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Denim chic among Muslim women in Berlin and Vienna

Irene Bregenzer

Doctoral candidate, University of Applied Arts, Vienna

The academic as well as public debate about Muslim women’s apparel in Europe have mainly been limited to discussions on veiling, seen as symbol linked to various fields, like integration, gender relations etc. Its link to fashion has often been neglected. Since the last few years a shift in those studies has taken place to give Muslim women’s apparel in Europe a place in the fashion circle with a focus at the personal styles and dressing behaviours. This contribution looks at certain places and spaces of consumption of Muslim women’s apparel: Muslim women’s fashion boutiques in Berlin, Hamburg as well as Vienna will be further investigated as places to take a closer look at the interplay between denim and some of its wearers, in particular Muslim women wearing a kind of hijab and living in Berlin and/or Vienna.

Circular rail

The starting point for my contribution is the fact that denim as textile became most popular and mostly worn in the world as a piece of clothing in the form of trousers. When it comes to Islamic regulations with regard to clothing, in the Sunna it is stated that women and men alike will be condemned by God if they show behavior and/or wear clothing of the other sex. Trousers are one of those garments that are widely discussed. Some argue that these belong only to men’s wardrobe. As there is no written evidence in the Scriptures where trousers are pointed out as exclusively belonging to men’s wardrobe, daily practices among Muslim women vary. For example, many elderly Muslim women of Turkish background in Germany as well as in Austria (and of course elsewhere) do wear long loose skirts, but avoid trousers, whereas for other women trousers (as well as jeans) represent the part of their wardrobe that is most often worn. My contribution will look at other garments made of denim by giving an insight at the range of denim garments in those Muslim women’s fashion boutiques mentioned above.

denim jackets

One shop sells abayas made of denim, whereas many of them have long skirts and long coats as well as jackets made of denim sold in their shops. One boutique even sells jeans to have the range of garments offered in the shop completed, as the shop owner told me. Also, there is a Dutch designer who launched a headcovering named “jeans” in a denim-style material in June, 2008. Another company in Italy produced jeans especially designed for doing the prayer. All these garments will be used to discuss the specificity of denim in the form of trousers, as the form of trousers, as I believe, could be one of the reasons for the global spread of denim.

Jeans and coats

On the whole, the contribution seeks to draw to the dynamics between wearing and perceiving denim in relation to Islam. Who are the wearers of those garments made of denim sold in those boutiques? Who is wearing which garments and where do they buy them? Who totally refuses to wear jeans or garments made of denim and why? Who only recently tried out wearing denim? Which role does denim play in the assortment of Muslim women’s wardrobe and in these of Muslim women’s fashion boutiques? By investigating the attitudes of the wearers towards denim and their motivations and refusals of wearing denim, light will also be shed on the “ubiquity of blue denim” and their “blindingly obvious presence in the world”, as stated by Miller and Woodward (2007).

[This contribution is the extension of my recent research on Muslim women’s fashion boutiques in Germany and Austria. I was first educated in a fashion school before I started my diploma study in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. In my diploma thesis I focused on the material and aesthetic aspects of Muslim women’s headcovering in Vienna. Since April, 2009 I am a doctoral student at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, at the Department of Design Theory.]