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The most controversial piece of fabric: the veil in fashion.

What comes to your mind when you think about headscarves? Female oppression? Religious extremism? At least in Germany, the controversy about female Muslim teachers wearing headscarves in school has turned this little accessory into one of the most contested pieces of cloth. Yet, this controversy is not new: Just to give you an example, already when the French colonized Algiers in the 19th century, French soldiers dragged women from villages into towns where they had to publicly take off their headscarves. What for the French was a symbol for the liberation of oppressed women, was for Algerian men AND WOMEN a symbolic rape.

Mind you, in Europe, it was not only fashionable but also convention for women to wear headscarves until the 1970s and men would not leave the house without their hats. Some people of world fame still appreciate headscarves not just for their practicality against cold winds and rain but also for their style: a 2007 issue of the British Vogue called Queen Elizabeth II of England, “as glamorous in her brogues and headscarf as she is wearing the crown jewels.”

But not only old queens can look glamorous in headscarves. In fact, where Muslim women have a bit of room for experimenting within their religious dress code, a fully covered body including veiled hair cannot just look incredibly sophisticated but also creates an aura of female mystery. What it looks like to “show the beauty of the flower while covering the flower” shows us Turkish fashion designer Rabia YalÁin who made her debut as at New York’s Fashion week last February. Autumn and winter are coming and why not get inspired by a tradition that searches for and reveals the beauty of a woman in a completely different way than we are used to.

And while you get your patterns and sewing machines ready, just remember for a moment all those women in this world, for whom it is not a question of choice what to wear.

4 Comments

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    Sep 2, 2008, 11.14 AMby carottesauvage

    I am glad you are raising this kind of issues on Burdastyle!

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    Aug 30, 2008, 08.48 AMby gedwoods

    I just love the eclectic variety of your historic fashion posts, merryk! These thoughtful posts really provide food for thought and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the BurdaStyle site. Thanks and keep up the good work!

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    Aug 28, 2008, 11.15 PMby sewstrange

    I would agree that the “issue” of veiling of very contraversial. I should know, I am a proudly, fully veiled woman who was born and lives in the USA. I have been fully veiled now for 7 years and nobody told me or asked me to do it, other than my creator. No man, not my husband, father or anyone else coheresed me into this decision. There is no coheresion in religion and really it is not a big deal. I am valued for who I am, not how I look by my associates, peers and society who has not been brainwashed into thinking that we are all uneducated, backwards, oppressed women. Nothing could be further from the truth! If anyone did an accurate study on history they would find that the most noble of women ie; Mary, the mother of Jesus, nuns (including mother Theresa) were covered women. What fails to reach the common peoples understanding is that there is a difference between religion and culture and that this is what the majority of us choose to make a very poignant statement about who we are and what we believe. Would you not hide your most valuable possesions? Pearl necklaces, diamonds, your ATM pin number? Am I not worth more than these trivial possessions? Should I not be treated on my merit as a human and not on how I look? Media spins this web of lies about us. Instead of going to the media to ask about how a covered woman feels, why not actually go to a covered woman and ask her how she feels? I’ll tell you, quite comfortably, thank you.

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    Aug 28, 2008, 05.00 PMby nehmah

    Thank you for this timely message. In a desire to make a very large section of the world’s women go unveiled, we endanger their lives and remove a way of dressing that they may wish to retain. When I say “we” I refer to the largely male ruling bodies in the Western world. I would find it most uncomfortable to go veiled, but as a girl in the 1940’s and 1950’s, I went to church services with my head covered. Most women did. No one ordered me to stop; the custom faded. I don’t know if there is a “right” answer, but I do know that it isn’t right for strangers to force such a choice. respectfully, Nehmah

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