The high street’s interpretation of Ramadan fashion is falling short of what Muslim women actually want from their clothes during the holy month.
As a Muslim fashion enthusiast, I admit I’m thrilled that Western retailers have begun paying notice to the style preferences of modesty-conscious consumers. I can’t help but beam when seeing visibly-Muslim models on runways and magazine covers, and I’m quite happy to see brands pay special focus to Muslim women during the month of Ramadan – when they represent us authentically, that is.
Last week, I received an email from one of my most-frequented high street stores. The headline was titled “Best outfits for the holy month” and sat above was an image of a woman dressed in a shimmery, predominantly sheer look; the skirt was lined to the thigh, and the top was worn open to reveal the navel and a plunging neckline. It was a sexy outfit, completely missing the modesty mark and was hardly a look synonymous with Ramadan for most Muslims. An Instagram poll of 160 women revealed that, like me, 95% were shocked or disappointed to see this photo marketing Ramadan fashion.
With modesty having become a buzzword and lucrative business opportunity, Ramadan fashion is now a commercial bandwagon for brands to jump on – sometimes with little knowledge about what the month actually entails for Muslim women. While H&M’s Ramadan range this year successfully features warm summer tones and silhouettes that are conservative-chic, complete with pleats and floral prints, other high street brands’ sponsored Instagram posts show collections containing thigh-high slits and midriff cut-outs.
“Ramadan fashion has become a commercial bandwagon for brands to jump on – sometimes with little knowledge about what the month actually entails for Muslim women”
The “Ramadan Rush” is a phrase coined by British retailers for this now-mainstream shopping season. This year’s Ramadan fashion hysteria seems to be more amplified when compared to Ramadan 2020, which was spent under lockdown due to Covid-19, and Ramadan 2021, when social distancing was still recommended.
While the holy month may regain its social element this year, some Western retailers’ overly glamourised approaches to their Ramadan collections fail to resonate with Muslim women like me, who seek spirituality, simplicity, modesty and comfort during this time. The spirit of Ramadan – fasting to empathise with those less fortunate, giving to charity and praying regularly – aims to purify one’s inner soul rather than focusing on worldly, material distractions.
Personally, while curling up on the couch reading the Quran or while praying, I prefer loungewear or roomy cotton dresses, as opposed to the more formal designs covered in embellishments that seem to dominate fashion’s ill-advised Ramadan campaigns. If I am updating my wardrobe for Ramadan, I’ll invest in clothing with longevity instead of a kaftan that I might wear a handful of times in the month, only for it to collect dust in my closet for the rest of the year.
However, the new mainstream marketing of Ramadan fashion is a refreshing sign of inclusivity towards a demographic that has long been ignored. “Muslim clients and consumers are now regarded as an asset rather than being treated with aversion,” says Professor Reina Lewis of London College of Fashion, who has authored numerous books on modest fashion, including Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures. Yet, there has been talk among Muslims about whether tacking the “Ramadan” label on to clothing collections is a genuine attempt at inclusivity or merely a marketing gimmick to capitalise on Muslim spending power. After all, the 2022 State Of The Global Islamic Economy Report projects modest fashion to become a $375 billion market by 2025.
“The spirit of Ramadan – fasting to empathise with those less fortunate, giving to charity and praying regularly – aims to purify one’s inner soul, rather than focusing on worldly, material distractions”
Regardless of brands’ intentions, there’s still much work to be done within this market niche, from moving beyond basic style stereotypes to ensuring authentic representation. Lamisa Khan, the co-founder of UK-based creative community Muslim Sisterhood, tells me that she finds many British brands’ Ramadan designs boring and monotonous, relying too heavily on nudes and satins. “I think when it comes to modest fashion, brands assume that we all dress homogenously,” says Khan. “I’d love to see more cottons, linens and more flattering silhouettes, maybe even co-ords.”
Rather than designing new garments from scratch, she suggests that brands simply make more modest versions of their current offerings. “I often find that when shopping for dresses, you’ll find the perfect maxi dress but it’s backless or has a thigh-high slit; if those designs were just made to meet a modest dresser’s needs that would be ideal,” she explains.
During Ramadan, Khan, like me, prefers to stay home and concentrate on the spiritual significance of the month. “I’m looking for comfortable wear that is easy to pray in; I’m not really dressing for an external gaze,” she says. “I think the best way for brands to cater to Muslim needs as a whole, regardless of Ramadan, is to speak to Muslim shoppers and hire Muslim designers who understand the requirements.”
“I often find that when shopping for dresses, you’ll find the perfect maxi dress but its backless or has a thigh-high slit; if those designs were just made to meet a modest dresser’s needs that would be ideal”
While unrelatable designs might be one turn-off for mainstream Ramadan fashion, photographing them on unrelatable models is equally off-putting. “Sometimes [brands] are not even using Muslim models for the campaigns,” says Khan, who through Muslim Sisterhood has collaborated with names like Nike Swim and Office Shoes to produce campaigns featuring Muslim women.
While some brands continue to market their Ramadan fashions on Caucasian models, occasionally even styling them with headscarves, Asos is one retailer that works with diverse Muslim women while promoting its Ramadan style edits. Hijabi fashion influencer Salima Oui is currently featured on the website’s home page for its Ramadan edit, which contains over 500 modest designs, ranging from tiered dresses to sporty tracksuits. Salima was approached by Asos to style some of its designs and given full creative freedom to build her outfits.
“My style is almost the same for Ramadan since I treat it like a normal day running around during my errands,” she explains. “Mostly I gravitate towards everyday modest or sports outfits since I like to work out right before iftar (when Muslims break their fast after sunset).”
Perhaps this approach – curating modest edits, as Asos, Net-a-Porter and Farfetch do, rather than creating limited capsule collections that cater to tired stereotypes – will resonate more effectively with Muslim women. If there’s anything our demographic has proven in the past few years, from the political arena to the fashion industry, it’s that we are diverse and don’t appreciate being pigeonholed. And while we may dress well, those of us striving to embody the essence of Ramadan are not seeking consumerist fashion splurges this month.
Perhaps we should treat these marketing ploys to plunder our pockets as a test of our perseverance to focus on our spirituality – though garments like Gucci’s crystal logo-covered, floral-patterned kaftan for Ramadan offer enticing distractions indeed.