During Ramadan, Muslims not only fast and reflect — they spend, lots. Purchasing in some Muslim-majority countries doubles during the month, with people hosting lavish community meals night after night, giving gifts and donating to charities. Women in particular buy new outfits for the three-day Eid, which many Muslims mark as beginning at sunset Monday, when Ramadan comes to a close.
Opened three years ago, Modern Mary and its high-end modest women’s clothing are part of an increasingly sophisticated effort to market and sell to Muslim Americans, a relatively new faith community thought to represent about $200 billion a year in spending.
Muslims are the country’s most ethnically and racially diverse faith group, and the boutique that afternoon was a microcosm of Muslim American womanhood and varying traditions. There was the stay-at-home mom who hosts dinner parties every night of the month. The unmarried epidemiologist who works late and breaks fast at her folks’. The woman with flowing uncovered hair offering Ramadan reiki specials. And the woman covered in black, except for a slit for her eyes.
The Washington area is an interesting Ramadan market, experts said, because its Muslim population is relatively large and made up of many young, transient globe-trotter and embassy types who are looking to gather and network. They seem to go out more and not just break the fast each night with immediate family, at a meal called an iftar.
“The scene here is about the art of the iftar,” said Asma Uddin, a lawyer transplant from Florida and editor in chief of altmuslimah.com, a blog about Islam and gender.
Hassan was at the boutique with two childhood friends from Baltimore, who said they drive to see the embroidered, beaded Modern Mary designs because it’s unusual to find unique, modest fashions.
The boutique is part of an office suite of health and beauty services aimed at Muslim women. It sits in a nondescript office building that is largely empty during the weekend, with no foot traffic. It includes offices offering everything from clothing and hairdressing to reiki and jewelry, and a woman teaching chic new ways to wrap a head covering.
Almost all of the women who came into the suite covered their hair. Some wore floor-length skirts. Others, such as Modern Mary designer Seema Sahin, wore jeans; Sahin added a long turquoise-and-brown top and super-high-heeled mules.
Ramadan is a busy time for people like Sahin and Mischelle Moody, a Silver Spring aesthetician who helps women deal with the side effects of fasting. The body can release toxins, she said, and when Ramadan comes during the summer — as it did this year — that means a lot of sweating during a holiday when you aren’t supposed to drink water. Clogged pores, breakouts and dry skin are typical side effects, she said.