As a wearer of the headscarf, I’m always on the lookout for new ones to update my collection. Out in Marrakech I kept my eye out to see what I could pick up. I was amazed. When I first started wearing the headscarf, you had two choices: a square scarf that you folded into a triangle, or one that was already a triangle. Now, I stood in awe at the scarf stand in the Djemaa al Fna at the enormous range and cleverness of the new styles.
There were still the square ones and triangular ones. But also long ones in all manner of fabrics – silk, cotton, chiffon, crinkled variants, with sparkles and without, made of lycra and in any colour you like. Dulux colour matching would be put to shame. You also have ones which are a cross between a triangle and a long one, with the bit that goes round your face already made up, and a long floating trailing bit to make it look elegant.
Then there is a choice of what, if anything, to wear under the scarf. You can wear a sort of alice band thing for both practicality (covers those wispy bits that float out from under the front of the scarf) and aesthetics (matching or contrasting with the scarf itself and your clothes). Or go for a sort of French maid’s lycra hat type of thing that you slip over your head and it covers your hair from forehead down to the nape of your neck. The scarf then goes over the top to cover your ears, neck and chest and provide some elegance. Or a sort band that is a cross between an alice band and the hat i.e. the bottom of the hat has a whole, presumably to allow your head to ‘breathe’.
Most striking to me in Marrakech was the fact that the women wore extremely colourful headscarves and niqabs. Unlike the ubiquitous black in the UK and other regions like the Gulf, the long jilbabs (long cloaks) and the headscarves and even the niqabs were of light shades and often quite colourful. Certainly we saw creams, whites, bright greens and cute pinks. Whilst retaining the modesty and tradition of the style of dress, the Marrakshi ladies injected colour, style and personality into their dress. Even the niqabs came in all sorts of (quite surprising) colours.
All these women in their choices of colours seemed very much at ease with their dress. They weren’t hiding, they weren’t shy and they weren’t separating themselves. They looked me and my husband in the eye, were quite happy to jostle in the busy streets, and they certainly engaged in conversation with the shopkeepers and those they met. They felt easy and comfortable in their dress. There certainly wasn’t any sense of anger or aggression. And it felt easy to move around with them.
And then there was the whole hoodie thing. Both the men and women wore “jallabas”, sort of long cloaks that have a hood on the back, and in the evenings as the temperature dropped, these hoods were whipped forward to cover the heads of their wearers. They struck me as ‘hoodies’, but they were just a bit longer, that’s all. Nobody made a fuss about them, nobody ran screaming from the hoodie wearers.
All these forms of dress exist in the UK, but somehow the way the Marrakshis were wearing them showed a sense of ease and peace from those who wore them, and all the people round them.
Perhaps we need to ask, why do these same forms of dress cause such consternation in the UK? It’s clear that hijabs, niqabs and hoodies can be a form of grace, elegance and ease, as well as a context of social interaction.