When I think of Muslim involvement in the Western wedding industry, I think of my favorite reality TV series, Say Yes to the Dress. Most people get caught up in the emotional family drama and Randy Fenoli’s antics, but I often find my eyes wandering to the families in the backdrop.
And recently, more often than not, there is a sight that instantly hooks my attention and causes a flurry of recognition and warmth: a family of hijabis, with a bride who may or may not be wearing a hijab herself. It would be a joyous sight, if it wasn’t for the frowns and careful picking through of racks hung with sleeveless, sheer, knee-length gowns.
There is a need in the wedding industry, and these families plucking at cap sleeves and beckoning the consultant closer to whisper suggestions in her ear only prove it further. You can’t say yes to the dress if it’s not a dress that works for you and your lifestyle.
This is not an issue narrowed to hijab-observing brides, either. If you are a modest Muslim bride in general or one with particular cultural needs, how can Kleinfeld or David’s Bridal or any major bridal outlet present that to you? And, if you are a bride in a diaspora community who may not have connections or ties to shop “back home”, where does that leave you?
A sleeveless dress with a cardigan draped over it, or a white dress instead of a colorful gown, is a substitution that may not satisfy you – and you have every right not to feel satisfied.
Muslim brides are as much a part of the industry as any other modest sub-set – and there are other modest sub-sets being served. A search of modest wedding suggestions turns up Mormon wedding gowns and consulting services, primarily, along with Orthodox Jewish women, who have their own specialized consultant at Kleinfeld.
As lovely as it is to see other marginalized women being honored with inclusion (and, indeed, their gain is also ours as these companies give options where there otherwise might not be), why haven’t Muslim women, a good part of the population, become as engaged in the industry or provided for?
One of the issues rests with the fact that Muslims tend to be lumped together into a monolith. There is a great deal, in the Muslim community as well as through the external gaze, of narrowing cultural needs down to Arab or Desi populations.
The only web series that has been proposed as a diverse version of Say Yes to the Dress is set in a New Jersey wedding boutique that, of course, provides for a demographic of brides and grooms from the Indian subcontinent.
Most YouTube searches for “Muslim wedding,” as well, will crop up as Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. It takes some particular digging to get to the wealth of Malaysian and Indonesian ceremonies, for instance, and – marvelously – other diverse ceremonies from areas such as China, Turkey, and even Korea.
One of the top wedding ceremonies on YouTube featuring a Muslim couple that is not from that particular area of the world – a lovely African-American couple wedding in Canada embodies a ceremony that may not have a cultural flair many would identify with Islam but is no less important.
Their nikkah blends elements of their faith with aspects that their gathered Christian family recognize: a walk down an aisle, a first dance, and a bride who wears a beautiful, long-sleeved dress and turban while also rocking a pair of glittery Converse.
These diversities might be pointed to as a reason why we aren’t yet considered an audience in the wedding industry. After all, if you are going to consider all these different backgrounds and traditions or needs, where does the profit start to come in?
Underlining that need is part of having that need addressed – and that profitable market highlighted. We need consultants, designers, caterers and day-of wedding planners who understand what it means to be marginalized and diverse in faith and practice, and the richness and joy that results from our varied practices and customs.
That doesn’t mean just considering how you can serve hijabi brides, but recognizing the needs and traditions of Muslim families from all walks of life practice and want to be displayed on that special day.
A quick search on Etsy, for instance, reveals multiple Muslim-owned businesses that provide Islamic themed wedding cake toppers. That is only the tip of the iceberg, and deeper digging will reveal creators you may never have heard of but need your support in order to build a larger platform.
To achieve inclusion, there is going to be a more vocal pushback and demand as well. I’ve encouraged friends who, half-jokingly, confessed they wanted to be a bride on Say Yes to the Dress, or ask a local event hall to consider adding a Halal option so they might be able to hold their wedding there.
There is no change without a direct positioning to demand that change. The onus is not entirely on a community that, in spite of being marginalized, is visible, but there is power in using that voice to expect more.