(Photo: Women in headscarves in the Taksim area of Istanbul July 13, 2008/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Along Istanbul’s busy Eminönü waterfront, women swathed in dark coats and scarves knotted once under the chin jostle past others clad in vivid colors and head coverings carefully sculpted around the face. Two decades ago such a polished, pious look scarcely existed in Turkey. But today it has the highest profile exponents in First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, and the brands behind it plan ambitious expansion.
The headscarf remains one of Turkey’s most divisive issues. Everything from the way it is tied and accessorized, to the poise and demeanor of the wearer, is laden with meaning in this majority Muslim but officially secular country of 74 million. From a simple headcovering, stigmatized in the early days of the Turkish Republic as backward and rural, it has become, in the last decades, a carefully crafted garment and highly marketable commodity, embodying the challenge of a new class of conservative Muslims to Turkey’s secularist elites.
“It was hard to find anything chic for the covered women 10 years ago, but fashion for pious women has made huge progress in the last 6-7 years,” said Alpaslan Akman, an executive in charge of production and marketing at Muslim fashion brand Armine.
Armine is known for its high-impact campaigns. Huge posters have hung in the heart of Istanbul’s bar and nightclub district — the serene models contrasting with the commotion below. The brand teams colorful scarves with figure-skimming coats, pert collars, big buttons and ruffled sleeves. (Photo: Prime Minister and Mrs. Erdogan at the G20 summit in Seoul November 11, 2010/Michel Euler)
“We are much luckier than previous generations, we have more designs and colors of scarves to choose from,” said 30-year-old Filiz Albayrak, a sales assistant in an Istanbul scarf shop.