Many women in the United Kingdom are furious about what stores are selling as the must-have design for swimsuits this summer: the “burkini.”
A full-body swimsuit specifically designed with Muslims in mind, a burkini loosely resembles a wetsuit, complete with long pants and a swimming cap.
Burkinis aren’t necessarily new, as The Daily Mail notes famed chef Nigella Lawson famously wore one during a trip to Australia.
Yet with stores across the country stocking up on burkinis, including department store chain Marks & Spencer, many public figures are now speaking out about the statement that the trend is making on women and the movement to modernize Islamic fashion.
Pierre Bergé, one of the co-founders of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, recently told French radio station Europe 1 that:
“I am scandalized. Creators should have nothing to do with Islamic fashion.
Designers are there to make women more beautiful, to give them their freedom, not to collaborate with this dictatorship which imposes this abominable thing by which we hide women and make them live a hidden life.”
Muslim writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown added in the Daily Mail that she was “hot with indignation” over the new collection of burkinis at M&S.
“These companies might not think they are encouraging fanaticism, but they are.
They’re complicit in a version of Islam that believes women must be subjugated in public.”
Alibhai-Brown, who is well-known for her progressive views, went on to note how the new style actually contradicts what she’s witnessed among other Muslim women.
“I taught English to women who’d come from countries like Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Bangladesh. Many wore saris or shalwar kameez (trousers and a tunic-length top), but their hair was uncovered, their necks too, and their arms would be on display. It was normal.
These women weren’t vamps or flirts. They just hadn’t been brainwashed into thinking such clothes were ‘un-Islamic’. Often they had taken jobs in factories, and discovered that wearing trousers and jumpers was preferable to a sari, which was dangerous when you were working with machinery.
But nobody criticised them for their dress. No men told them they were immodest, or that they couldn’t leave the house unless they covered up. No women said to them — as they regularly say to me now — ‘Sister, you shouldn’t show your hair. Sister, you are wearing clothes that are forbidden in the Koran.”
Despite its critics, there appears to be a market for the burkini. The Belfast Telegraph notes the international Muslim clothing market is worth billions annually, and “queues of burkha-wearing customers” will spend thousands of pounds in stores every few minutes.