Sweden Started it All-The “Normalization” of Hijab

Since 2014, major department stores and shops in Sweden have been selling long cartigans, kaftan-style cartigans and long shirts or shirt-dresses as the main fashion pieces on their racks. These stores include Åhlens, Lindex, Gina Tricot, Kappahl and H&M.

H&M stands for Hennes and Mauritz, which opened in Sweden in 1947 as just Hennes eventually to become Hennes and Mauritz when Founder Erling Persson bought Mauritz Widforss in 1968. It was the first Scandinavian store to open in London in 1976. So when you see that commercial with Mariah Idrissi, the first hijabi model representing a western fashion market, then remember Sweden is responsible for the “normalization” of the hijab.

The word “normalization” itself is debatable but it has been a word used often in media recently regarding recent fashion posters and commercials. Even if you walk in Central Stockholm, you will see a huge poster of a hijabi model as the face of Åhlens (pronounced Oliyens).

 © Åhlens, 2015
© Åhlens, 2015

Heated debates have brewed across the Western front regarding the “normalization” of hijab or veil. Some say it is a false representation of the liberal woman when covered women are suppressed in some parts of the world. Others, particularly in Sweden, say that there are a lot of covered women walking into these shops so it is about time!

Ramona Aly writes in London´s The Guardian, “The move by H&M, GBBO and others normalises the image of a woman in a hijab within areas that people wouldn’t normally associate with Muslim women. (Nadiya) Hussain is not just a woman in a headscarf, she’s a darn good baker. (Mariah) Idrissi isn’t just another ´hijabi,´ she’s a woman who confidently blends faith with fashion.”

According to debates on Åhlens´ Facebook page, one person said that Åhlens is contributing to the “normalization of female suppression and islamization.”

 © Hayati Magazine, 2015
© Hayati Magazine, 2015, Model: Sharmin

Åhlens´ PR and Corporate Manager is Weronica Nilsson, who has been telling Media that Åhlens is not taking any position on anything especially regarding the veil, but they understand that many women in Sweden wear the veil and they want to provide options for them.

I am a Muslim woman who wears a veil, living in Stockholm, Sweden, and loving the fact that there is a modest line of clothing out there for me so thank you, Sweden, for starting it all!

In honor of these revolutionary changes in the fashion world of the West, I have decided to do a winter photoshoot with your typical, girl-next-door. Her name is Sharmin and she is a nursing student at Karolinska Institute of Stockholm. Her wardrobe is full of the latest Swedish fashion from the above-mentioned shops.

Rumki Chowdhury
Rumki Chowdhury

Published Author and Journalist. Born in Bangladesh, raised in USA, lived in UK and now in Sweden. Married and mother of two daughters, Alhumduililah.

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