Hejab in the 90’s…A reminiscence from Umm Abdullah


Umm Abdullah is a English sister I’ve known for…gosh, I donno…since maybe like 1996 or 97…something like that.

We have fairly similar tastes and have experienced a lot of the same things and have worked together for ages upon ages co-moderating 2 very popular yahoo groups for Muslim sisters who cover. We both have a son that is close in age, although she has 3, mashallah and I have one. Still..one of her’s and mine are close in age.

Anyway, without further adieu…here are her experiences…
All you youngins’…be thankful…be very thankful…it’s just so easy to be a trendy muhajabah these days. *cackle*

Ah the memories. When I first reverted a sister gave me five jilbabs she had collected from her friends. I can only remember two of them now; and actually they’d be quite trendy these days. One was a home-sewn black and beige striped artificial shantung affair with gold buttons up the front; I changed the buttons but can’t remember what I changed them with! The other was an oversized herringbone long coat double breasted and quite masculine in styling; not really my thing but I’ve seen nearly identical coats in fashion magazines and stores in the UK recently.

I used to work in an Islamic clothing store as you know and I remember in 1998 when the first non-puffy coat style jilbabs came out from Turkey (Jordan was still stuck in buccaneer mode at the time); before that all ‘jilbabs’ had gold buttons, many pockets, puffy sleeves and were made of peachskin or something similar usually in ochre, a bright plum shade, or some other weird colour. The only decent one I could find at that time was in a tweedy black and brown plaid which people at my college thought was ‘cool’. The other thing with the jilbabs at that time was that they were so narrow at the bottom they were darn hard to walk in and if you wore wide pants or an a-line skirt under them you’d get in a tangle! I remember they did have abayas from Saudi and Kuwait in Islamic clothing stores here from about 1997; but most of the ‘abayas’ at that time were just like scaled down, less flouncy versions of the jilbabs and almost exclusively in black peachskin. In one store there was an open very traditional Saudi style abaya and my friends and I were just thrown by it; it looked so strange!

Shaylahs were totally unheard of the store I worked in had shaylahs and matching niqabs and they ended up selling all the niqabs giving away the shaylahs because no-one wanted them; even indo-Pak sisters usually wore turkish printed scarves with their shalwar kameez. Turkish printed scarves were the main style worn; and not funky new designs either; usually they had very traditional Arab-esque designs or even a mixture of animal print, tartan and then the Arab-esque motifs; oh the horror! The other two types of scarves avaiable were the huge heavy italian jacquard scarves usually in white; or the oversized cotton blend scarves from Jordan, at first they only came in black, white and maybe a couple of pastel shades but the shop I worked for comissioned the official company in Jordan to make them the scarves in every single colour of the rainbow; some colours sold really well but others they were still getting rid of a couple of years back!

Al-Ameerahs were a new and amazing invention and highly sought after; at the time you could only get black and white with lace or crochet (all made by the official Al-Ameerah brand); though the store I worked in had one shipment in 1997 of the plain versions but at the time they just didn’t sell well so they didn’t get those again for some years.

Underscarves were just unheard of; the ‘BONE’ type came out in the late 90s here but just weren’t popular for a good few years; I used to just use the tube bit of an Al-Ameerah upside down as tube scarves were not around either.

Online in those days the number of Islamic clothing stores operating out of the UK was….zero. The only one where you wouldn’t risk being hit with customs tax was alhediya so I ordered from there sometimes; otherwise it was a choice of ‘real life’ shopping or nothing. Real life shopping options were thin on the ground in the UK; in those days only a tiny handful of large cities had any type of Islamic clothing available; and usually it was in Shalwar Kameez and Sari shops they’d have a small corner with some very Indo-Pak style jilbabs and stuff. Before the shop I worked in opened, the sister used to just sell the clothing from her house; and these ‘house shops’ were pretty common. The only other place you could get anything was at bazaars and events. Needless to say most sisters just got scarves from tie-rack (a popular but overpriced accessory shop in the UK) and wore regular clothes with it. Alhamdulillaah the overall fashion in the late 90s was for long skirts and wide trousers; so it wasn’t really difficult to find things.