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Modest Fashion in UK Women's Working Life

Published date
01 Feb 2019

Project summary

This project looks at how religiously-related modest fashion and associated behaviours impact on UK women's working lives – regardless of their own religious community or beliefs. To date, most media commentary and research focuses on modest dressing as a concern only for women within religious communities – whether it is regarded as personally expressive or as something oppressively imposed by religious communities. In contrast, we demonstrate that modest dressing is not only a consideration for religious women and communities but also for wider society.

By modest fashion we mean a range of clothing practices, rooted in different religious traditions, in which women adopt particular styles of dress, cover certain parts of their bodies, or wear or avoid particular items, to express or follow religiously-related norms. It involves different things for different people and different things in different religious or cultural groups, settings and contexts.

We propose that a better understanding of modest fashion can help policy makers and dialogue groups concerned with social cohesion and interfaith relations at home, and may also help UK cultural, political, and business interests abroad.

We are not advocating practices in modest fashion, or judging which – if any – are preferable. It is because we see that modest fashion codes of dress and behaviour are a factor in the working lives of women in the UK from a wide range of religious and secular backgrounds that we want to develop new ways to understand flashpoints about religious dress for UK interests at home and abroad.

We explore UK women's responses to workplace requirements to change their wardrobe and behaviour, including women with their own form of modest fashion. Muslim and minority ethnic women face employment challenges in recruitment, retention, and progression, so we investigate if religiously-related codes of modest dress can be a workplace opportunity as well as an inhibitor.

For this investigation we have two comparative case studies:

  • women who work for UK faith-based employers, such as faith-based schools, businesses, and charities
  • women who work for ostensibly secular UK employers whose work takes them to Saudi Arabia, where they need to adjust to religious codes of dress and gender segregation. We will be talking to women who work in global consultancy/finance, arts leadership, and international education.

To help understand the individual and organisational responses to women’s workplace experiences of modest fashion codes, we talk to Human Resources professionals.

To understand how women, find clothing or adjust their wardrobes for modest fashion codes at work, we talk to fashion professionals in the UK and Gulf fashion industry and media. 

For the fashion industry, this research may identify a new modest fashion consumer segment – women not driven by personal religious conviction.

For policy makers and interfaith organisations, we may identify new dialogue partners and new conduits – such as fashion media – for conversations and controversies about values and relations within and between religious and secular communities.

Want to take part?

We are looking to interview confidentially people from a wide range of backgrounds, religions and beliefs, including non-religious:

  • Women employed by secular companies and organisations in the UK who have worn an abaya (long outwear robe, sometimes with a headscarf) when their work took them to Saudi Arabia
  • Women who have had experiences of adapting their dress when working for and with faith-based organisations (e.g. businesses, schools, charities and publicly-funded organisations with a religious ethos)
  • HR professionals who have experience dealing with religiously related codes of modest dress and behaviour in the workplace

Interested in taking part? Do you know of someone else who might be interested? To express interest or if you have any questions please get in touch with modestfashionworkwear@arts.ac.uk.

Planned outputs and events:


As part of the project we will host public events in the UK and abroad, including as part of the LCF Faith & Fashion public talk series.

We will be presenting at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion.

We will also be producing two stakeholder reports: one for the fashion industry, one for policy makers and interfaith dialogue partners. They will be free to download. To be notified when these become available please email ‘Stakeholder Report’ to modestfashionworkwear@arts.ac.uk

We will also be sharing our research findings at academic conferences and through academic journal articles. All upcoming project events will be listed on this page.

See the latest Faith & Fashion public talk series