What I love about Egyptian fashion is the ability to dress beautifully and modestly at the same time.
Many women wear hijab (a veil to cover their hair and neck), but are not restricted to the black attire often depicted by the media. In Upper Egypt, villagers wear colorful galabeyyas, which are long gowns. Bedouins (people who live in the desert) dress in white gowns to deflect the sun’s powerful rays.
Since I lived in Cairo, however, I am most familiar with current urban fashion. Although some people display western fashions like a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, there are other trends that are modern but not necessarily western. Sometimes there is a mix of the two, and veiled women will wear jeans under a tunic.
The hijab is less about covering your hair, and more about overall modesty. Women who choose to wear the hijab tend to wear loose, non-form-fitting clothing. Modesty is not exclusive to people who wear hijab, however. My friends in Egypt and I are not veiled, but find it important to dress tastefully.
Although the hijab is a form of religious modesty, it has also become a form of expression and individuality, contrary to western perception. Women find creative ways to tie their scarfs around their heads with various patterns, layers, and shapes. When my mother is done wrapping her scarf around, she fashions a little rose out of the excess material at one side of her neck. The hijab, which we also call an “echarpe” like the French, is often meticulously matched to an outfit so that no color incorporated is random. My mother matches her dress to her hijab to her jewelry to her purse to her shoes…to even her eye makeup! She matches from head to toe…or scarf to foot.
Jewelry is also an important fashion accessory among Egyptians. We love to wear long chains of beads, or bangles of gold. Designers make stunning necklaces inscribed with Arabic calligraphy, much like the ones I wear around campus every day!
What surprised me most about college life in the United States is how people feel comfortable wearing sweatpants and hoodies to class. An average day at the American University in Cairo is a fashion statement. People dress for success, and even when they are having “lazy” days, they wear leggings, a nice shirt, and ballet flats.
Though my mother is veiled, she is far more fashionable than I will ever be. The ability many veiled women in Egypt have to tie an outfit together is remarkable, emphasizing individual flare while remaining modest to the eyes of the public.