Religions constrain the bodies of their members through dress. In many cases, dress immediately identifies a member of the community to the outside world and separates them from a society that members believe is threatened by evil forces. Dress identifies the wearer's community to other groups and communities, and may also reflect one's status. Most interestingly, perhaps, dress is a measure of one's level of commitment to the community. While communities vary greatly in terms of what is permissible, strict conformity to internal codes invariably is interpreted as a sign of piety, whereas deviation implies at best self-indulgence and at worst contempt for community values. In order to control sexuality, women's bodies in particular are constrained in religious communities in terms of emotional expression, diet, and especially dress. This book investigates dress in American religious communities as a vital component of the social control of cultures, and also examines how people express themselves despite religious constraints. Gender issues feature prominently since the control of female sexuality within religious communities is a matter of vital concern to its members.
Drawing on rich ethnographic case studies, this wide-ranging and interdisciplinary represents a major contribution to the study of both religion and dress.
"[The book] is a series of excellent academic papers which have been the result of much detailed research and describes, separately, the background to this research, all of which took place in the United States of America." --Costume
"Few editions offer such coherent and internally varied coverage of their subject . . . This will become an indispensable text for academic experts and the interested lay reader alike on the dressed worlds of denominations, sects, cults and religious orders." --Journal of Contemporary Religion
"This volume constitutes an important precursor for an emerging field, examining how tensions between socioreligious communities and individual bodies are often played out in dress." --American Ethnologist
"Scholarship reflects varied use of archival documents, participant observation, and in-depth interviews . . . promises to stimulate readers to pursue more in-depth investigations and penetrating analyses of dress, religious life, gender identity, and agency." --Dress
"In bringing a religious dimension to the study of dress/body/material culture, [this book] goes some way to demonstrating the substantive state of the art in this increasingly fashionable yet under-worked area." --Body and Society