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!

 

 

 

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!)

Beauty Tips for the Trav’lin Woman

I have traveled to 5 continents over the last 10 years and with each trip I learned a little something new about beauty. Where there is beauty there is fashion, where there is fashion there is haute couture. And no matter where in the world you may be, there are many (not) ‘it girls.’ We have all met them. In their own context, within their own country, they think that wearing a combination of caked on makeup, kohl and threads from a 90s music video solidify their position as the hottest thing since fresh baked Krispy Kreme donuts.  Suffice it to say, the misses are many. But among them are a few quintessential hits. Often as overpriced as watermelon at Whole Foods, the hits seem to cost a fortune. That’s what credit cards are for (right, Suze Orman?). Without bemoaning the issue, I’ll simply say that there are 5 beauty lessons for a normal budget that I have learned in my travels. They haven’t failed me yet.

5 – Baby powder ($2-4): This one I first learned in high school, so biggups to Massachusetts suburbs! At the tender age of teens, I learned that I am the notoriously sweaty girl. Back, boobs, pits, if it has a name – it’s sweating. So, at every school dance I was the girl who walked around with paper towels and stood right near the fan. Or (literally, I did this – multiple times) I was liable to wipe my whole face on a guy’s tshirt in the middle of a song. The sweaty face thing I have found to be unavoidable, though some people find blotting sheets ($5) very useful. But, baby powder was awesome with every place else. Don’t lay it on too thick, or else you’ll look like Casper. An even layer on all the important places will do. I’m not sure if it simply blocks your pores or takes your sweat glands out to dinner and a movie, but my powder wing man hasn’t failed me yet.

4 – Eyebrow shavers ($3-5): A colleague and I were in Pakistan talking about the woes of the femmestache. I shared how, originally, I didn’t think mine was that noticeable, but whenever I wore dark lipstick my 5 o’clock femmestache would reappear. And then there were the nice ladies (read: bastards) at the eyebrow threading shop who always asked if I wanted to have my upper lip done too. One day I was too weak to resist and I agreed to what turned out to be the worst idea ever. I felt like someone was pulling the skin off my face one millimeter at a time. So, I tried waxing. Less pain, I thought. Sure, less pain. But as it turns out my upper lip looked 2 shades lighter than the rest of my face and I had bumps and red irritation for a week. This colleague gave the “pishaw!” to all my woes and told me a beauty secret I’ve only told 2 other people in life: Go to your drug store, by a pack of eyebrow razors and use them – liberally – on your upper lip, while in the comfort of your own home! The hair doesn’t grow back thicker, you’ll never cut yourself, you won’t get bumps and you can finally tell those eyebrow ladies to suck it!

3 – Black eye makeup ($2-20): If you’ve ever been to Dubai you know that a woman can be covered from head to toe and still be the most gorgeous creature on the planet.  It seems that Emirati women, like most Muslim and Middle Eastern women, go all out on the eye makeup. Most don’t bother with Wet & Wild colors.  They delve straight into the smoky eye. I was traumatized by a few raccoon eyes in my NJ days and I was a bit skeptical about stealing the kohl look for myself. But, I tried wearing it to carnival in Salvador da Bahia back in 2008 and my eye makeup and I have never parted since. Anybody who knows me knows that no matter how ‘nude’ my look, I feel naked without mascara and black liner. Some situations don’t require using both, but no matter what – eye definition never hurt nobody. Actually, it makes most women’s facial features POP. Not that you asked…but I’m personally not a fan of liquid liner. Any pencil will do. And my favorite mascaras are Cover Girl’s Lash Blast and MAC’s Haute & Naughty Lash Mascara.

2 – Choose your Shoes ($20-$250): I have bought shoes all over the world, and hands down my favorite place to go shoe shopping is in Sao Paulo, Brazil (New York is second and Geneva, Switzerland is a far off third). They are affordable. They are fun. And they are always avant garde. Enough about the shoe shopping capital of my world. The point here is that if you have a good pair of shoes, you have an outfit.  Most of us ladies go from day to evening unexpectedly. But that doesn’t mean our wallets can justify buying a completely new outfit on our lunch break. Who woulda thunk that tonight would be the night that el Hunk-o who works upstairs would call and ask if you want to grab drinks after work? Or that your boss would volunteer you for an offsite speaking event? Well, choose your shoes wisely ladies and don’t be afraid to pack an extra pair (I usually wear flats and keep the real foot candy in my bag). As we speak, I have three pairs of shoes at my desk at work. Sneakers – in case I’m ready to work out or need to Usain Bolt out of the building because of a sudden emergency (yes, I’m changing shoes!).  A pair of black suede pointed toe pumps, because even though they hurt like hell they go with everything.  And a pair of comfortable brown peep toe stilettos, cuz’ you never know when you have to go to an outside meeting with male colleagues. They always walk too damn fast, but expect you to keep up and still be at eye level. Needless to say, having these stock shoes in the office mean that I can come to work wearing flip flops or stripper boots — depending on my mood — and I’m prepared for whatever the day brings. It’s cheaper to change shoes on a whim than to have to buy a wardrobe every time the schedule changes. And, invest the time in finding a good cobbler. It is much easier to maintain a pair of shoes you love than to replace them every time they are nicked.

1- Act your age, not your shoe size (PRICELESS): Perhaps this one is universal, but episodes of Mob Wives would have me believe that Long Island may have missed the memo.  Wear age appropriate clothing! And by age, I don’t just mean the years you have spent on this earth – I also mean the spirit of your body type. When I was 13, I couldn’t wear Mandee’s clothes. Why? Because, I had the body type of an 18 year old, not that of the tween those threads were made for. So, I had to suck it up and move on to other brands that weren’t so offensive to the eye.  That said, there is a lot of variety in the ‘age appropriate’ category, and that’s where you get to wear your common sense on your sleeve, literally.  Knowing  what looks good and feels good on your body requires lots of honest introspection. You better do it girl, because the fashion 5-0 are out there and they’ll write you a ticket and NEVER tell you about your violation. You can’t always trust other people to give you good feedback, so do your homework and wear things that flatter the body you do have – not the body you wish you had. Wear (your clothes) maturely!