Style Talk with Zarina Cheshty

I've known Zarina since the 7th grade. I can attest to how much she has grown as a person, and how her sense of fashion has evolved. While chatting with Zarina, I was often reminded of myself. Growing up, I never really cared about fashion. I never felt like I had the eye for it. I remember buying moon boots from Walmart in 11th grade, and everyone (even my best friends) looked at me like I was crazy. I didn't care though. I was comfortable. I miss those moon boots. They may have been two sizes too big, but man do I miss them.

I always knew that if I were to ever do a style interview, I'd have to do one with Zarina. I've always admired her style, and knew she'd be the perfect person to sit down and talk a little style with. I remember asking her back in December if she'd be interested in something like this. Her openness and enthusiasm is the reason this post was possible. I'll always be grateful for her support and friendship, and look forward to another one of these style sit-downs!

Alright, shall we?

[Note: I met up with Zarina almost two Sundays ago and asked her a series of questions while leaving my iPhone to record voice memos of everything we would be talking about (why? well ... a. I left my notebook at home, b. I didn't want to miss anything & c. because we talk a lot). I've spent the last few days transcribing everything we talked about on that Sunday.]

Q: Why is style so important to you?
A: Growing up I hated “girly” things. I hated dressing up and wearing pink and conforming to what society expected me to be like. I was a total tomboy growing up. I didn’t have any interest in fashion at all and I HATED shopping. I would throw tantrums anytime we had to buy clothes… it was never pretty. For a while, my parents kind of let me do my own thing, which was always me going into the boy’s section to buy baggy pants and oversized t-shirts. As I began to grow up, I started to notice that the people around me were very uncomfortable with how I was dressed. Of course, how others start treating you begins to affect your own interpretation of how you feel. Am I allowed to dress like this? Is it okay? Is it right? Is it wrong?

I mean, I was very comfortable with what I wore, but because of how everyone else felt around me, I started feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin. And, for the while my parents were okay with it, everything was great. But, once I started to notice how it was beginning to make them feel I couldn't stop noticing. So, I think style in a way has become important to me because it helps me find an in-between, this middle ground with what I like coupled with things that make me comfortable. Through this process of finding a balance, I have begun to find myself, and who I am as a person. I think that is the keyword here, comfortable. I’ve always wanted to feel comfortable in my skin and my style has finally come about in a way that makes all that possible. 

Of course that was in a sense conforming to what others expected of me but it’s funny because I would look back at old pictures and it would be like a really nice fancy blouse with track pants (*insert giggles*). I was wearing what I was comfortable with but my top tended to incorporate what my mom wanted me to wear. So, I think it has always been about maintaining a healthy balance for myself so I could truly be happy with myself while in the presence of others.

Q: How has your style evolved?
A: You are always going to look back and question certain outfits. So, just like me, my style has evolved over the years. But,I think it was once I started wearing a hijab that I started to gain more interest in fashion and the overall importance of it. You'll hear this from a lot of people who wear a hijab, that they're representing Islam altogether. Once I made the choice to wear one, I understood that. Now that I wear a hijab, people see me and say I'm a Muslim girl so now I have to dress appropriately. There is this debate within the religious community whether being trendy and being modest could co-exist. Are they mutually exclusive? Do you have to pick one over the other? So that debate of whether or not that is possible is what I've come to enjoy. I can make it a thing. At least for myself, and the people around me. So that, was in a part really proving to people around me that, hey you can be both modest AND stylish at the same time! So yeah, that's kind of how I went from being totally uninterested in fashion to really enjoying it.

Once I started to wear a hijab, that became the center piece. Ever since then I've had something to work with. I've always known that my hijab was going to be that one constant for me. It’s always going to be on my head. So, I started to play around with it. Personally, I like to stick with solid colours when it comes to my hijab but knowing patterns and how to incorporate them into your outfit is something I've come to find quite fascinating. My outfits are typically formed around the hijab, it’s never the other way around.  Everything works around it. It’s the first thing I’ll think about. What hijab am I going to wear? After that, everything else falls into place.

Q: Who is your biggest fashion inspiration?
A: My biggest fashion inspiration has to be my mom! I grew up looking at old albums. The one thing… well the only thing that my family managed to keep from Afghanistan was pictures. They have these two albums that are filled with pictures of my parents from when they were in their teenage years all the way up until the time they left Afghanistan. I just remember my mom being very stylish back then. The 60s were very influenced by European style. Growing up, I stared at those albums for hours and hours. I don’t look very much like my mom. I got everything from my dad so I think that was an even bigger reason as to why I've always had a strong desire to dress more like her. I have always wanted to be more like my mom, and I don’t really look like her so my fashion sense was something I learned through her. She has really influenced me. Even today, I’ll ask for her opinions. I turn to her, cause she definitely has the eye for this stuff!


Q: Where do you buy your clothes from?
A: The three places I go to the most would be Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. I feel like that is kind of everyone’s go to places, haha! But hey, those are my favourite places to shop. Especially H&M. H&M not only makes the latest trends affordable but always carries the clothes that suit my needs. It's become more trendy to be wearing over-sized/ flowy clothes and that makes it so much easier for hijabis like myself to follow these trends all the while remaining modest. H&M makes it so much easier to find what I’m looking for, like long cardigans that I can use to layer with my other pieces in my wardrobe.

Q: Do you have a go-to outfit?
A: I definitely have an obsession with denim. Not just pants though, anything denim. But, denim is not an easy thing to buy so I can’t always find what I’m looking for. You know what it is? Omg!!! I think I just found the answer to this question. High-waisted pants are my go-to! Whether it be jeans or dress pants, anything. You know what, now that we’re talking about it, high-waisted pants is what comes to mind when I think of my personal style. I feel like that is my thing. I have A LOT of high-waisted pants in general. It’s what I'm most comfortable in. Damn girl, did I just answer three questions in one? I’m killing it!

Q: If you can talk to young girls who may not have the means to buy the clothes they want, what is something you want them to know?
A: One of the great things about when we were younger is not focusing so much on what we wore. But now, I find that kids really care a lot more. Have you seen 12 year olds these days? Do you remember what we looked like when we were 12? Have a childhood, be a kid. Don’t worry. Obviously there will be many moments where you'll want a specific shoe, we’ve all been there. But, you’re gonna regret your clothing choices no matter what because we all grow up and grow out of things so don’t stress yourself out. We all look back at pictures years later and think what the hell was I thinking so you know what, don’t even worry about it.

Q: What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?
A: Yes, it frustrates me. Those big statement necklaces are a great example of this. I don't know, obviously I will refrain from buying those things but on one hand hand it’s like hey, I don’t know if they’re appreciating my culture but they find it cool! If they're not giving the credit where it is due, that's when it gets annoying. That's my culture, and you're not giving it the credit it deserves. When people turn something that is important and cultural into something they feel is their own without acknowledging the history of it that is when it is not okay. I wish people would just give credit where it is due. That is what it is. That is why people get so frustrated with all this stuff. It's the lack of credit that riles people up.

Q: What does your t-shirt say?
A: The t-shirt I’m wearing is by Angela Ahmadi, a creative designer and founder of KINGNOORLA. She is from Los Angeles and makes really dope t-shirts. The one I'm wearing is the Work of HeART Tee. The writing on the tee is in Farsi, and it says “Where the heart goes, the feet/steps follow(s).” It’s one of my favorite pieces, and I’m happy to be rocking it today!

A 24 year old Canadian living (& teaching) in Shenzhen, China.