Discourse in clothing

the social semiotics of modesty and chic in hijab fashion


  • Gwen Bouvier Örebro University




multimodality, clothing, texture, gender, hijab, islamic


While there have been debates within gender studies on the gendering of the body and of the gendered nature of clothing, this paper shows that multimodality, with its attention to the finer details of communication, can provide a way to help us to think more carefully about how fashion communicates ideas and identities through textile affordances such as form, texture, weight, durability, colour, etc. Taking Hijab fashion in Egypt as a case in point, a multimodal approach is able to reveal how Muslim women use clothing to communicate a number of different discourses simultaneously. These include modesty, religious identity and tradition, on the one hand, and freedom, confidence and modernity, on the other. This analysis allows us both to problematize the monolithic representations of Islamic clothing usually found in Western media, and also to think more carefully about the ways in which clothing both constrains and enables women’s agency.

Author Biography

Gwen Bouvier, Örebro University

Gwen Bouvier is an associate professor at Örebro University. Her main areas of research interest are social media, fashion as discourse and news representation. Dr Bouvier’s publications have focused on multimodal and discourse analysis, social media, and the visual representation of crises in news. Her latest publications include Discourse and Social Media (Routledge, 2015) and ‘What is a discourse approach to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media: connecting with other academic fields’ (Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 2015).


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How to Cite

Bouvier, G. (2016). Discourse in clothing: the social semiotics of modesty and chic in hijab fashion. Gender and Language, 10(3), 364–385. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v10i3.32034

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