Why is hijab always such a big deal?

Behind the Screen

I’m sure you’ve all seen the news story about the girl who’s suing Abercrombie & Fitch for discriminating against her hijab. It made the front page of MSN over the weekend and I have to say I’m a little iffy about the whole thing.

Of course I shouldn’t judge someone who wants to work at a place that is known for its scantily clad models (they had to cover their catalog with special plastic and a warning because people complained it was borderline pornography). The reason is because I myself used to work for *gasp* Victoria’s Secret.

Back when I first finished graduate school and was still looking to either get married or get a job 😉 I randomly decided to apply to Victoria’s Secret when I saw a sign that said they were hiring. After all I’d rather be making some sort of income rather than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.

I went to the interview, completed the paper work and was quite surprised to be hired. I ended up working in the beauty section of the store with all the lotions and potions and even though I was in full hijab no one seemed to care. I have to say that I actually was quite good with my sales. It was awkward though when guys came over to my checkout to buy thongs for their girlfriends. Another awkward moment was when this guy walked up to me and just kept saying, “Man you have really cool eyes.” I don’t know if he expected me to give him some free stuff for saying that or if he was just weird? Trust me, you meet a lot of characters when you work in customer service.

Then there was the time a little boy knocked over a bottle of perfume and it broke on the floor. I tried to be nice because the boy looked terrified, “It’s OK it was just an accident I’ll clean it up.” Then his mom whipped her head around and started pointing at me, “No no no! You knocked it over he didn’t do anything, he wasn’t even standing by the table.”

OK chill out! It’s not like you’re going to pay for it, I have no idea why she decided to attack me.

In any case these were just some of the things I dealt with in the retail world. I enjoyed the experience and hated it at the same time, but it was definitely something to learn and grow from.

But back to the girl who’s suing Abercrombie & Fitch. I guess I always knew that store went for a certain look. I’d been in there in the past and they’d recruit my friends with blond hair and blue eyes and ask them if they wanted to work there. I was never asked so I pretty much figured out what they were all about.

I have had other instances of discrimination specifically due to hijab which include not being hired for on-air television gigs (employers are very smart about the way they word things) as well as a very bizarre experience I had with Family Video which I’ll have to write about another time. But I’ve just had to move on and use my energy elsewhere. Sometimes I wonder if I should have done something more.

However, it begs the question, should employers be allowed to only hire a certain look? Should the girl get a chance to work at Abercrombie and Fitch even in hijab? What about Islamic schools that require all teachers to wear hijab in the school even if they’re not Muslim?

I’d love to read your take on the situation!

This article has 15 comments

  1. Dania

    I studied hairstyling and fell in love with it—ten years ago. I was unsucessful in getting a job. I am a hijabi. Yes, I understand their reasoning about not hiring hijabis but at the same time I looooooooooove hair so should I be deprived? No!!! After all would they refuse to hire a stylist who was bauld? I think not!!!!

  2. ma'ruf

    hi every one! obviously this is an old post but i’d like to share my experience about this topic. when i was in college i used to wear hijab ofcourse and its very weird to evryone because im the only muslim in the class and very few in the whole university and for the other muslim in the unvrsity they dont really practice the hijab wearing so it was so weird to everybody but it was fantastic because i was bit known at our school because of my hijab. and its more fantastic when i finished college and practice my profession and the same time practice the full ettiquets of hijab its like covering the face and having a lose dress but i make sure that its pretty cool tahn a usual full cover. And i was quite bothered because in our country its very rare to see a full covered girl working in a non islamic city, its weird for them to see a girl on hijab and how much more full covered but of course i dont want either to work at customer service though my profession is somekinda related to customer service “pharmacist”… But i was soo glad to have this manufacturing company of beauty products that had a nerve to hire a full covered girl! even without seeing my face on interview. it was a nice feeling to be welcome at any company without descriminating hijab and especially religion. salam!

  3. Victoria

    Sorry to chime in since this is an old post, but I have some info on this subject, as a former A&F employee, that you ladies might appreciate. I’m not a regular, I found this site through your recent BoingBoing contribution and I’ve been looking around; it’s lovely and I’m having fun reading your posts.

    I used to work at Abercrombie and Fitch, and nobody ever wins these suits against them because what they are doing is actually legal, under the same laws that allow big-name designers to select models for their runway shows based on appearance.

    It isn’t like any other store where they hire you as a sales associate, and cannot discriminate – my official job title, even though I was folding shirts and helping customers, was “Model.” Anyone who wants to work in the front of the store must be hired as a model, a brand representative who is there to display the clothes. I had my picture taken regularly and sent to their corporate headquarters; if I had, say, become pregnant, I would have had to transfer to “Impact” (stockroom) staff until I could fulfill the Look Policy of a model again.

  4. Kelly

    LOL NAdia, and those with good hair can do a *really* bad job. Not that I have ever had that experience or anything *whistling* Good thing I wear hijab or else I might be *really* angry lol.

  5. Nadia Malik

    Abercrombie has a long history of discriminatory hiring. I think that store just promotes the idea that anyone who doesn’t fit into a certain standard shouldn’t be allowed in. Which is why I’ve always refused to shop there.
    I remember back in high school, when people were applying for jobs there, the first question they would ask is what concerts they attended. Because that REALLY affects how someone does their job.

    But regardless, I disagree that a hijabi can’t be hired as a hair dresser. So many hair dressers have really awful hair. But they still do a good job of cutting other people’s hair.
    Obviously the world isn’t perfect, and people are judged on their looks. But we’re never gonna get anywhere if people don’t start looking past that.

  6. Kelly

    Oh, and I must respectfully disagree that some jobs should be off limits from hijabis. Ok, maybe hooters and playboy, but why a clothing store. We wear clothes!

    So long that you can fulfill the job requirements, what’s the big problem? If the req’t there is to wear and market the clothes, it’s totally doable.

  7. Kelly

    shoot. I had a whoooooole long post typed up the other day and it didn’t post somehow. Guess that is what happens when you post while holding a 7amel lol. Just kidding. a 19 month old.

    Anyhow, I heard about this story about a year ago on a debate board and you can make an entire hijabified outfit from that store…


    THere is a link to a polyvore set I made. It’s all abercrombie. Now some might be a bit too tight for proper hijab, but I still see girls wearing that kinda stuff all the time. So.

  8. Zeena

    The girl should not be sue the store it makes hijabis
    look bad like all they care about is money.

  9. Salma

    It’s so lame that in this day and age people
    make a big deal about a piece of cloth on
    someone’s head.

  10. Mariam Sobh

    Sally I was just talking to my family about this the other day and we were joking that a hijabi should go and apply to Hooters lol..

    Anyhow, I think you all make great points. It’s one of those things that there probably is no right or wrong answer.

    But sometimes I wonder if people become too demanding of things, like Jodi, Caraboska and Sally have mentioned… employers have certain things they want in order to sell their products, and if you can’t fit that criteria then why should they HAVE to hire you?

    At the same time though, how is the world supposed to be more encompassing and accepting if certain types of people are kept out of the job force?

    Wow my brain hurts! 😉

  11. Jodi

    I didn’t hear about this incident at all. Well…I don’t have cable so….ya! Well, I don’t think public and non-religious employers have the right to discriminate based on age, sex, height, weight, skin color, origin, or religious wear etc. Now if it’s on ability, availability and so forth then that’s a totally different story. If I had a store and someone wanted to work in only flip flop, then no… I’d question anyone wanting to apply if they see the store is a certain way and they didn’t want to comply! I personally am so sick of this hijab stuff. No one should care. If it does not interfere with my work, then so what, leave my head-scarf alone please! Non Muslim’s work at Islamic schools? You don’t mean teaching classes right? I’m confused. Any religious school, which is probably private should have the right to say who they want to work there and how they want them to dress as far as modesty and hijab is concerned. That’s their right.

  12. Sally

    I just read this :http://www.abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=7916247&page=1
    I guess they are very strict and discriminating when it comes to dress code…
    Quite unfortunate that a brand with this type of philosophy is considered “cool” 🙂

  13. Sally

    I think that if Islamic schools have the right to ask teachers to cover their head if they want to teach there, A&F has the right to refuse people who don’t fit their company “view”. If a hijabi is really into fashion, there are plenty of other “cool” retail store that one can work with , which may not have their sales and advertisements based on half naked invididuals. I don’t see anything wrong in working in places like that, I totally would work at VS, for example. (Is not like their other sales rep are dressed like the models anyways, lol). I wouldnt judge anyone for working there. However, if A&F didn’t hire me, I would understand and move on to people who will. Would she do the same if Hooters didnt hire her? :))).
    There was a similar case in Canada of a hijabi who was suing a hair salon who didn’t hire her. Come on, don’t we all look at a hairstylist hair before choosing her?
    In my opinion, we have to understand that wearing hijab will close certain doors. I just try to think that these doors maybe doors that are better left closed anyways.

  14. Fatin

    hmmm…i don’t know how i feel about working in a place like this… but i still think she shouldn’t be eliminated just because she wear HIJAB..

  15. caraboska

    What she should have done is study the outfits other sales staff wear – which would no doubt be comprised of A&F clothes – and show up for her interview dressed for work. In the coolest outfit possible. And study the manner of behavior of the sales staff to understand what the standards are, what sort of atmosphere she should be striving to project, and then project that atmosphere when she walked into the interview.

    I can understand – if it is stated in the job description that you will be expected to treat your every appearance on the sales floor as an opportunity to model the company’s clothes – that they could require sales staff be able to fit into one of the standard sizes both length- and width-wise without any obvious fitting problems, and that you must be able to put together outfits that meet company merchandising standards.

    But I think it would be very difficult for the company to prove that a hijabi is not sufficiently cool, if she has good fashion sense and is able to work well with their clothes. And I think that hiring only blondes, for example, would be a no-no.

    And as for the Islamic school, absolutely, all employees and students absolutely should be keeping to Islamic standards of dress. I believe the school does have the right to demand that for the sake of public decency, just like they have the right to demand certain standards of dress (as well as removal of shoes) from anyone who wishes to enter a mosque.

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