Muslim Women and the Veiling Fashion Industry in Turkey

Fashion shoot for Âlâ magazine in Istanbul (Turkey)  Fashion shoot for Âlâ magazine in Istanbul (Turkey)

Abstract : Since the 80’s, Muslim veiled women became more and more visible in the Turkish public space. A new way to claim their belonging both to Islam and Fashion appeared with what has been called the Tesuttür fashion. Understand the mechanisms of Veiling Fashion industry leads us to rethink Turkish modernity issues and to capture the diversity of its social practices. A careful consideration to the industrial fields mobilized by the producers as well as the resources developed by the Muslim consumers is necessary to analyze the success of this industry.

Keywords : Turkey, Islam, modernity, veiling, fashion, neoliberalism, industry, consumption, communication

Résumé : Depuis les années 1980 la visibilité de femmes musulmanes voilées s’est accrue au sein de l’espace public turc. Une nouvelle façon de revendiquer à la fois son appartenance à la religion musulmane et à la sphère de la mode est ainsi apparue avec ce que l’on appelle la mode Tesuttür. Comprendre l’industrie de la mode du foulard islamique permet de repenser les enjeux de la modernité turque et d’y saisir la diversité des pratiques sociales. Analyser le succès de cette industrie nécessite donc d’accorder une attention particulière aux domaines industriels mobilisés par les producteurs et aux ressources mises en œuvre par les consommatrices musulmanes. 

Mots-clés : Turquie, islam, modernité, foulard, fashion, néolibéralisme, industrie, consommation, communication

The veil has been a bone of contention and the center of many debates since the 1980’s. In many European countries, some politicians pointed out the threat of Islamic veil on secularism. The controversy increased with the rise of Islamic terrorism that lead to the development of Islamophobia. While media continue the debate, many sociological aspects of the veil are left aside. The silence of mass media explains our approach. The question of veiling fashion in Turkey can be treated as a social fact with an impact on the economy. This is achievable if we focus on a pragmatic concern: the veiling fashion industry and its impact on Turkish women.


 Rethinking the Paradox Between Veil and Fashion in Turkey :


At first sight, combining two concepts like veil and fashion could sound antithetic. Veil is tradition while fashion is modernity, “out of the sign of all references” as Baudrillard analyses (Banu Gökariksel, Anna J Secor, 2009). But veil shifts across time and space as shows us the Turkish history. In 1923, Mustapha Kemal founded the Turkish Republic whose basic principle was secularism. He had established what we call an authoritarian secularism implying the interdiction of the veil in public space. In 1982, veil was authorized again thanks to the demonstrations of young educated women. These women asked a crucial question : what does it mean to be a woman, to be Muslim and, to be modern? The visibility of veiled women increased in public spaces and a new way to dress up appeared: the Tessetür. This fashion was a new style for modest women that began to appear in urban areas in the 1980s with the rise of Islamic parties in politics. With the increase of the conservative Islamic class elector of the JPD a new class appeared. It consisted of pious and rich people having a role in the economy of the country. Women of this class adapted the Tesettür into a veiling fashion that became successful all over Turkey and in other countries.


 Veiling-fashion across networks of design, industry and economy :


Tekbir Veiling Fashion Collection, spring summer 2013The veiling fashion success in Turkey both explains and comes from the rise of the veiling fashion industry. But what about the veiling-fashion’s producers ? Banu Gökariksel and Anna Secor undertook detailed surveys and interviews that are relevant for our study.

Fashion implies shift. This is especially true of the veiling fashion in Turkey. Collections change at least seasonally.Speaking of collections, what are the influences or inspiration of the veiling fashion? Purpose of these firms is to design Islamic clothes and headscarf respecting both fashion and the Tesettür which implies that shapes must be hidden. Many collections are thus inspired from the catwalks of London and Milan. The way of production respects Islamic ethic and commodity, which is appreciated in the conservative Islamic class. The case of Tekbir firm is the foremost example of the veiling-fashion industry’s operation. Indeed, Tekbir is the largest and the most visible veiling-fashion company both in Turkey and in the world. Founders of Tekbir belong to the new Muslim bourgeoisie previously mentioned. It is then, relevant to understand in which ways Tekbir defines and practices Islamic-ness. 

Sales of Tekbir firm

 Contemporary Islamic entrepreneurs are operating with economy, hence the following question : for this case is it possible to speak about Islamic neoliberalism ? Firms export a lot in the world. For instance, Tekbir has outlets in Germany – Germany is the top destination – France, Lebanon, Dubai, USA and, Canada. In the itinerary of the veiling-fashion, Islamic banking and trading practices have a role in the economic field. Islamic entrepreneurs formulate new forms of Islamic neoliberalism and, they also reinterpret and transform Islamic values.


Consumers and Communication of Veiling Fashion :


 Armine store front on Fevzipaşa Caddesi, Fatih, Istanbul. Consumers of the Turkish veiling fashion industry are numerous in Turkey as well in many other countries. This may surprise us if we think of the relative isolation of Conservative Islamic women from the Turkish public space. Indeed, many families that belong to the “Instanbulite New Bourgeoisie” lives in gated communities, such as Başakşehir district, that were instigated by Erdogan in 1994.  How do these conservative Islamic women communicate about fashion? What allow them to follow the same trend ? The scholar Nora Seni (Seni Nora, Hérodote 1/ 2013 (n° 148)), explained that some of these women go to specific spots such as malls or specific quarters (Fatih quarter in Istanbul).

It is therefore easy to target women by installing advertising boards in these specific places. Besides, Internet and media play a fundamental role in the veiling fashion industry’s communication. Companies communicate or sale their products through their website and facebook pages. As well, they profit from the communication between Turkish Muslim women. Indeed, many “hijabistas” from the conservative Islamic class, share their experiences of fashion and daily life on their blogs and facebook pages.


Eska Moda Blog


Âlâ magazine, July 2014Âlâ magazine, July 2014Their numerosity does not only contribute to the advertisement of some companies, but it feeds the trend and creates new needs. Magazines also contribute to this veiling Fashion. Âlâ for instance, is sold all over Turkey and its sales have exceeded the sales of Elle-Turkey.

The example of Turkey shows us that wearing headscarf is not only a way to follow the rules of Islam. Veil is a concept deeply rooted in the Turkish society. Not only it follows the shift of cultural, political and social history but it is linked with the laws of Market. This explains the sociological relevance of the question : “How do you wear your veil?”




Banu Gökariksel (2012) The intimate politics of secularism and the headscarf : the mall, the neighborhood, and the public space in Istanbul, Gender, Place & Culture : A Journal of Feminist Geography, 19:1, 1-20.

Banu Gökariksel and Anna J Secor (2009) New transnational geographies of Islamism, capitalism and subjectivity : the veiling-fasion industry in Turkey, Area (Royal Geographical Society)  41:1, 6-18.

Banu Gökariksel and Anna J Secor (2010) Islamic-ness in the life of a commodity : veiling-fashion in Turkey, Trans Inst Br Geogr (Royal Geographical Society), 35:3, 313-333. 

Göle Nilufer, Musulmanes et modernes, voile et civilisation en Turquie, Editions La Découverte, Paris, 2003.

Seni Nora, « Polarisations d'une société en mutation culturelle », Hérodote 1/ 2013 (n° 148), p. 122-137