Fashion Week is coming. So in the spirit of audacious runway creativity, here's a new sartorial concept for the Muslim Middle East — and a way to at least partially solve the French "burkini" challenge: the "burkino," full-body-covering beachwear for men.
Brimming with cultural outrage, French officials from 30 municipalities recently decided to protect precious laïcité , or secularism, by banning women from wearing full-body bathing suits, calling the mere choice of modest swimwear a "provocation."
Free-speech advocates have strongly objected. How can France, which shattered social convention back in 1946 by inventing the bikini and whose national motto starts with the endorsement of of liberté , tell women what they can and can't wear at the beach or pool? Indeed, France's highest administrative court recently struck down one town's burkini ban on grounds that it violates civil liberties and that the garb poses no threat to public safety.
Yet the bathing suit battle seems likely to continue, as towns continue insisting that the burkini is actually a veiled (so to speak) attempt by Islamist fundamentalists to impose religious dress, and hence Islamist values, in what France considers religion-free public space.
Now, with tongue in cheek, a long-time fashion insider, Kym Canter, proposes a bold compromise: appropriately demure beachwear for men.
Rather than making it illegal for women to cover one's hair and body, why not offer Muslim men an opportunity to express solidarité — another French value — with their shrouded wives and sisters? In fact, in the name of gender neutrality, why should France not insist upon it?
Many Islamic scholars argue that the modesty imperative applies to both men and women (though over time, patriarchies being what they are, women have borne the brunt of the prophet's insistence that women should cover their "adornments" and that men and women dress and act to avoid temptation).
"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest," instructs the Koran. So let us level the sartorial score.
Canter, a fashion trend-hunter and entrepreneur, thinks the potential market could be huge. She would like to offer the burkino in four basic colors — black, navy, gray and safety orange — and in all sizes: small, medium, large, extra and super extra large. She would also like to offer a paunch-concealing model, in all sizes.
Consider the side benefits. Until now, devout Muslim men have looked enviously at their heavily covered wives and daughters, shielded from public view, wondering how they, too, could enjoy beachwear consistent with the modesty that some interpretations of their faith impose on women in public spaces.
The burkino would also end the fat-shaming that affects so many male beach-goers. No more need Muslim men fear that their imperfect bodies will be the object of scorn or search in vain for an alternative to standard male beach attire — bare chests and baggy shorts, or, worse, form-fitting Lycra briefs.
And European beach-goers will no longer be able to accuse Muslim men of hypocrisy for dressing like secular Europeans while insisting that their wives cover up.
But wait, there's more. Devout Muslim men, like their mothers, sisters, and wives, would no longer have to worry about getting sunburned.
Yes, it's a bit tricky to do the breast stroke, or the butterfly, in the burkino. But isn't that a small price to pay for the psychological, physical — and spiritual — security burkinos would provide?
Some men might resent being asked to give up water skiing, for instance, in the name of Islamic modesty. But others will take the plunge. For the brave, the burkino's moment has come.
Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Marlowe is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.