A Makeover for the Hijab, via Instagram: Muslim Women Add Personal Style to a Traditional Garment

August 17, 2014

A few years ago, Ascia Sarrha tracked the fashion blogosphere with frustration. As a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf, known as a hijab, she rarely saw someone who looked like her. A fashion enthusiast from a conservative culture, she decided one answer was to create a blog of her own.

Today Ms. Sarrha, now 24, has close to 900,000 followers on her Instagram feed, ascia_akf, who watch her model a kaleidoscope of stylish, but modest, outfits from brands such as Diesel and BCBG. (Some of her posts are sponsored by businesses in Kuwait, where she is based.) Not so long ago, it was considered radical for a Muslim woman to put a picture of her face online, Ms. Sarrha said in a phone interview. “I was one of the first personal style bloggers to show my face.”

Muslim women in their 20s and 30s are making their own mark on hijab culture, while propagating it in a way particular to the “selfie generation”: by posting pictures and videos of themselves on various social media sites.

“A lot of Muslim girls who wore the hijab got tired of being told that they couldn’t be stylish or that they had to be frumpy or dowdy,” said Melanie Elturk, 29, the founder of Haute Hijab, a Chicago-based company that sells head scarves and modest clothing. Haute Hijab’s Instagram page, which has more than 29,000 followers, is filled with smiling women in an array of bright and floral head scarves looking anything but dowdy.

In the not so distant past, the hijab had a very different image in the West, one that stoked controversy in countries like France and led to stereotypes of oppressed Muslim women.

The style tipping point may have been the release last year of the music video “Mipsterz,” shorthand for Muslim Hipsters, mixed to Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America” that featured urban women dressed in head scarves skateboarding, juggling and doing handstands. Their clothes were more evocative of hipster Williamsburg than a mosque. The video instantly went viral and has been viewed more than a half-million times since December.

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