Rake Appeal { Fashion

Native Minnesotan women spend the majority of each year with their bodies covered from head to ankle out of environmental necessity. Somali women residing in Minnesota have a similar head-to-ankle requirement, although the practice of wearing a modesty-preserving veil, or hijab, has its roots in tradition rather than meteorology. Pitted one against the other: Which bundled-up look has more flair? The Somalis have the competitive advantage in this instance, because nothing done in Thinsulate or fleece pulls an outfit together quite like a long, elegant veil.

The magic of the veil is in the line it creates. The eye is drawn to the face, initially, and then follows the graceful curve of the fabric downward like the cascading hair of a Texas cheerleader in a shampoo commercial. Veils aren’t supposed to be flirty, right? Hair is flirty—that’s why it needs to be covered. Yet veils made from lightweight fabric move with the neck, just like long tresses do. Maybe it’s just a sneaky way of getting the same effect as synthetic hair extensions.

The flow of the veil continues unabated over the shoulders until it reaches the hem. This is where, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, Somali women stay in the game whereas many other Muslim women drop the ball. To keep the line rolling the full length of the body, the veil must complement the cloth of the garments beneath it. If the hijab has a floral pattern on a white background, but the rest of the outfit is a navy blue, the eye will jump where the fabrics clash and that sense of grace will be lost. The fabrics don’t have to be of the same material, and they don’t necessarily have to be the same color, but they must not quarrel. The Somali women I encounter, and envy, while wandering through malls or grocery stores seem particularly adept at maintaining the sweep of the line, and it is not uncommon to see a young sartorial stunt-pilot pull off tricks like pairing lilac chiffon with indigo denim. At one of the local Somali malls, I pestered a pair of chic women in their twenties. A regal beauty with incredible bone structure had arranged her black hijab over olive-green clothes with such attention to shape that her outfit seemed no less tailored than a Chanel suit. Her companion wore a periwinkle velvet blazer that was perfectly accented by an ivory headscarf patterned with pale blue and fawn stripes. How do they manage it? Apparently, sheer quantity helps. “I couldn’t even guess how many scarves I own. Every imaginable color,” said Sophia Ali.

Contrast this elegant and simple vision with the choppy chaos of recent fashions. For instance, I spent the past winter parading about in gaucho pants. This is intellectually confusing not only because I have neither cattle nor pampas on which to herd them, but also because the pants that actual gauchos wear are called bombachas. It’s aesthetically confusing because gaucho pants end well before reaching the ankle, destroying the natural flow of the leg line. This summer, 1980s-style leggings will perform a similar amputation on calves near you! Short-sleeved shirts will be cutting arms into twos, belts will be carving figures into fatty halves, yet Somali women will remain serene, their faces framed fetchingly atop hidden curves. Though their motivation may be modesty, sometimes it seems they’re just plain showing off. —Sarah Askari