I’ve never really believed that women dress for other women, at least outside of the fashion industry. And if I had to pick a target audience for my wardrobe, it’d probably be a crush and not my girlfriends.
But in the Middle East where my family is, there appears to be a new crop of fashion-loving women proving that dressing up can be self-gratifying – even if nobody else can see your clothes.
Many women in Arab countries spend their entire post-adolescent public life covered from head to toe, and not in Balenciaga. Though lately, what’s underneath a woman’s robes is getting a lot of attention, as designer outfits flood the Middle East. Underneath the flowing gelabiyas, I’ve spotted a wealth of designer clothes in Egypt, along with perfectly coiffed hair, and stunning Louboutins. In the female-only parties, wedding festivals, and luncheons that are popular in the region, women show off their Western wear to family and girlfriends; men except their husbands will never see it.
Meanwhile, teenage girls are emulating Middle Eastern movie stars and singers – a phenomenon causing a lot of controversy, as Arab celebrities become increasingly provocative, and the teenage girls admiring them struggle with how to adapt to the new role models inside such a conservative culture.
A BBC photo essay explains the girls experiment with riskier fashion in the privacy of their own homes.
They’re literally dressing for themselves, looking in the mirror and getting total satisfaction from sharing their new look with nobody else. But it’s obvious that Arab women are interested in fashion and beauty. The industry knows it, Marc Jacobs opened his Dubai store last year, and even Al Jazeera is broadcasting an interview with Sophie Dahl.
How long until the fashion they see on pop culture becomes a reality in their wardrobes?