Couture in the Muslim world: religious headware breaks fashion barriers

By Emily Cornett

The motto “from prayer to the catwalk” is creating a whole new line of “haute” burkhas and a whole new line of study.

Geography Professor Anna Secor has been studying the trend towards more fashionable burkhas in Turkey. She calls this new trend Veiling Fashion.

Veiling fashion refers to veils and the traditional full body covering becoming closer fitting and more modern in design, Secor said.

“It’s an act of Islam within a consumer economy,” Secor said.

According to the U.S. Department of State website, Turkey became a “democratic, secular and parliamentary” government after a military coup in 1980.

Many women in Turkey took this as a chance to go to college and stop wearing veils.

“Young women putting them (veiling fashion burkhas) on own mothers didn’t even wear veils,” Secor said.

Secor said these young women are criticized by traditional Muslim leaders and secular society. Muslim traditionalists see the new style of burkhas as too revealing, and secular society sees the burkha as backwards no matter what, she said.

Secor has been visiting Turkey for 15 years and saw how the fashions were changing. She began conducting studies with Banu Gökarıksel, a geography professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I want to help people to understand this type of phenomenon,” Secor said.

Secor and Gökarıksel have published five articles since Secor noticed middle and upper middle class women donning more fashion forward burkhas.

Secor and Gökarıksel have surveyed 174 veiling fashion firms, interviewed marketers and sales people and garment workers.

Their website,, lists publications from The New York Times to Jakarta News discussing veiling fashions.

“The question of veiling fashion is very big in Turkey,” Secor said. “You can see elements of what we are calling veiling fashion all over the world.”

It is mostly younger women who wear veiling fashions, Secor said. Their mothers who are against it have a familiar view.

“They say ‘when I was younger I had to wear a looser burkha’ or ‘it was backwards to wear a veil when I went to college,’” Secor said, jokingly.