Monday, April 4, 2011

Case Study: Fashion and the Burqa Controversy in France

- Justina Lee

The niqab - this will no longer be legal in public places in France starting next week

Starting this month, no one is allowed to cover their faces in public places in France. French politicians have justified this new law by referring to the burqa and framing it as a religious symbol of female repression contrary to French beliefs in secularism and gender equality. As the garment itself poses no tangible harm, the point of contention has rested on its link to these French principles. Fashion, which continuously negotiates the meaning of clothes, thus becomes especially relevant. Vogue Paris featured the burqa in a Arabian-style shoot, mixing it with varied styles and conspicuous sexuality.

“Vogue-à-Porter” by Inez & Vinoodh (Feb 2010)

An international line-up of celebrity designers redesigned the abaya (an Islamic dress) for a fashion show in Paris. Fashion designers such as Hussein Chalayan and Jun Takahashi of Undercover have also reinterpreted the burqa for their runway shows.

Redesigned abayas at George V Hotel in Paris

Similarly, protestors have used fashion to challenge the rationale behind the law. Princess Hijab, a graffiti artist, draws hijabs on sexualized fashion advertisements in the Paris metro.

Princess Hijab

NiqaBitch, a duo of female university students, strutted the streets of Paris in a niqab and hotpants.

Even though fashion may not be able to sway public opinion, it embodies and reinforces the opposing arguments to the ban. The public display of these reinterpreted burqas simultaneously undermines the religious connotations and contradicts the French laïcité, which rejects all ostentatious religious symbols. Even more importantly, the amalgamation of signs - as seen in the Vogue Paris editorial, NiqaBitch's outfit and Princess Hijab's art - attests to the fluidity of meaning and thus challenges the relationship between the burqa and its conventional interpretations. Even though these interpretations do not change as quickly as fashion trends do, fashion embodies the instability of meaning that has come to define the opposing arguments as well as the postmodern culture of our times.


  1. You've been plagiarized by FoxNews.

  2. You've been linked by FoxNews. I found your site through them and wouldn't have otherwise. Very interesting article!

  3. Found your article on Fox News. Excellent article!

  4. Fox is the only complete news available.

  5. Found this article through Fox News...woukd never have seen it otherwise...interesting how a Fox Basher wants to call it plagiarism...

  6. "As the garment itself poses no tangible harm..."

    Really? Have you never heard of the hundreds of Saudi women who have been struck by cars crossing the streets because their burqas obstructed their vision? Or the women who have been killed because drivers could not see their dark-clad figures at night until it was too late? Accidents like these happen every. single. day. because of the burqa.

    Diane (first commenter), you need to learn the definition of the word plagiarized. It means copying someone's work and presenting it as one's own. FOX did not plagiarize anything from this article. They linked to it, thus providing this blog article with more views than it might otherwise have received.

  7. The burqa is an a front to all free women! If a woman wants to be enslaved so be it. Unfortunately, the problem with social pressure to wear a burqa in Islamic societies makes it impossible for women to remain free. I know I lived in an Islamic country during a time when it was not popular for women to dress without a burq. I found the practice enslaving. Also, the burqa removes ones individuality. It is so weird for men to be unable to control their sexual urges just because a woman is not covered head to toe.

    Fundamentalist Islamic societies considered my 85 year old decent moral mother a "prostitute" because she dressed like a normal Christian woman. I was appalled when I first heard that nonsense. I find Islam and burqa's the most regurgitating religion and dress on the planet. You can read all about my experience in an Islamic society at in the book A Way In The Wilderness And Streams In The Desert available at or from the publisher by visiting and clicking on the picture of the book it will take you directly to the publishers webpage for the book.

  8. @Diane 9:39, You've been plagiarized by FoxNews??? Perfect example of little people trying to use big words. Buy a dictionary!

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