuals, for more than just their bodies. Call me crazy, but I think that is one of the things that feminism has been arguing for and yet I find Westerners often have a problem with Muslim women covering and with respecting the norms when in majority Muslim countries. Two of my previous trips to Islamic countries have been through European tour groups where the majority of the tourists on the trip wore modest clothing (at least knee-length pants and shirts that were not revealing, i.e. sans décolletage), but there was always someone who insisted on wearing clothing that I would argue was not appropriate for walking around in public other than at a beach, let alone in a Muslim country in the middle of Ramadan. I felt offended. And their constant questions to the guide as to why he couldn’t just have some water or why women had to cover up really bothered me. They could not fathom that someone might be freely choosing to do these things, just as some Christians choose to go to church and others choose not to.

This brings me to why this trip was so great. I was able to travel in the Islamic world with others, enjoying the knowledge that no one in my party would be offensive or disrespectful. Sometimes I think I like to travel alone just to avoid having to babysit someone. This week, however, I traveled with a like-minded friend from college; traveling with friends who know how to travel makes life so much easier. What made this trip even better was that another friend, who works in tourism in Jordan, arranged my itinerary and connected me with her Jordanian friends at each point of my trip. Having personal connections in a new place always makes the experience that much better, and having personal connections in a country as hospitable as Jordan, meant that we got the best treatment ever. (Big up Janine, yuh have Jordan pon lock!) Jordan, like many of the other Muslim majority countries I have visited, subscribes to a brand of hospitality that is unknown in the U.S. I had more tea in the last week than I have had all year, and I do drink tea regularly. Anywhere you go, any store you enter, you are offered, nay, required, to partake in several cups of tea. Everyone checked in with us every day to make sure that we were still doing well and to let us know that if we needed anything they were X amount of minutes away from our next destination and they could be there if we called. Let’s just say I felt taken care of.

As a travel location, Jordan was one of the good ones. Amazing historic sites from several different periods and cultures abound. There are Roman ruins at Jerash, Castles of all types left over from the Crusades and other eras, Holy Land sites in Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Lot’s Cave, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and of course the Jordan River itself. If it were permitted and I wanted to get my feet wet, I literally could have waded across to the Promised Land. It goes without saying that the Dead Sea is relaxing and an experience without parallel on the planet. But it also forms a unique border, the boundary between the Muslim/Arab world and present day Palestine. The West Bank is across the sea, a constant reminder of the political conundrums that occur when a colonial power does what it wants with pieces of land it controls without regard for the people within that land and the future ramifications those actions will have for its inhabitants, and in this case, the world. At the Red Sea, where the snorkeling/diving is lovely and the vibe is very nice, I kept trying to figure out where Egypt and Israel were in the skyline across the water from me, but everyone had the same answer as they pointed to the lights across the way—Eilat. Eventually I surmised that this was a way of not recognizing Israel without stepping on any toes. By only referring to the neighboring land by the name of the city with whom they shared a shoreline, rather than the state whose existence is in conflict with their beliefs, they did not have to come right out and say that the land next to them was being illegally occupied. They also did not usually refer to it as Palestine either. In fact, guides, drivers, and other people we encountered referred to the cities across the border rather than the larger political entity. At the Dead Sea, I was looking at Jericho, full stop. As a country that is immensely affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with millions of Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan for several decades, I am surprised it did not come up more often, but I am sure if I stayed longer than a week in the areas most affected by the conflict, it would become more apparent. When I came home, someone said to me, “Jordan, aren’t they in the middle of everything?” And yes, they really are. There is conflict occurring around them on every side except for their southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia; in addition to the decades of Palestinian refugees who have sought safety within their borders they have been receiving refugees from Syria too.

But for me the best part of Jordan had nothing to do with it being a welcoming Arab country or the site of ancient Biblical events. For me Jordan’s greatness was in the desert. The night stars, the rocky cliffs, the moon, the peacefulness, and the timelessness of it all. Petra is breathtaking and unique—a funky architectural mix of columns, cylindrical shapes, caves and amphitheaters. Nestled in a valley of equally funky rock formations rising out of the ground, these colorfully changing, soft sandstone walls and craggy formations look simultaneously smooth and like God dripped melted wax in erratic designs that solidified into odd chunks that we behold, here and there today. Nature and wilderness abound with numerous wadis, nature reserves, and springs. We stayed at Feynan Eco Lodge where everything is run by solar power, or candles, and you can hike, star gaze, or be a Bedouin goat herder for a day. We viewed Saturn and its rings in a high-powered telescope calibrated for us by a Bedouin, who then showed us where to watch Scorpio rise over the mountains and stayed up watching shooting stars while he and another friend made us tea on a fire powered by the compacted resin refuse from pressed olive oil. We were lucky that our visit coincided with a yearly meteor shower, but I have a feeling that shooting stars are not an anomaly in this landscape. And thanks to Janine, we slept in the desert, not at one of the many camps that dot Wadi Rum, but just in the middle of nowhere next to her Bedouin friend’s jeep, on a carpet, with some Bedouin mattresses and sleeping bags under the stars, with some great food, and of course, more tea.

Jennifer’s photos from Jordan:

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D.C. got 99 problems…

1932237_10100627586708015_1634286194_nEvery once in a while I like to live the glamorous life. I emerge from behind the screen, out of the shadows of my EMUs, and over the bridge into D.C. proper. Often, this inclination is met with ill-fated results, but I’ve got a mean case of revolving door, selective memory.

Nevertheless, Delhi left me with lots of fine jewelry and the stamina for a demanding social life. With Delhi behind me, though, I have no good place to use these gifts. So, last week my desperation led me to search “fashion” in D.C. on eventbrite. The event I selected was D.C. Fashion Week’s International Couture Collections show and, let’s just say, it turned out to be such a hot mess that I decided to rush back home, cozy up on my couch with a tall glass of Voga Pinot Grigio, and get these fingers tickling my keyboard.

D.C. is not Delhi and I mean that in the most insulting way to the District. Delhi has its flaws, but fashion is not one of them.  Only the top hotels are venues for showings and only the top designers get to show. Apparently, in D.C. there was an open call for whoever just happened to wear clothes on a daily basis. First, the show opened with the models just walking down the runway in black clothes. They didn’t announce their names or tell us why we were subjected to a runway walk without a purpose. Were these black clothes those of any particular designer? No, sir. They appeared to be the models’ own. First problem identified. “A fashion show with no fashions!” I didn’t sign up for this!

DSCF3032What I did sign up for was the show of the featured designer Menouba. She hails from Algeria and her clothing is an Arab-French fusion of well embroidered jackets and aladina pants. And while it’s not the very best I’ve ever seen, I was definitely impressed with the intricacy and the tailored fit of her jackets. The Menouba show was followed by a Pakistani-American designer and a lady from D.C. Sequins and polyester heavy, none of their clothes were altered to fit the models. I could go on and on, but just watching them made me feel itchy. In sum, their shows were so disappointing I didn’t bother to take photos. Second problem identified.

Before an intermission – yes, chile an intermission at a fashion show – the host decided to do interviews with the designers. (Q: Where they do that at? A: D.C., baby) So, he calls out the designer for Menouba from the back to ask about her inspiration and her design process. At the I-N-T-E-R-N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L show you’d think they would have realized that she does not speak English! No, no – the host just decided to speak slower. Whhhaaat iissss yoouurrrrrr iiiinnssspppiiirraaaattttttiiioooonnnn? #shamefaced A very sweet young lady went on the stage to serve as a French interpreter and that just saved the whole travesty.

DSCF3045Post intermission, there was yet again another real foreign designer followed by two other eye sores. I don’t personally like to wear alpaca wool, but I could see why the Peruvian Varignia Garcia featured it in her fall/winter collection.  So, before I even get into the clothes, let’s just discuss how the lovely folks at D.C. Fashion week spelled the poor girl’s name wrong all up and through the show.

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Garcia’s designs were bohemian and warm. I could have done without the matching purses, but she produced a line with an identity and I can roll with the Peruvian punches. You know that I love a good warm scarf and I could imagine curling up with one and a tall glass of pisco! She was dishing the goods in the outerwear department. I don’t remember the sequence exactly, but I believe she was followed by a Nigerian designer and Rikaoto. I dont know… why waste time or energy on things that don’t matter?

IMG_0678I could talk about the two sisters who sang an Adele medley duet, but just quit in the middle with no coordination. One of the girls was on the Voice last season, she said. In fact, they were both pretty girls with nice voices and cute shapes, but limited lung capacity to actually carry any Adele song. They will be brilliant models or rocket scientists one day – or whatever they aspire to be – after they stop singing at fashion shows in D.C.

My last and final critique rests with the fact that the host transformed into a designer and released his line, Corjor International – apparently an odd acronym combining the first letters of his three sons’ names. (There was nothing international here, by the way.) All I know is that I saw a lot of men walking around in their underwear. This girl hasn’t seen her man in almost six months, so part of me was happy – very, very happy. The other part was confused – very, very confused. Since when are sheer pants on a man a wearable piece? Third problem identified. Oh, there clearly were no buyers present.

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This dude used his paternity to create an underwear line called “Magnum.” Sigh. The rest of the men’s wear was clearly a mix of original pieces with others made by established designers. It remains unclear what was designed and what was store bought. Yet, another design faux pas brought to the fore. But, the women’s line showed some potential with interestingly light fabrics on non-traditional sized models.

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All in all, my companion and I decided that the next time we’re heading to a fashion week event in America it’s New York City or bust! I really wish the Fashion Queens had a chance to see D.C.’s efforts and rule it ratchet. But, in their absence, I take it upon myself to declare that this was one of the most hilarious nights out I’ve had in a long time. I’m sad to say it was at a lot of other people’s expense, but such is life. If it doesn’t involve Capitol File, the Corcoran, the Lisner, the Smithsonian, or some element of the U.S. government…. you won’t catch me at anybody’s fashion event in D.C. ever again. Problems solved.

International designers I love:

Tufi Duek – Brazil

House of Masaba – India (and West Indian)

Gauri & Nainika – India

Aschobi – Sierra Leone/ Paris (See if you can spot me in the 2012 audience!)