The Painted Veil

Post by CM

When you travel around Asia on a rapidly decreasing supply of money, and clothes that have been worn and re-worn too many times, the fashion conscious among us begin to take more and more notice of the style of those around us, from fresh off the plane tourists and gap year students to the gorgeously dressed locals.

When TM and I finished a stint of teaching in Korea we decided to take the long way home and one of the countries we ended up in was Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with a rich heritage, vast history and beautiful culture. Because Malaysia considers itself a multi-ethnic and multicultural country the style stakes are really varied, and one thing that stands out are the brightly coloured scarves adorning the heads of Muslim women.


Malaysia has a religiously tolerant society and hijabs aren’t enforced. There are a great number of women, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who don’t wear the garment, but those who do tend to choose prints and colours to reflect their outfit or bring out the colour in their eyes. I came across a magazine called Cleo when I was there, a sort of Cosmopolitan equivalent, and one of the questions posed to the beauty pages was how to best match a hijab with skin tone and makeup.

Good Malaysian
How to be a Good Malaysian Woman Exhibion: Read about it in this Elle Malaysia article here.

While makeup is a huge industry in some Muslim countries (in Iran women are estimated to go through a tube of mascara every month, compared with France’s one every four months), it can be easy to forget that Muslim women who wear a scarf can be interested in fashion too, particularly if what’s brought to mind when you conjure an image is that of a woman in a long black abaya and completely covered face. It’s probably come as a surprise to quite a few people then, that Dolce and Gabbana has launched a hijab and abaya collection.

Dolce and Gabbana Abaya A/W16

There’s an interesting article on the increasing demand for Ramadan collections here, a season brands are picking up on to target the month’s growing status as a time to shop. Young Muslim women with money is a demographic that’s only getting bigger, and designers are realising that it’s time to cash in on that.

It’s a fascinating time for fashion. Dolce and Gabbana is so known for its va-va-voom femininity and here it is now, adorning the modest flowing gowns and headscarves with lace and its signature prints. Those who favour a more modest dress style have been noticed more by the fashion world for a while now however – remember when it was revealed back in 2012 that Oliva Palermo was a style icon for those of the Orthodox Jewish faith, with her covered up but chic look?

Olivia NY
Olivia Palermo


Religion, or rather religious iconography has long been an influence on designers as well, Dolce and Gabbana and Jean Paul Gaultier particularly in recent years. It’s about tapping into the current zietgeist and finding inspiration where maybe you least expect it.

JPG ss07
Jean Paul Gaultier S/S07
Dolce Religious
D&G A/W 13/14

Around the time of that Dolce and Gabbana collection there was a counter-balance to its opulence in the form of a Puritan look (we did a blog post about it here), borrowing again from the style of the Founding Fathers of America – paired back, muted and modest.

When you have style you wear what you want and how you want to wear it, whether that’s a patterned hijab or a sparkly tutu. Fashion houses have to cater to the demands of increasingly outspoken former minorities in the fashion world and their various needs and wants. And isn’t it a good thing, finding a whole new canvas on which to explore their creativity?

Fashion can reflect what’s happening in the world at large – take into mind the whole notion of hemlines rising in a recession – so won’t it be interesting to see where it takes us next?

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