The Burkini Backlash: Past Women’s Clothing Bans in History – Allure Magazine
While some European designers have embraced clothing in line with Islamic guidelines (Dolce & Gabbanaâs abaya collection and Uniqloâs hijab collaboration with U.K.-based Hana Tajima, to name a few), modest wear has once again caught flak in France. The country, home to an estimated 4.7 million Muslims, according to the Pew Research Center, has recently seen cities such as Nice and Cannes impose bans on swimwear that covers the body and the head: a.k.a. the burkini.
Last Wednesday, French prime minister Manuel Valls said the burkini is a âtranslation of a political project for a counter-society based on womanâs enslavement.â
Designers of the swimwear have been quick at voicing their disagreement. âI personally feel that [this ban] is more of an attack on women,â says Kausar Sacranie, the U.K.-based designer of Modestly Active, a conservative activewear brand that sells burkinis. âTaking the right away from a woman to choose what she wears or doesnât wear is much more important to question.â
Australia-based designer Aheda Zanetti, who designs burkinis for her label Ahiida, says itâs unfortunate that a womanâs choice of clothing has been a pawn in politics. âI donât believe that a French politician, Taliban, or anyone in general should enforce women on what we should wear or not,â she says.
The enforcement is the latest example of the tension between France and its Muslim community following a series of terrorist attacks that has traumatized the nation, including last month’s Bastille Day mayhem in Nice that claimed 86 lives. In Cannes, offenders risk a fine of â¬38 (about $42) for wearing the burkini, according to the mayor’s ordinance.
Several opponents of the ban are speaking out for the fundamental rights of women, including Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy real estate entrepreneur who has offered to pick up the tab for women fined under the ban. “I decided to pay for all the fines of women who wear the burkini in order to guarantee their freedom of wearing these clothes, and most of all, to neutralize the application on the ground of this oppressive and unfair law,” Nekkaz told CNN.
Paris-based designer Vanessa Lourenco started making burkinis for her boutique Madamme BK with the idea that every woman should have the freedom to enjoy life, regardless of her clothing guidelines. “Iâm not Muslim, and people do ask me why I design for Muslim women,” says the designer. “My answer to that is simple: At the end of the day, women are women. We all want to look beautiful and feel feminine.”
When asked whether the new ban would affect sales, Lourenco says she intends to continue selling worldwide regardless, while Zanetti has seen a rise in inquiries regarding sales, particularly in Europe, since the ban.
Lourenco adds that fashion should be democratic, with options for everyone. A ban like this limits that privilege. âCreating awareness is already a large step forward in changing peopleâs attitudes to this innocent but liberating fashion,â she says.
Or as Zanetti concisely sums it up: âItâs just a swimsuit!â
Here, 12 more instances of clothing and beauty bans for women around the world:
1. Ancient Greece
During the seventh century B.C., women in Greece were forbidden from wearing embroidered robes or jewelry outsideâunless they were prostitutes. The color purple was also reserved for nobility, since the dye was considered rare and precious.
2. France Overturns a 200-Year-Old Ban on Women Wearing Pants
According to a law imposed on November 17, 1800, French women needed permission from the local police to wear pants or âdress like a man.â Though the law was ignored for the decades following, it wasnât officially overturned until 2013, more than 200 years later.
3. New York City in 1936
Women in New York City were banned from wearing any tops that left their navel exposed in public according to a law in 1936. The ban was lifted almost 50 years later in the ’80s. Revealing the midriff has gained popularity since then.
4. The Invention of the Bikini in 1946
Five years after the creation of the modern bikini in 1946, the Vatican denounced the two-piece bathing suit as sinful. Prior to the introduction of the two-piece, Hollywood’s Hays Code prevented the showing of the navel onscreen.
5. The Island of Paama Shorts and Pants Ban in 2001
In March 2001, chiefs from the island of Paama in Vanuatu banned women from wearing shorts or pants in public. They claimed both articles of clothing were too revealing and could potentially incite rape and adultery.
6. Greece Bans Heels
In 2009, Greek authorities moved to ban women from wearing stiletto heels at archaeological sites out of fear they would damage the monuments.
7. Karamay, China, in 2014
In 2014, the law in Karamay, a city in the Xinjiang region of Chinaâhome to a population that is around 45 percent Muslimâbanned any clothing that seemed too Islamic on public buses. This included the hijab, niqab (face covering), burqa (a loose-fitting long garment), and even clothing with the Islamic star-and-crescent symbol. The law warned that perpetrators would be âhandled by the police.â
8. Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan Ban Lace Undergarments in 2014
Lacy underwear was banned in Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan after regulations were made that undergarments could not contain less than 6 percent of cotton for proper moisture absorption (a criterion most lace lingerie did not meet). That same year, several women were detained in Kazakhstan after protesting the ban on lace underwear.
9. Iranian Cleric Says Western Clothes Are Causing Rivers to Run Dry
A cleric in Iran recently called for a crackdown on women wearing clothes deemed too âWestern,â saying that the provocative dress is causing the country’s rivers to run dry. In 2010, a different cleric warned that women who dress immodestly would spread adultery in society and, by doing so, increase the frequency of earthquakes in the area.
10. International Basketball Federation Headdress Ban
The Qatar women’s basketball team withdrew from the 2014 Asian Games when players refused to remove their head scarves before competing against Mongolia. Ironically, the motto of the games was âdiversity shines here.â
11. Uganda Miniskirt Ban
Following an anti-pornography bill, which banned âindecentâ dressing, women took to the streets in 2014 to protest in miniskirts. Known as the âminiskirt law,â the bill did not explicitly name miniskirts but rather considered any clothing that exposed the breasts, thighs, or butt as unlawful.
12. BBC Producer Bans Red Lipstick
At a BAFTA panel event in 2014, Melissa Hardinge, the executive producer of BBC’s children’s programming, said she stresses the importance of presenting suitable content for younger viewers. She then disclosed she has asked presenters of children’s programs to remove their red lipstick before going on air because “they shouldnât look too sexy.”
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