Religious Women’s Modest Dress as a Signal to Other Women

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The present study tested the hypothesis that women dress modestly to signal to other women that they pose no mate poaching threat and are sexually restricted, and that this is especially true for religious women. Participants were 392 Muslim women

The present study tested the hypothesis that women dress modestly to signal to other women that they pose no mate poaching threat and are sexually restricted, and that this is especially true for religious women. Participants were 392 Muslim women living in the United States. They read two passages describing fictional situations in which they met with a potential female friend and then indicated what kind of outfit they would wear in both situations. In one situation, the participant obtained a reputation for promiscuity; in the other situation, reputation was not mentioned. I predicted that participants would choose more modest outfits for the promiscuous reputation passage, because if women dress modestly to signal sexual restrictedness, then they should dress more modestly around women with whom they have a reputation for promiscuity—to counteract such a reputation, women may wish to send a strong signal that they are not promiscuous. The hypothesis was partially supported: Less religious women chose more modest outfits for the promiscuous reputation situation than they did for the no reputation situation. This suggests that some women dress modestly to signal sexual restrictedness to other women, but that this is especially true for women who are less religious, not more. More religious women dress more modestly than less religious women, but they may not dress modestly to signal sexual restrictedness. Two important goals for this area of research are to determine the proximate reasons that more religious women dress modestly and to investigate modest dress among non-Muslim religious women.