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.