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I’m a writer whose niche is modest fashion — in fact, I’ve written a whole book on the subject — so dedicating a few hours of my time to critiquing the fashion choices of a Kardashian feels a little like selling my soul. Nevertheless, I simply must address Kim Kardashian’s bizarre Met Gala getup from last night, which covered her in black from head-to-toe (save for a slick ponytail).
If you haven’t seen the now-viral images and memes, I’ll describe the outfit: a black, thigh-length dress with flared sleeves was worn over a black bodysuit, covering the feet to the fingers, forehead and beyond. Two black trains were affixed to the dress, and the look was finished off with black pointy heels. Not a millimeter of skin was on display, and her face was completely shrouded from view.
There’s another black garment that’s known to cover the wearer completely, but I doubt it would ever see the light of day on a red carpet in the West. The burka, after all, has become a symbol of extremism, and when Muslim women choose to wear skin-covering abayas and burkas, they’re considered stifling and oppressive — the furthest thing from high fashion and glamorous. Burkas can provide wearers with anonymity, which is deemed a “threat to security” in many areas of the Western world. An Elle story meanwhile used the term “incognito” to describe Kardashian’s appearance.
When Kardashian’s outfit began to make the rounds on Instagram, I confidently expected it would be written off as an obvious “miss” by mainstream publications. There was no way an ensemble like this could make it to any “best dressed” lists, I naively believed. But alas, Kardashians can make anything seem “cool” — even concepts that are regarded as barbaric and backwards when embodied by Muslims. “Artistic”, “creative”, “mysterious”, and “inventive” were some of the words used to describe her outlandish outfit.
Social media users weren’t so kind. Some compared the costume to that of the Dementors from Harry Potter or stated the reality star showed up to the red carpet in a “sock”. But for others, the similarities with the burka were unmistakable. One user tweeted that Kardashian was paying “tribute to the Taliban” with her choice of attire; another replied, “haute couture burka!” When it’s on the red carpet, and donned by a famous reality television star, the tone is light-hearted, even humorous. When a garment providing the same level of coverage is worn by a Muslim woman, it instigates public uproar over immigration, fundamentalism and feminism.
This was the third time Kardashian appeared in public in an all-black, full-face-covering outfit in the past month. The one she donned on Saturday featured an eerie leather mask that zipped up to cover her entire face. Face masks to prevent the spread of the pandemic are one thing, and black balaclava-style hoods adorned with metal hardware are another.
I can’t help but find this “trend”, for lack of a better word, to be terribly timed, not to mention utterly tone-deaf in light of the current situation in Afghanistan, where less than a month ago US troops pulled out of a nation they invaded and then left to the Taliban. After its previous takeover of Afghanistan, the extremist group’s dress code of choice for women consisted of burkas with face coverings, and for the past few days, Afghan women across the world have been campaigning against burka laws with photos that show their colorful cultural dresses, along with hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes — an extension of the #DontTouchMyHijab campaign that was initiated early this year after France’s hijab ban for minors.
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When it comes to the full-coverage burka, some women do wear these cloaks, complete with face veils, out of choice. But burka, niqab and hijab bans in various European countries and Canadian provinces curb these women’s rights to dress how they please. Watching Kardashian be praised for doing the exact same thing is, quite frankly, mind-boggling.
Unfortunately, this irony is nothing new for Muslim women, who have been dressing modestly for years but only recently found their style preferences reflected in mainstream fashion. Previously, when they wore their long-sleeved, floor-length dresses, they were deemed dowdy and drab. But when the runways of Gucci, Valentino, Christian Dior and more started parading conservative cuts, they were applauded as “prairie-chic” and fashion-forward. Muslim-American Hoda Katebi articulates this still-present dissonance in the 2018 article she penned for Glamour titled“When you wear a turtleneck you’re elegant; when I wear one, I’m oppressed.”
After the September 11 attacks, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney dressed up in a burka to make a dramatic speech in favor of invading Afghanistan. She declared that it was difficult to see, breathe and even cross the road while veiled. Kardashian seemed to have no trouble with seeing, breathing while on the Met Gala’s red carpet — that, too, in high heels.
Stamped with the brand name of Balenciaga, Kardashian’s attire got the nod of approval from far too many fashion publications and critics in the West. A reporter from Fox News, which is widely known for its tendencies toward Islamophobia, deemed Kardashian’s outfit the second-best look of the night. Her channel’s take on burkas would presumably not be so enthusiastic.
Moreover, the theme of this year’s Met Gala was American independence. Some guests embodied the theme creatively, with dresses crafted from denim and a gown featuring 50 flowers, one from each state. Others made statements about taxes and patriarchy. Kardashian’s, however, does not read “American” or “independence” — in fact, so many elements of it emulate the very symbol that America went to war to “liberate” women of. The hypocrisy is glaring — so in that sense, perhaps it was very American indeed.