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How Unapologetic Streetstyle Is Reframing and Paying Homage to the Jilbab
Sep 15, 2021
Hakeemah Cummings
contributing writer
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Hakeemah Cummings
contributing writer
The jilbab as I knew it growing up was one of the most un-stylish garments I had ever seen. It looked as if someone supersized a 70’s blazer. It featured a large collar, massive buttons right down the middle, heavy material, boxy shape, and huge cuffs. Even though I hated how it looked, sometimes I still wore it because of the level of coverage I was able to achieve.
The author in her modern take on the jilbab.
Back then, it was hard to find long sleeves, loose-fitting clothing, and the jilbab solved those problems. Begrudgingly, I would pick out the best-looking jilbab from the Islamic apparel store. And even though it still aged me well beyond my youthful years, at least it didn’t look as bad as some of the styles the older ladies wore. I still remember wearing a lavender jilbab I wore well into my first year of college, but then I was introduced to a more youthful garment – the abaya.
(And if you’re wondering what the difference is between a jilbab, abaya, burka and so on, click here. But also know that what I knew to be the jilbab back in my youth is different from what girls are terming jilbab these days. So what jilbab or abaya is also depends on who you are talking to.)
I welcomed wearing the abaya after a painful past with the jilbab. Abayas were made of flowy fabric, incorporated pretty designs, and – thank GOD – had no ghastly buttons! The way I floated around campus in my abayas made me feel both covered and beautiful.
@dyanabratz "fixes her crown" by tying her maroon jilbab with its "overhead" elegantly behind her neck.
Then came the “overhead,” a garment which took the abaya to another level of coverage. I was introduced to this garment primarily at the mosque, and never really wore it anywhere else. This incorporated a head piece that was connected to the sleeved bodice/gown and tied behind the neck for fully covered looks. Available mostly in dark colors, women could barely be perceived under the billowing fabric. In the community where I was introduced to the overhead, it became the epitome of the Islamic garment for women.
The women around me wore overheads, with niqab and gloves to boot felt like the ones who were truly pious. And whenever I wore one, I actually did feel closer to God, closer to those godly women, and it seemed to make everyone proud of me.
But in some circles of women, I noticed that wearing the overhead meant “you can’t sit with us” if you weren’t wearing one. This God-fearing clique of women ironically sometimes seemed to look down on others who didn’t dress like them. I couldn’t reconcile these observations and the teachings of Islam, and it was due to those feelings that I actually backed away from the overhead entirely. I wondered how I could really be myself in a garment that made me look like everyone else. I haven’t worn one again in years.
@mademoiselle_say_ lightens the mood with shades of blush pink and neutrals. Try our Pastel Heritage Silk hijab for a similar look.
Flash forward to now. I’m scrolling through an Instagram feed of stylish covered women, and I notice a trend of hijabi girls rocking what they’re calling jilbabs, but the jilbab they’re wearing is NOT the supersized itchy blazer I grew up wearing! It’s the overhead – but with a totally different vibe than the elitism that previously distanced me from it.
These women are youthful, powerful, unapologetically Muslim, culturally dynamic hijabis with individuality and street style. This was the element I was missing so long ago – personality. Now it feels like any Muslim woman can wear a jilbab, and not just a pious few. And, she can also wear it in any color or style she pleases, at the mosque or on the move, posing for pics along the way. Witness the birth of jilbab streetstyle!
So this post is a celebration of the jilbab. Too often, we are so focused on the common maxi dress or the trendy chiffon hijab, that we fail to see the style and fashion of women in jilbabs and abayas or those in niqabs. And for reference how far jilbabs and abayas have come, just see below!
Pardon the less-than-stellar imagery, but this is the old-school jilbab the author is referring to, a supersized 70s blazer!
But one of my aims in the modest fashion space is to celebrate the Muslim woman in all her modest styles, and the intersection between being covered and expressing herself with style. Because, whatever you wear is your style – hijab fashion does not look one way.
I’m so happy these women are teaching all of us to embrace the jilbab in their own unique ways. Scroll through the gallery below for more inspirational jilbab streetstyle from eight fabulous women, and shop Bazar Al Haya, MJ’acent, or Oued Collections for the latest jilbab styles.
@itsjustnura goes hard in her olive jilbab from Li Akhawati with a Dior saddlebag, matching bucket hat and green and white Spartan Dunks.

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