Egyptian Fashion

First Impressions

Cairo, Egypt

I’ve been thinking about this entry since I arrived in Egypt, and after discussing hijab in my MSA class all week, it seemed the perfect time to get it out there.

Now, when I discussed this idea with my new roommate Nellie, who has lived in Cairo for 4 years, she took issue with several of my observations. Bear in mind that they are only first impressions. That said, many of my classmates have lived in Egypt before, and the professor has lived here all his life, and they tended to agree with most of what I’m about to say. My search for good photos also revealed this blogger who agrees with many of my observations, as well as expounding quite beautifully on many more of her own.

This is the photograph in my textbook:

The two women on the left are wearing the chimar, the third woman is wearing the niqab, and the woman on the right is wearing the hijab. In Amman, the hijab is the primary mark of modesty you’ll see, and rarely falls much below the shoulders. In rural southern Jordan, you see a lot of niqab, but not so much in the places I’ve lived. Here in Cairo, the niqab is far more prevalent, and even more so in the villages we passed returning from the North Shore. The chimar is rare in Jordan, but very prevalent here, perhaps especially among middle-aged women and under the niqab. The girls on the right side of this picture are also wearing skirts, which are much more popular here than in Jordan; in this weather, I prefer them, too!

I’ve also seen a lot more chador here, like the women in the background of this picture:

I generally associate these with Shi’ites, particularly Iraqis and Iranians. Our professor says that they are a very new phenomenon in Egypt, only becoming popular in the last few years. I’ve seen some very interesting use of the chador, too, incorporating it into a headscarf.

There’s also a marked difference in style. In Jordan, most women wear their headscarves not much below the shoulders, if not tucked right into their shirt collars. Here in Egypt, however, fashion seems to favor very long hijab, falling to the waist, hip or even knee:

From Moving to Egypt

There are more images in my Web Album, but you get the picture. It makes me wonder if this style of hijab isn’t somehow cooler, and thus more suited to this climate. A style that definitely is cooler is the so-called “Spanish style” that leaves the neck exposed:

From Moving to Egypt

I got this image from The Hijab Blog, an interesting site by a Canadian woman who just adores Cairene hijab fashion.

Another popular trend I’ve noticed is the layered look:

From Moving to Egypt

This I confess to not understanding at all, as this style must be HOT in Egyptian weather.

In general, I would say that Egyptian girls are more likely to wear hijab than Jordanians, and more likely to wear a more conservative style. This was primarily where my roommate and I disagreed, she claiming that plenty of girls wore “hijab in name only,” paired with clothes so tight and revealing that they may as well not bother with the scarf. I’ve certainly seen those girls here, and there are plenty of them, but not nearly as many as I’m used to seeing in Amman, or even in more rural parts of northern Jordan.

A Note On Terminology
What you will not see in Egypt (nor probably in France, England, or anywhere else that it’s generating legal controversy) is the burka, a distinctive and comprehensive covering pretty much exclusive to Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.

This is not a burka; it’s a niqab, but with an extra layer of material covering the eyes:

2 comments

  1. I disagree that you won't see the burka in the UK. There are several muslim families in my neighbourhood in Belfast and at least two of them wear the burka.

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  2. The full burka? Not the niqab, or the niqab with the layer covering the eyes, or the chador, but the full blue burka to the ground with the grate for the eyes? Not that I doubt you, but I'm ver surprised, because every article I've ever seen on the “burka bans” in England and France has shown pictures of varying degrees of niqab, but never an actual burka in a Western setting. I've, in fact, never seen an image of nor an actual burka outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

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