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Mediating Modesty: Reina Lewis

15 June 11

Reina Lewis, London College of Fashion: Fashion Forward and Faith-tastic! Online modest fashion and the development of women as religious interpreters and intermediaries

London College of Fashion, 15th June 2011

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Profile: Reina Lewis is Principal Investigator on the project Modest Dressing: faith-based fashion and internet retail funded by the AHRC and ESRC as part of the Religion and Society Programme

Abstract:  This paper elaborates how the growing market for modest fashion online (often led by women entrepreneurs) and associated commentary in women’s blogs, online magazines, and discussion fora have become a central mode for the mediation of modesty among and between religious communities and the ‘secular’ world. The paper argues that it is not only how the pious body is dressed and comported that can be seen to create the pious disposition, but also how it is represented, disseminated, and discussed.

De-territorialised online shopping has fostered cross-faith consumption for companies from the three Abrahamic faiths, with brands adjusting their offering and their communications – rendering corporate online presence part of a new internet-based fashion discourse about modesty. This paper positions women’s online dialogue about modesty as a distinctive strand in the emergence online of new forms of religious activity seen generally to publicise forms of religious interpretation not usually given prominence and challenging existing hierarchies of religious knowledge. With online religious discourse often regarded as male, new internet-based fashion discourse about modesty is emerging as a predominant mode through which women are establishing themselves as religious interpreters and intermediaries.

Distinctive variations have already emerged within the first cohort of early adopters, especially in relation to representations of the female body. The paper evaluates a range of approaches, from ultra-orthodox Jewish brands who avoid the human form, to new Muslim companies and bloggers presuming a fashion-literate viewer able to read their fashion-forward visuals within a frame of modesty.

At the end of each session the speakers responded to comments and questions from the audience. Follow this link to listen to the discussion following this presentation.

Report and podcasts compiled by Norman Winter. Recordings of the symposium sessions are substantially complete, but may have been edited in small ways for technical and other reasons.

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