The beaches of Turkey, crowded with women in bikinis or sunbathing topless, are witnessing a new phenomenon: neck-to-ankle swimwear worn by increasingly confident Muslim women.
The Islamic swimwear consists of a full-body suit and a hood that is pulled over a tight bonnet. The development is worrying the country’s secularists and there have been reports of lifeguards ordering women off beaches for wearing the suits.
Religiously conservative women have traditionally shunned the beaches. If they did visit, they were unable to swim as they were unwilling to bare their flesh in public.
But more than 25,000 of the Islamic swimsuits have been sold in the past year and their leading maker, Hasema, is struggling to cope with demand. Hayrunnisa Gul, the wife of the foreign minister, is among its customers.
The swimsuits come in a range of colours and patterns and the latest versions let the sun through, allowing the wearer to obtain a tan.
Reha Muhtar, a leading writer, provoked controversy when he wrote in a leading newspaper describing the swimwear as “bizarre”. Ahmet Hakan, another columnist, labelled the suits as “silly, tasteless and weird”.
Women’s clothing is a question of politics in Turkey well as fashion. Since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern state as a secular country, headscarves have been banned in schools and universities and for civil servants. That has resulted in some religious female students wearing wigs instead of scarves to enable them to complete their studies. For some young women, wearing a headscarf has become associated with teenage rebellion.
But since the election of the moderate Islamic government of Recep Tayyid Erdogan, Muslim women have been far less coy about demonstrating their beliefs in public.
As well as the growing enthusiasm for the full body swimsuits, Muslim camping sites, spas and beach resorts that do not sell alcohol and segregate men and women have sprung up. For example, the Caprice Hotel, on the Aegean coast, advertises “a modern vacation complex… where the sound of prayer is heard five times a day”.