The thing about prom is that even though it's glorified as a pivotal rite of passage for American teens, it's not always what you'd call "good, clean fun." The drinking, the pot smoking, and the hooking up that are associated with the event (at least in reputation) can render the night a big "absolutely not!" for many kids with conservative parents, including some who come from observant Muslim families. A few years ago, a writer for the blog The Muslim Voice warned, "If you're a practicing Muslim teen, then you know it's Haram to go to prom."
Haram is an action forbidden by Islamic law.
Indeed, when my colleague Alaa Basatneh, an observant Muslim who grew up in Chicago, was in high school, she says, there was no way her mother was going to let her go to prom. "Ten years ago, a girl could not even bring up prom in her Muslim family." Basatneh told me. "The minute you say prom, they think nonstop sex, they think drinking and drinking… and dancing!" Instead, Basatneh says, her mom hosted an all-girls party at their home the night of the big dance. At the time, she had a blast with friends, tinged with a small dose of FOMO.
But now, Basatneh says, times are changing. "I've been noticing more and more girls are enculturating and bringing hijabs to prom." And the internet confirms. This prom season, a steady stream of photos featuring Muslim teens in gorg gowns with matching hijab have been popping up on social media, proving that, for some Muslim families, prom now gets a green light.
On the popular blog TheMuslimGirl.com, the site's creator, who goes by the name Ikhlas, writes in her prom post, "Shopping for dresses for prom can be a pain. It can be even more of a pain if you’re looking for a modest look, since the majority of dresses are sleeveless, with plunging necklines, and thigh-high slits. But it doesn't have to be!"
Ikhlas, now 26, says that while she didn't go to prom herself, she struggled with the decision. Ultimately, she decided it wasn't the right thing for her. But when it comes to her blog? "I still wanted to do the post on prom, because even though I didn't go, I know how big a deal it is to some girls," she told me in an email, "I want girls to have options if they choose to go so they can enjoy themselves in a modest way." Ikhlas suggests wearing a blazer over a dress, or a shirt underneath a sleeveless dresses, to tailor the amount of skin revealed.
The blog HijabWorld.com also features killer modest looks for prom, advising, "Every Muslim girl looks forward to her prom night and we will help you decide on the perfect prom dress with matching hijab. There are many styles to choose from and you don’t just have to wear the dress once. If you choose your style wisely, it can be suitable to re-wear to a wedding or engagement."
In a culture where young women's bodies are constantly policed—especially around prom season, when parents and school authorities undercut women's agency and confidence by telling them how they should and shouldn't dress—these young women are wearing exactly what they want, and looking f'ing beautiful doing it.
But modesty in fashion is only half the battle, right? What about the boys and the dancing?
Nada Makki, who owns the boutique Hijab Styles By Nada in Dearborn Heights, Michigan—and designs hijabs for prom herself—explained in a phone interview that depending on the family, some girls are allowed to go to prom as long as they go with a group of girls. This gets around the whole dating thing. And some other families pair their daughters with a male chaperone, like a cousin.
Basatneh added that some girls will go for the dinner and dance—but skip any sort of after-party, which of course, ensures they avoid any hangovers. Kinda the best of both worlds, right?
As we come to the end of this year's prom season, hats off to everyone who decided to go—or not to go—as their most authentic selves.
For more on prom trends, check out Fusion's new Facebook Live show: Hot Line.
Cleo Stiller is a digital producer covering the intersections of sex, tech and culture. Words to live by: get your money's worth.