Sorokanich: Fashionistas in Jordanian culture dress in modern clothes, bodies still covered

One of the things people asked me most frequently when I decided to come to Jordan was what I would have to wear and how I’d be expected to dress. I always responded the same way: “No, I don’t have to wear a headscarf, but I’ll have to wear more modest clothes, long skirts, long-sleeved shirts and things that really cover me up.”

Based on what I was told by my program, I came to Jordan with a suitcase full of neutral maxi skirts and plain long-sleeved T-shirts. To date, I only have two pairs of pants, including the jeans I wore on the plane here.

But to my surprise, what I’ve seen on campus is far from the plainly dressed girls I expected. Instead, what I witness every day is a mix of fashion statements even more diverse than what we see on campuses in the United States.

The majority of Arab women who inhabit my campus are far from drab or devoid of style. Many dress to impress in clothes any fashion-conscious American girl would envy. Their high heels and tall boots click as they walk up the steps to their classes, and their skinny jeans perfectly flatter their covered-up figures.

Despite the fact that their arms and collar bones are covered, they look effortlessly chic and not at all old-fashioned. They take pride in their appearance, and emphasize their Arab features with carefully applied, dramatic makeup. Even the less-flashy girls here look meticulously put-together.

Never underestimate the power of a hijab as an accessory. While it’s often seen as a sign of modesty in the United States, I can’t help but view it as a greater form of expression for Jordanian women.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some girls I see who stick to the basics — plain scarves of neutral colors and long skirts or dresses. However, the vast majority of headscarves I see are not tame, but rather statement pieces that center around an entire outfit. These scarves are beautifully patterned works of art with bright, contrasting colors and intricate designs. They are carefully wrapped in a way that adds volume, and the result looks more like a striking headpiece than an attempt to fade into the background.

I’ve definitely gotten a different perspective of what wearing the hijab entails. In the United States, we have a tendency to view it as a sign of religious piety, and in some cases, even religious oppression.

But having lived on this campus for a month now, I must disagree. If anything, the young women here have embraced this practice, and found a way to make it very much their own.

One of my professors told me when she was a young woman, she saw much less veiling in Jordan. Her generation had turned away from the tradition, and only a small minority still felt headscarves were necessary. Now it’s the opposite, at least here in Irbid. The vast majority of women on campus wear headscarves on a daily basis.

When I asked my professor why she thought this resurgence occurred, she told me she thought it was a kind of rebellion. But it wasn’t against the religion, society or parents, as we might expect. She believes young people are embracing their Arab and Islamic traditions as a form of rebellion against misconceptions coming out of the West.

To be honest, I can’t blame young women if this is their reason for veiling. They have proven to me that veiling is not a form of oppression, or even necessarily an entirely religiously motivated trend. It is a personal and familial choice based on religious and cultural factors. These women still manage to be beautifully stylish while at the same time staying within the frameworks of their personal beliefs.

And the women like me, who don’t veil? We’re perfectly fine, too. It’s not a cultural barrier, it’s just a part of individual style. In day-to-day life, it affects friendships no more than choosing to wear Ugg boots in the United States.

I can only hope that someday the hijab will be accepted just as easily.

Lara Sorokanich is a junior Middle Eastern studies and magazine journalism major. Her column appears every week in Pulp. For more information, she can be reached at lsorokan@syr.edu.


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