In December, the University of Michigan released the results of a survey that, among other things, asked Middle Easterners what style of dress was appropriate for women to wear in public. Participants were invited to choose between various styles of Muslim head coverings, like burqas, chadors, and niqabs. The results showed that people from conservative nations like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan generally favored the face-concealing niqab, while most Egyptians, Tunisians, Turks, and Iraqis preferred traditional hijabs, which cover the hair and leave the face exposed.
These results aren’t particularly surprising, and neither is the fact that Middle Eastern women and men largely shared the same preferences. Though some Westerners associate Muslim religious head coverings with the oppression of women, many Muslim women view the hijab—a blanket term used to denote any form of traditional head covering—as a source of empowerment. During the Arab Spring–inspired protests against Hosni Mubarak, some Egyptian women wore hijabs to protest a ban against headscarves on state television.
According to Shereen El Feki, a researcher and the author of Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, many young Muslim women cover themselves to gain more independence from their parents. “They feel that their parents think these girls are good Muslim girls, therefore they don’t exercise as much vigilance and the girls get more latitude in their lives,” she told me. “They may get to travel, they may get to move around, and they have more mobility.”
Another common misconception about head coverings is that it is always worn as a statement of extreme religious modesty. “The women wearing hijab who I spoke to for my book have just as much sexual desire,” said Shereen. “Women put on hijab for a variety of reasons, not just to desexualize themselves.”
Smiling and Vomiting at New York Fashion Week
Fashion Week has hit New York City again, and big, fancy designers are showing their latest collections for fall/winter 2014. So we went to a few shows to figure out what all the Tumblr goofballs, twinks, and trust-funders will be wearing in autumn. Keep checking back frequently throughout the week for our reviews of the shows at Milk Studios, Lincoln Center, and more.
The influences behind Robert Geller’s collections are always super fascinating. The press releases for his shows are like rabbit holes that have you crawling through obscure Wikipedia pages and loading up your Amazon shopping cart with very rare goodies. This time around, however, the genesis for Robert’s fall 2014 looks lie with a rock star we’re all pretty familiar with: David Bowie. It’s not super surprising that Robert would find a muse in the Thin White Duke. David has long been a bastion of style (just check out the feature we did this month on Kansai Yamamoto, the designer behind many of David’s iconic looks). Not to mention, David’s a master at walking the thin line between being tough and elegant, just like Robert’s eponymous brand. Surprisingly, Robert opted to mine one of David’s lesser-known personae. Instead of aping low-hanging fruit like Ziggy Stardust, Robert looked to the big and boxy suits David wore in The Man Who Fell to Earth as a springboard for his collection. Robert’s models took to the runway in everything from neoprene overcoats and tall military caps to Chelsea boots and elongated tops. In the context of his previous work, it wasn’t revelatory. Everything from the warm hues of purple to the layered silhouettes was well within his wheelhouse and felt very familiar to me. Even so, it was refined to the point that his looks are becoming so pure and distinctive they’re bordering on the iconic.
—By Wilbert L. Cooper
The jungle-drum music and the “exotic” prints on the clothes made it apparent that Mara Hoffman was channeling the Dark Continent with her latest collection, which is weird because she’s never even been there before. Though I’m usually very suspicious of cultural reappropriation by old white people, I was at least pleased to see that Mara had the Rainbow Coalition do her casting. Models of all different races and complexions were clad in flowy dresses that were decorated in vibrantly colored sequins and patterns. There were definitely some great looks, and the styling of dark-skinned models in white was especially striking. But at the end of the day, this stuff is what a WASPy mom would wear to an Invisible Children fundraising event.
—By Wilbert L. Cooper
Power: The Evolution of Black Masculinity Through Fashion
When they were making this sexy magic and fashion photo shoot someone decided they needed an albino bunny. Apparently, though, it’s multitudes cheaper to buy one outright than it is to rent one, for whatever reason. So, after finding someone who pledged to give the bunny a home after the shoot, they went ahead and bought it and took this photo. But then the person went back on their promise! Then, for a brief period in mid-December, the VICE Brooklyn office was home to an albino bunny. You can’t quite tell from this picture but its eyes really glow and it’s totally terrifying. In the cage it looked like the inside of a pillow but with two bright red dots. It mostly just sat there. Anyway, the office manager sent out an email about it and eventually someone took it home. I’d tell you that it found a good home but honestly the person who took it doesn’t work here anymore so who knows! Just kidding, it’s totally fine, I’m sure it’s alive. Anyway, here’s some fashion.
The Bangladeshis Who Make Your Clothes Have Been Given a Raise
As discouraging as it is, no number of documentaries or worthy articles is suddenly going to make everyone in the world care about the people making our underwear for $1.50 a day. A large part of that is probably because it’s hard to comprehend how shocking the working conditions in Bangladesh’s clothing factories are until you visit them for yourself—until you meet the workers being slapped around by their bosses and the kids being hidden on the factory roof every time Western buyers come to town.
In response to those working conditions and wages, which are among the lowest in the world, some workers have been striking for weeks, their frustration often turning to violence as they clash with police. And those violent protests have won them what looks like a victory: the Bangladesh government announced over the weekend that the minimum wage for garment workers is going to be increased by 77 percent, to $67 a month.
I flew out to Bangladesh a couple of weeks before the pay raise was announced to meet some garment workers. Upon arrival, a contact took me to a poor factory neighborhood—a slum, comprised as it was of a few beaten up huts—on the outskirts of Dhaka. There, he introduced me to Bilkiss, a sweet, pretty 18-year-old who had worked at the same garment factory for five years. She is one of an estimated 4 million in Bangladesh who make our clothes.
VICE’s high-fashion sister site i-D just launched its brand-new website. Check it out!
I Tried to Sell Cybergoth and Steampunk Gear to ‘Wavey’ Streetwear Kids
In Britain today, subculture is largely a thing of the past. The vast majority of young people just don’t seem interested in seeking out New Rock boots or Moschino-print trousers any more. Now, they just seem to sling on whatever they can find in the high street. They’re less likely to buy a shirt because it says something about who they think they are as a person than they are because it keeps them warm. In a way, you can understand this—being young’s tough enough without people spitting on you because you’ve developed a teenage obsession with The Crow. But by and large it’s a sad fact that comfort has replaced controversy as the order of the day, shopping centers filled with young people happily wandering around, taking selfies, and buying each other muffins and shit from the Disney store, like a bunch of fucking Americans.
Perhaps it’s because KoЯn went dubstep, perhaps it’s because rappers started wearing tight red jeans and glasses without lenses, perhaps it’s because Camden Lock is now just a massive Starbucks and a few stalls selling “Keep Calm” hoodies. Whatever the reasons, youth culture is now undeniably a lot fluffier and nicer than it was in previous generations.
But walk down any high street in any town with a population greater than 10,000 and there is one subculture still kicking against this Hollister-led style pogrom: streetwear culture. Not the one that involves 30-year-old blokes in Bape going to see DJ Vadim at KOKO, but the one that fetishises Snapbacks, bucket hats, North Face, King Krule, post-dubstep, knockout weed and very expensive shoes. The OFWGKTA influenced, Supreme-loving, Palace-worshipping marriage of American skate fashion and British rudeboy attitude. Which, oddly, are two things most people in their mid-twenties could probably never imagine coming together, having spent their teenage years watching skaters and rudeboys attack each other at bus stops.
Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution" seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”