Modesty and Female Sexuality in Dress

Among all of the major religions, modesty in women's dress is associated with gender norms; this is a major issue to religious groups. Gender issues are paramount in the dress codes of conservative religious groups since the control of female sexuality is often of great importance in patriarchal religious groups. The dress codes generally relate to modesty and require clothing to cover the contours of the female body. Additionally, some religious groups, particularly the most conservative Islamic, Anabaptist, and Jewish sects, also require that women's hair be covered as well.

As used by religious groups, the issue of modesty goes beyond the covering of the body in order to disguise female curves and secondary sexual characteristics; in the conservative strains of all of the major religions, dress codes also deal with the care and covering of women's hair as it is associated with women's sexuality (Scott, p. 33). Further complicating matters, dress codes are conflated with gender and power issues in religious groups. At the root of this issue is the control of female sexuality that is perceived to be necessary by some religious groups as a means to maintain social order.

An understanding of how dress works within religious groups calls attention to the complexity of meanings surrounding visible symbols such as dress, and sheds light on the ways that bodies can communicate social and religious values. The dress of religious groups can be used to facilitate social and ideological agendas. Clothing and personal adornment are used for establishing and maintaining personal and social identities, social hierarchies, definitions of deviance, and systems of control and power. As a consequence, then, dress within conservative religious groups is a symbol of the individual's commitment to the group while it also symbolizes the group's control over individual lives. For America's fundamentalist Christian groups, and the Anabaptist groups in particular, dress is particularly important with regard to its role in social control and in social change.

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