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Different Styles of Niqab
By Umm Abdullah
As someone who has been wearing niqab on and off for about 10 years (and has worn it full time for a few years now); I often get asked about the different styles of niqab out there, fabric choices; where you can buy the best quality ones and so on. So I thought I’d write a guide to Niqab generally, InshaAllaah. I realised early on its impossible to cover this topic with a short piece; so I have broken it into parts InshaAllaah.
Firstly let’s look at the different styles of niqab available. Back when I first because Muslim in 1997, you could only really get one style of niqab. Now there are so many on the market; some with fancy names, it can be difficult to figure out which one is most suitable for you. Here is a rundown of some of the most commonly available niqab styles out there.
Half niqab/Elastic backed niqab-This is the simplest style of niqab available. It consists of a rectangle of fabric with ties or a loop of elastic attached. The ties or elastic go behind your head; and the fabric rests on your nose. This style of niqab has some advantages; it is great for those who wear glasses, it is very easy to eat under it or discreetly flip it up or pull it down if a situation calls for it, it’s good for driving (some sisters find they lose some peripheral vision with other styles); and it tends to come in a wide array of colours; sometimes with matching khimars available. Also unlike other styles of niqab it works best worn inside the khimar. It has several ‘cons’ though, if the back of your head is rounded you’ll find it won’t stay put; and because the only thing holding the niqab up is the ties or elastic, you have to have it quite firmly against your face which can be uncomfortable. I do have some of this type of niqab usually in a set with a khimar but I tend to only wear them if I am going out to somewhere I am going to take my niqab off anyway; otherwise I find it uncomfortable and impractical.
Headband niqab-Most niqabs from the gulf and Egypt are ‘headband’ style; that is they have a band of fabric that goes around the head; above the eyes and the part covering the face is attached to this band. Some have a string between the eyes; some don’t. There are many variations on this style; many different types of fastenings, and they come in a wide range of fabrics. I would avoid the styles that fasten with snaps; it is incredibly rare that the snaps fit your head properly and you’ll find it is either too tight or too loose and cannot be adjusted. Don’t be fooled by those niqabs that has snaps and ties made out of satin ribbon; where the ribbon is sewed onto the niqab is too far from the edges to tie it properly if for some reason you cannot use the snaps, and is really more for decorative purposes. Velcro is convenient; but can snag other fabrics and it can also lose its ‘stickiness’ or even wear out, meaning you can no longer fasten the niqab. The best fastening in my humble opinion is a tie fastening, either the headband is made extra long so the ends can be tied at the back; or small ties are added to the headband. The best type is that where the ties are as wide as the headband itself.
Most headband niqabs have to be worn outside of the khimar or headcovering you are wearing. The only exceptions to this are some styles of cape khimar and overhead abaya that are made quite ‘open’ at the neck as opposed to fitted around the face; then most styles of headband niqab can be worn inside these. There are some very wide styles of headband niqab though that simply do not fit properly under anything; this means they do not ‘work’ at all with some overgarments; particularly the very wide traditional overhead abayas as there is just too much fabric which then bunches up under the niqab and it doesn’t look or feel particularly comfortable. Bear this in mind if it’s the type of overgarment you wear.
In purely practical terms, the ideal length for a headband niqab is about 15” from the eyes down. Anything shorter than that tends to get blown up into your face by the wind; also it can tend to look odd and ‘ninja-ish’. You can also get very long niqabs; even floor length but they are not really practical; it’s impossible to eat or drink under them and the sheer weight of the fabric means you have to fasten them more tightly than can ever be comfortable. If you’re looking for something long with lots of fabric, it is better if the extra fabric is in the eyeveils and not in the part that is covering the face.
You can get headband niqabs in a simple style; without eyeveils but I prefer the ones with them even though I don’t tend to cover my eyes. Why? Well it seems the ones with eyeveils seem to stay on better; the eyeveil seems to act as an anchor; whereas the ones with just a headband, you may find the headband creeps up or down during wear, showing your eyebrows or your nose! I only wear the ones without an eyeveil in similar situations to when I’d wear a half niqab, or if I am wearing a Yemeni khimar (more on those later)..
Avoid those styles where the eyeveil is very narrow and the same length or shorter as the layer that covers your face; it looks ridiculous and you will find if you want to wear the eyeveil back it simply won’t stay put. Multiple eyeveils can tend to look bulky; the only use they have is if you do cover your eyes but want to have that anchor of a layer being flipped back as well. Usually it is nigh on impossible to see through two or more layers of fabric so they serve no practical purpose when it comes to covering the eyes.
Many niqabs particularly those from Egypt come with a string between the eyes. I personally prefer the type of niqab without the string between the eyes, I think the string can look a bit too exotic and strange in the west and it tends to accentuate your eyes in an inappropriate way. Also with the string the hole for your eyes is fixed; it cannot be adjusted, which is a pain if the eyehole is too narrow or too wide as it is. Alhamdulillaah though most styles with a string; the string can be removed without damaging the niqab and this is exactly what I do when I buy them.
Other styles of Niqab; Most niqabs come in one of the two above styles; although there are variations. A ‘diamond niqab’ is one where the top eyeveil is very large and cut in a diamond shape. A ‘butterfly’ niqab is one where the top eyeveil is similar to the diamond style but the cut is more rounded; sometimes with a frilly serged edge.
A Yemeni khimar is a cape khimar and niqab rolled into one; the good quality ones are made of the same fabrics as fine quality niqabs; and it is made with several layers; usually its the top two layers that act as eyeveils or screens. Unless you cover your eyes ordinarily you may find the eyeveils serve a purely decorative purpose; and you do usually need to wear another half or full niqab underneath. There are various styles of burqa from the Indian subcontinent and neighbouring countries that work in a similar way, however most of them are highly impractical or uncomfortable; or just not really available in the west. Finally a ‘Pak Chador’ is a large scarf or shawl; usually semi-circular in design with a half niqab attached to one side; this is then pulled across the face and tucked in or pinned. These are a real ‘love em or hate em’ thing; some sisters I know it is the only style of niqab they can wear; others just cannot stand them. I am personally in the ‘cannot stand them’ camp when it comes to Pak Chadors; over time I have come to realise that anything where the niqab is attached does not stay on particularly well overall.