in her shoes

A Hijab Entrepreneur on the Power of Modest Dressing

Photo: Gabriela Herman

As fashion starts making inroads toward inclusivity, one area that’s seen exponential growth is modest dressing. Net-a-Porter devotes a section to it, while The Modist’s entire website caters to women who prefer more conservative silhouettes.

As the founder of Haute Hijab, Melanie Elturk is part of this mini-boom. She launched the company in 2010 with her husband, Ahmed Zedan, to make it easier for women to find stylish and functional head coverings. With over 160 styles and new options dropping weekly, the brand has become a resource for customers around the world. In addition to working as CEO, Elturk is also an ambassador for her brand, with over 239,000 people on Instagram following her for fashion inspiration.

Elurk grew up in Detroit and went to Wayne University, where she earned both an undergraduate and law degree. As a lawyer, she practiced both in the United States and in Dubai, but as Haute Hijab grew in popularity, Elturk decided to leave law to focus on her expanding company. The Cut talked to her about the power of modest dressing, how she deals with the haters, and why she loves high heels.

Photo: Gabriela Herman

On her daily shoes: I don’t have a specific pair that I wear. It really depends on my outfit. That said, I’m always in heels unless I’m really dressing down. I’m short (five-foot-two), so I’ve been wearing heels since middle school.

On the power of high heels: They make me feel more put-together. It’s the same effect as putting on makeup. I don’t feel truly ready unless I have a pair on. I won’t ever go lower than 3.5 inches for a classic pump (Gianvito Rossi, Aquazzura, and Vince Camuto make some of my favorites) and I’ll never do a kitten heel. The only time I wear flats are sneakers. Even my oxfords have some height; Madewell and Louise et Cie make great ones.

On what she wears to big meetings: My go-to is a power suit from Club Monaco or Reiss with sleek pumps and a printed hijab. My style is classic with an edge, so I love a beautiful suit that fits to perfection with a menswear vest underneath or an interesting silk blouse with Victorian-era buttons down the front.

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On the shoes that are stashed at her desk: I keep a pair of classic black patent-leather pumps plus a pair of oxfords. Sometimes a girl’s gotta take a break! If my feet are killing me, I can always slip on flatter shoes. As for the heels — they’ve saved me when my shoes broke! Plus, you never know when last minute post-work plans spring up. We also do a lot of styling for photo shoots in office so they’re a great staple to keep around.

On what she wears for post-work plans: I love my Zara or Brooks Brothers slim cigarette pants with a sweater or blouse and silk hijab. It’s an effortless yet chic look that translates from work to after-hours seamlessly. I typically don’t switch heels unless the ones I want to wear out are really uncomfortable. I try to only buy shoes that I can walk in all day.

On her Monday outfits: I try to start my week off with a bang, so I’ll gravitate toward a statement piece and build around it. It could be anything from sequin joggers to a blouse with a giant bow to a hot pink blazer. I try not to give in to a standard work uniform, and I have the most motivation to play around on Monday, when the week is fresh and new.

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On who she dresses for: Rachel Zoe put it perfectly when she said, “Style is a way to say who you are without saying a word.” I dress to express myself and who I am — and that includes my hijab. It tells the world that I am a woman of faith and should be treated as such. I’ve always loved fashion, so getting dressed in the morning is fun for me. It brings me joy.

On modest dressing: I define modest dressing as the act of covering up more than what society is dictating we should. This differs from woman to woman. Some interpret this as longer hemlines and higher necklines. Others see it as covering all skin and wearing a headscarf. Just as women have the choice to take their clothes off, they should equally have the choice to put more clothes on. I love that there are more options in the market! My hope is that the modest fashion space is not just a trend, but here to stay. There are options for petite and curvy women, so why shouldn’t there be options for those who prefer to cover up?

On why she wears a hijab: I started as a teen. It was an easy decision for me; most of my friends in my Detroit community wore a hijab and I was lucky enough to attend a high school with at least five other women who wore it. It’s an outward manifestation of my commitment to my faith. It identifies me as a Muslim woman. As a result, people treat me differently, but in a good way. In the same way people see a Catholic nun, when others see me, they automatically treat me with respect and distinction.

As for the critics, I meet them with love and compassion. When people spew hate at me, I feel for their own humanity and the space in their heart they allow to be filled with such awfulness. It truly makes me sad, and I know that if I could just sit with them and explain my own story and the similarities between us, they wouldn’t be so quick to criticize.

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A Hijab Entrepreneur on the Power of Modest Dressing