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In Jordan, hijabs inspire style

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Lisa Napoli: Next week, Marketplace Morning Report will be broadcasting from Cairo, Egypt. It’s part of our special coverage of economic issues in the Middle East. Today, a preview. A story about one of the most iconic images of the Middle East: the head scarf.

In recent years, the head scarf has been a flash point the world over. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth says in Jordan, some women who wear it say it’s more about fashion than religion.

Alisa Roth: Standing in a shop window, Lowei is carefully wrapping a mannequin in a head scarf. As a man, he’s not allowed to put the scarf directly on a real woman. He says there are a lot more hijab — or head scarf — stores than there used to be in Jordan. Not necessarily because people are more religious, he says, but because it’s the style.

That style is good for business: headscarves have to keep up with clothes fashion, Lowei explains. So if purple is the “it” color for sweaters or shirts, it’ll be big for hijab, too.

But there are more variations with headscarves, from the kind of fabric to the way it’s wrapped around the head.

Like the unusual coil Narmin has wound at the back of her head with a bright pink scarf. She’s a teacher in her early 40’s, who started wearing a scarf for religious reasons when she was living in Texas 10 years ago. But piety hasn’t blinded her to the fashion opportunity:

Narmin: It has to be the same color, or else I don’t wear it. Because why not? I mean yeah, it’s a religious belief, but I don’t have to look like an old lady if I wear hijab.

For Leila, a 20-something wearing a black-and-white patterned hijab, it was fashion first.

Leila: I’m wearing hijab I think so now . . . for since I was like 14 or 13 years old. The reason why I put it on my head is because I didn’t like my look, and I don’t like my hair, it was curly.

By the time she started university, she was ready to take it off. But her family protested. Not because they’re religious.

Leila: You can say it’s about shame, and it’s about the traditions in the community. I mean, your society, what they expect from you, then you have to do.

Leila says she doesn’t mind it now. Though she still takes it off when she’s travelling abroad — even in Arab countries. And if she lived outside of Jordan, she says, she’d give it up completely.

As for Lowei, he has mixed feelings about the fashion for fashionable hijabs. If people only bought the plain traditional styles, he wouldn’t get much business.

But the girls who are all about fashion? They give us problems, he says, because they’re very picky about the colors.

In Amman, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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