Fitting in/Standing out. Comparing Majority and Minority Dress Codes among Egyptian Muslims and Christians

Image project Fitting in Standing outEspecially in countries which today have large minorities with an Islamic background, the use of veils by women has sparked fierce discussion. The vehemence of the debate shows the significance attributed to dress (i.e. clothing and all other modifications to the body) in relations between majorities and minorities. This research programme seeks to put minority dress back into context, by not just looking at the minority, but also at the majority, at women and men, and at past and present.

What makes Egypt interesting is that Muslims and Christians have lived here side by side for centuries. The indigenous Egyptian Christians, later called the Copts, were at first the majority, but their numbers gradually decreased after the Arab conquest in 642 CE. From the Mamluk period onward the majority of the population of Egypt has been Muslim, with a significant Christian minority. The rich material record preserved in Egypt allows us to study these two groups over a very long period of time, in changing roles and through changing contexts, which makes them the ideal case study for understanding majority-minority interaction.

Fitting in Standing out - LaneDress is a signifier of identity; it visually creates distinctions. It can therefore be a part of the construction of a communal identity. Our main aim is to find out how the relative position of a group within society influences dress norms. How and why do people aim to stand out or fit in? How do other intersecting identities, such as gender, influence this? How do minorities deal with a pressure to conform to the majority (e.g. kopvoddentaks) or, the very opposite, to sartorially segregate themselves (e.g. ghiyar legislation)? And what is the role of tradition in all this?

Using actual surviving textiles and garments, texts, and images, four researchers will study Egyptian Christians and Muslims from a comparative and diachronic perspective. For their respective time periods they will analyse the dress norms and the way these function in relations between majority and minority. The focus of all subprojects is on the day-to-day reality of dress, and how it relates to such factors as sumptuary laws, foreign influences, and shifts in power.

Project details

Funded by: NWO (Free Competition Humanities)
Budget: EUR 999,828

Project leader
Prof. Dr. Bas ter Haar Romeny

Dr. Mat Immerzeel (postdoctoral fellow)

Tineke Rooijakkers (postdoctoral fellow)

Judith Kindinger (PhD candidate)

Alexandra Pleşa (PhD candidate)


  • C.T. Rooijakkers, forthcoming. ‘Een stoffige geschiedenis: Egyptische kleding in het eerste millennium n.Chr.’ in Phoenix 60 (2).