Aesthetic labor in religious contexts: Women encountering modest dress in the workplace in the UK and Saudi Arabia

Reina Lewis, Kristin Aune

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This article explores how UK women encounter religious dress and behavior codes in religious work contexts. It compares two very different case studies: women working at faith-based organizations in the UK and women working for secular organizations who travel for work to Saudi Arabia. Using 65 semi-structured interviews, participant wardrobe photographs, and observation in regional modest fashion retail, the article analyzes women workers’ experience in religious contexts as a form of aesthetic labor. It investigates the gendered and religious components which structure women’s different responses to workplace modesty codes. Detailing the additional aesthetic and emotional labor demanded of women in crafting modest professional appearances in religious contexts, the research reveals continuities in how workplace modesty requirements impact on women’s occupational performance and sense of self. The conclusion argues that religion-related workplace modesty codes constitute a religiously-inflected form of organisational aesthetics that may operate simultaneously with, but be experienced differently from, secular-driven organisational aesthetics. We find that religious dress codes are arbitrated by the avoidance of shame, an affect accompanying the government of modesty for all involved. We find that organisations benefit from, but do not recognise or recompense, the additional aesthetic labor that modesty demands of women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)709-735
Number of pages27
JournalFashion Theory
Issue number5
Early online date2 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Arts & Humanities Research Council


  • Aesthetic labor
  • Women and Religion
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Women and employment
  • Fashion and religion


  • Faith and Peaceful Relations
  • Equality and Inclusion


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