The modest fashion movement that has upended the global retail industry by normalising long hemlines, high necklines and floaty silhouettes, has shone a light on clothing that’s both stylish and conservative, including the hijab.
Muslim women who wear the head covering – from Halima Aden in the US and Mariah Idrissi in the UK to Sara Al Madani in the UAE – have become the faces of this style revolution that has major fashion houses catering to it.
In 2017, American label American Eagle released a denim hijab, while a year later Nike released the first mainstream sport hijab, proving that even in the realm of hijabs, there's room for innovation.
And now, the market is starting to flourish with a host of accessories specifically made for those who cover their hair.
American entrepreneur Nandi K Barker, who lives in Dubai, observed a hole in the market for a beauty tool that would enhance the experience of putting on make-up while wearing a headscarf. Her recently launched Modbeautykeeper is a fabric border that attaches to the headscarf and protects it from make-up smudges and splashes.
"Watching countless beauty tutorials by hijabi beauty influencers on social media and noticing the pesky stains on the left and right sides of their headscarves inspired the invention of the Modbeautykeeper," she tells The National.
While she doesn’t wear a headscarf herself, Barker conducted market research and says she understands the struggles sometimes faced by this demographic of women. “Whether it’s on-the-go touch-ups in the car or testing out their favourite cosmetics in Sephora, all shared the common issue,” she says. “I also spoke with make-up artists – most opt to align tissue around their client’s hijab to prevent make-up stains.”
For three years, Barker conceptualised, researched and tested the Modbeautykeeper, before launching it in the UAE last month, and she is confident residents will understand the appeal behind the product. “Make-up and fashion is an everyday thing in this region – there are no days off,” she says.
The style dilemmas of women who wear the hijab run deeper than simply selecting which headscarf to wear each morning. There are, in fact, a multitude of accessories that assist with the function and appearance of headscarves, according to Melanie Elturk, founder and chief executive of US-based headscarves brand Haute Hijab.
While Elturk offers a range of jersey, chiffon, satin and silk scarves, the designer says one of her best-selling categories is “underscarves”. These fitted caps are crafted from breathable, stretchy and non-slip textiles with ruched panels at the back that contain the hair, and they’re intended to be worn under the hijab.
Sara Alikhan, a teacher from Dubai, has been wearing the hijab for about 20 years, and says she didn’t wear underscarves when she first started covering her hair. “I was a bit stricter about pinning it,” she says. “Now, if I make sure to wear an underscarf, I don’t have to worry about having my hijab pinned – it prevents it from slipping off, because if you wear a scarf that’s polyester or nylon, not cotton, there’s more chance of it slipping.”
The bands of underscarves can come in different styles. In addition to the basics, Haute Hijab has a criss-cross option that sits at the forehead and, when coupled with a scarf, adds an additional design element to the overall appearance of the head covering.
Women who cover their hair can also experiment with different shaping techniques; even though their hair is covered, how it is styled underneath the scarf can impact the volume, drapery and fall of the scarf. Often Arab women wear their hair in high buns, so their headscarves appear raised above their heads.
“Generally, I wear a scrunchie around my bun as I like to have my hair tied a little bit higher,” says Alikhan, adding the big hair clips that some women often wear helps to give volume to their headwear. Scrunchies, she says, give a nicer shape and overall look. To help achieve this effect of extra, rounded volume, Haute Hijab sells velvet “shaping” scrunchies in small and large sizes.
Hijab pins are another accessory women turn to. These are essentially decorative safety pins that can be used to create various draped looks or simply to ensure a headscarf stays in place.
However, even though these pins have been in the market for years – and are sometimes so ornate, even borderline gaudy, that they resemble brooches – they don’t suit the minimalist aesthetic of many hijabi-wearing millennials today. Some, like Alikhan, opt for regular straight pins instead, which offer a more discreet look.
Elturk’s solution was to launch “no-snag hijab magnets”, which are circular, button-like magnets in glossy gold that achieve the same effect of hijab pins, without snagging or puncturing holes in the fabric of scarves.
These have recently been restocked on Haute Hijab and are sold out on Amazon.ae, but magnet pins are also available from Culture Hijab Co in the US, while Turkey’s Bella Hijabs does bejewelled magnets clasps.
Turbans and hats
Turbans and bucket hats are other clever hijab hacks. The former often come pre-tied and knotted, rather than as long scarves that require constant pinning and adjusting.
Halima Aden, who collaborated with modestwear e-tailor Modanisa to design a range of colourful turbans, told The National: "Your hijab, your turban, your scarf, should not be something that brings hassle to your life; girls should be able to put it on and take 20 seconds, max, to fluff it out."
Meanwhile, some hijab-wearing bloggers are tying the hair up under a bucket hat or wearing their headscarves untied, with either side draped over their shoulders and down their torsos, with a bucket hat to top it off. "One of the main perks is that once you have a hat on, trust that your hijab is not going anywhere and you won’t need to redo it all day,” says Sudanese graphic designer Rihab Nubi from Sharjah.
“Also, a lot of us hijabis struggle with awkward tan lines around the forehead during the summertime, and bucket hats help combat that – we love a trendy and efficient hijab hack.”
The demand is clearly high for specialised products that help streamline and enhance the style regimes of hijab-wearing women, who were historically underserved by the fashion and beauty industries. Products launched within this sector may seem niche, but the industry is brimming with entrepreneurial potential and spending power.