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Modest Fashion in UK Women's Working Life

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.

The research explores 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.

The investigation has two comparative case studies:

  • women who work for UK faith-based employers, such as faith-based schools, businesses, and charities
  • women who work for secular UK employers whose work takes them to Saudi Arabia, where they need to adjust to religious codes of dress and gender segregation. We speak with 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 and diversity practitioners. 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 scopes a new modest fashion consumer segment – women not driven by personal religious conviction.

For policy makers and interfaith organisations, we 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.

Latest developments

The project team have been awarded Follow-on Funding by the AHRC to extend our research findings into the public domain.

We have developed a training module to help participants gain understanding of the significance of religious and belief-based dress in workplace within secular and faith-based organisations.

Religion and Dress at Work – opportunities and pitfalls is available free in 2022, on and offline.

Further research outputs have been published by the Woolf Institute [Dressing for the Other, Dressing for Interfaith | The Woolf Institute (] and the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) [Religious dress codes at work - Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (].

Contact Vanessa Pope for any questions:

Parliamentary roundtable to launch reports on Modest Fashion in Women's Working Life

10 February 2021

Baroness Lola Young chaired a discussion of women’s experience of modest fashion at work in the UK and abroad, with Rabiha Hannan (Co-founder of New Horizons in British Islam), Clive Bane (Director of Direct Reports Ltd/B3sixty), and Julia Middleton (Founder of Common Purpose) and project researchers Prof. Reina Lewis (UAL) and Prof Kristin Aune (Coventry University).

Download the executive summary (864 KB).

Download the executive summary (654 KB).



Principal Investigator:

Professor Reina Lewis, London College of Fashion, UAL


Professor Kristin Aune, Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations, Coventry University

Research Fellow:

Dr Lina Molokotos-Liederman, London College of Fashion, UAL

Funding period: December 2018 - May 2020

Project Partners:

  • Baroness Lola Young, Founding Chair of the APPG Ethical and Sustainable Fashion (2010-2016)
  • British Council, UK
  • Edge of Arabia, UK
  • Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, UK
  • Faith & Belief Forum, UK
  • Haute Elan, UK
  • Islamic Fashion & Design Council

Advisory Group:

It is the mission of this project to seek to include diverse perspectives; the range of expertise, experience and opinion in our advisory group helps us achieve this. The individuals and organisations involved are not responsible for our conclusions; nevertheless, we very much appreciate the generous response of the Advisory Group to the design, delivery and outputs of the project.

  • Clive Bane, HR Consultant
  • Harriet Crabtree, Executive Director, Inter Faith Network for the UK
  • Nadia El-Sebai, Executive Director, The Arab British Centre
  • Bana Gora, CEO, Muslim Women’s Council
  • Jackie Goymour, External Relations Director, Women’s Interfaith Network
  • Rachel Guthartz, MSc
  • Harriet Harper, PFHEA, MBA
  • Trish Lawrence, MCIPD
  • Amélie Le Renard, permanent researcher, CNRS (Centre Maurice Halbwachs), Paris
  • Professor Lucy Vickers, School of Law, Oxford Brookes University
  • Ritu Upadhyay, Women's Wear Daily, Middle East Bureau Chief

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Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council

In association with Coventry University