According to NorthJersey.com, the senior class pick for best-dressed female senior at Clifton High School sports a black skirt and skinny jeans, ankle-high boots and a cropped white blazer in her yearbook photo. Her makeup is just about perfect, capped with plum-toned lipstick.
But there is one other fashion accessory that makes Abrar Shahin stand out: a black, white and blue-green patterned scarf — a hijab — that wraps around her head and drapes around her neck.
The local news quoted Abrar Shahin as saying that “there are always cheerleaders who win and popular girls, so I was very surprised it was me, being a hijabi.”
With her trendy style, Shahin, who has a clothing-store job in Paramus and plans to attend Rutgers this fall, is shattering stereotypes about Islamic fashion while also keeping true to her religious tradition. The “best dressed” vote also shows how acceptance has grown at one of the largest and most diverse high schools in the state. The class of 2015, which graduated Friday, includes many immigrants and first-generation students whose families hail from across the globe.
Even in an area as diverse as North Jersey, Clifton stands out for its global flair. The high school, with about 3,300 students, is 52 percent Hispanic, 35 percent white, 8 percent Asian and 5 percent black, according to state records.
But the more telling record is the ancestry breakdown in the U.S. census, which shows more than 65 groups represented in the city. Italian, Polish, Puerto Rican, Arab and Peruvian are among the largest groups. Many people with Turkish, Russian, West Indian, Albanian, Ukrainian and Hungarian backgrounds also live in Clifton.
Lindsey Cinque, a French teacher who is yearbook and senior class adviser, said that Shahin’s award showed that students can look beyond labels to honor someone’s accomplishment. Cinque broke the news to Shahin in class about her win, which seniors decided by writing down the name of any one of their peers.
“In a class of 800 people, it’s definitely a huge honor that they picked her,” Cinque said.
It’s not clear how many votes Shahin got or whom the votes came from. The best dressed male, Abraham Zeidan, also happens to be Muslim.
Shahin said her friends are from many backgrounds, while Cinque noted that all different people in her class would complement Shahin on her clothes and style.
Although Shahin was surprised by the win, her French teacher of three years said her great fashion sense was clear to her and to other students.
“School is early, so a lot of times kids will come in sweat pants or dressed casually,” Cinque said, about the early hour students must report for class. “She was always dressed up, and she definitely took a sense of pride in her fashion.”
Sonya Nasser, owner of Arabella Couture, a women’s clothing store in Paterson said people used to look down on young women for wearing a hijab. A “best dressed” honor for a hijabi at an American public high school means times are changing, she said.
“It sends the message that we are able now to set trends and be respected for what we stand for at the same time,” she said.