Contemporary Muslim Fashions

A recent trip to de Young museum in San Francisco transformed a rainy, blustery day into a multi-sense journey back to the Middle East.

Our friends had invited us to join them at the Gauguin exhibit. But when we arrived at the museum, the outside of the building announced another exhibit that caught my attention, and my breath: Contemporary Muslim Fashions. https://deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/contemporary-muslim-fashions

I lived in Abu Dhabi, UAE from 2011 through 2014, and one of the most enduring impressions it made upon me was how the people dressed, particularly the Muslim women. “Covering,” as modest dressing is known, was a topic that I and the other Western expat women I knew pondered, discussed, questioned, speculated about and, above all, came to respect. At times, we longed to emulate it. The elegance. The beautiful cloth, with its unexpected patterns. The graceful swish, the languid drape.

For an extra $5 I could see both exhibitions. With time to spare after Gauguin, I stood in line to upgrade my ticket. Our friends were wandering elsewhere in the museum, my husband opted to wait for them in the lobby and look at his smartphone, and I RELISHED the opportunity to view the exhibit ALONE, just me and my thoughts.

I can’t describe the feeling I had as I entered and went through the exhibit, except to say that it reawakened the feeling of wonder and beauty I had as I discovered traditional Muslim dress, which seemed to be modernizing and evolving. This exhibit is proof that what I saw hinted at, back then, has come to fruition. Nearly every one of these designs dates to 2017 or 2018 – in other words, in the years since I left the UAE. But we all saw it coming.

Entering the exhibit, I was thrilled to see this display of traditional black and white.
The centuries-old screen pattern is common throughout the Muslim world.
Concealed behind it for safety, a princess could view the courtyard without being seen.
This gold trimmed caftan is a traditional style. The cap-style head covering, more modern.
Swarovski crystals decorate the Shadow Abaya by Shadow,
a Kuwaiti design company established in 2015.
This piece was created in 2017.
Muslim women need athletic gear that meets their needs. Nike has stepped up.
Yoga, anyone?
Swimming ensembles.
“Let’s ride!”
Visitors watch a hijabi rap video.
One of the theses of the exhibit is that women cover for many reasons.
And there are legitimate arguments for and against the practice of covering.
From the somewhat traditional …
… to the imaginative …
… to the somewhat outrageous …
… and back to the traditional, Contemporary Muslim Fashion was a feast for the eyes,
the ears, and the sense that all women want to feel beautiful, and be free to be who they are.

The next time you see a woman wearing hijab, or in a modest dress ensemble, take a moment to appreciate and respect her personal choice. It’s a choice that we all make, consciously or not. And if you ever have the opportunity to see a Contemporary Muslim Fashion exhibit, go!

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