Fashion

I’m more than just my hijab – here’s what I want you to know about dressing modestly

As a hijab-wearing woman living in London, Wafa Bulale experiences her fair share of misconceptions around the clothes she chooses to wear. This is how she cuts through the noise to express her own style…

Wafa Bulale is a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the traditional head covering known as the hijab.

It’s a fundamental part of her sense of self, and a key component of the modest style of dress that she’s chosen to adopt.

However, the hijab remains a fundamentally misunderstood piece of clothing, with many people failing to recognise how it allows the wearer to maintain their own unique aesthetic.

Here, Wafa explains how the hijab is just one element of her style identity…

Judging a book by its cover

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“When people look at me, they see a hijab.

There are so many preconceptions around this mode of dress. Most people when they meet me think the hijab is forced upon me. They have a preconceived notion of how you should dress if you wear it. They think that you can’t be your own person. But at the end of the day, the hijab is not a uniform for women, and my hijab is unique to me.

I think it comes down to the fact that people aren’t used to seeing the hijab in mainstream culture, so they don’t really understand it. That’s why it’s encouraging to be part of this campaign with Tu clothing. I remember seeing a woman in a hijab in a high street clothing campaign a few years ago. That was the first time I’d seen that, and it wasn’t even that long ago.

The thing I always want to tell people is that it’s my choice, and a choice that I’m happy with. It hasn’t been forced on me by my parents, or society or my culture. There are hundreds of thousands of Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab. The choice to wear it is mine and mine alone.

Making it my own

People have this idea that you can’t be your own person and also wear the hijab, but that’s so wrong. You can wear a hijab and still choose your own fashion and create your own unique looks.

I’m from East Africa, and we’re a very vibrant, colourful continent, so for me it’s always about bringing colour into things. I think most people assume Muslim women wear black and that we’re not colourful, but that’s just not the case. I’m very into layering, too. Maxi dresses, long-sleeved tops, that kind of thing, but the more colourful the better.

I’ve found inspiration in London. You see students from Central Saint Martins walking around King’s Cross, and the things they’re wearing… they’re being totally true to who they are. You can’t let other people hold you back. I used to do that in the past. I’d think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to wear that today because that one person looked at me for an extra second last time.’ You’ve got to let that go because you are you, and that’s beautiful.

The outfit I have on genuinely impacts on my general mood. I was walking along the South Bank earlier this year, and I felt amazing in what I was wearing. I passed this older gentleman walking his dog. He was probably in his 50s but totally fashionable, and he gave me this look of acknowledgement. It felt like we understood each other. We’re both different, and that’s really cool.

That kind of moment gives me the exuberance to carry on dressing how I want to dress. It’s a confidence builder. You don’t get there after one interaction with someone, but it certainly helps.

Changing perceptions

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I like to think that I’m a grassroots activist when it comes to tackling some of those misconceptions around modest fashion. Sometimes people think change is about making that one massive impact, but for me, change is about making a daily social impact on people. It’s about people wanting to have that one conversation with me, when they say, ‘Oh, I don’t actually know that much about the hijab, can you tell me a bit more?’

Change for me is about having those conversations with people on a daily basis. Or travelling to places where people may not have seen somebody wearing the hijab. There are many countries where I’ve been on holiday where that’s been the case, and people have been very interested to know more.

I can’t change everybody’s opinions or ideas but if you spark that conversation with just one person, then they might share that information with some of their circle. That being said, I’m always careful to express that I’m only a voice for myself. I can’t speak for other Muslim women, or everyone who wears a hijab. It means different things to different people.

In my experience, the UK is a great celebration of diversity, which is testament to the people in this country. I feel lucky to live in a place where you’re allowed to feel that you can dress modestly and maintain your beliefs and values, but still not lose anything by choosing to dress how you want to. I think people sometimes think that if I choose to dress ‘differently’, they think I’m compromising my values somehow, but I’m truly not.

I’m still who I am. I’m still choosing to dress modestly. I’m just choosing specific clothes that suit my look. My clothes are an expression of my identity, and it’s an identity I’ve defined for myself. I’m not diminishing myself in any way.”

Dress well, feel good with Tu clothing. No matter your shape, size, style or budget, you’ll find an outfit to boost your mood and leave you feeling good in the clothes you wear. Shop the collection here.