Why do people wear clothes?

9 02 2011

Clothing has existed since prehistoric times. No one really thinks twice about why we are all clothed. In my History of Fashion class, my professor asked us all on the first day “Why do people wear clothes?”. My immediate thought was “Well duh, so we aren’t naked.” As it turns out, yes my thought was one of the correct answers, but the four main reasons go way further than simply in order to “not be naked”.

1. We wear clothing for protection.

I never really thought about clothing as protection before this class, but that first reason made me think more about the idea. Why do we wear shoes? Yes, a really great pair of heels makes not only your outfit, but your legs look better, but essentially shoes are there to protect our feet from the rough terrains we walk on. If it’s cold outside, you want the biggest, warmest jacket in order to stay warm. Fashionable? That depends on your style. Protecting you from the environment? Absolutely. As consumers, the only thing that differs between all of us is how much we’re willing to pay for that protection, as well as how much protection we need based on our environment. Hence, why a coat store would thrive much better in the Midwest during December as opposed to being located in Puerto Rica.

2. We wear clothing to show social status.

This one wasn’t something I thought too much about either, at least consciously. But while writing my blog about brand names, it made me realize that everything we wear denotes a social status, whether it be real or fake. People perceive those who wear expensive designer brands as high-class and wealthy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people perceive those whose clothes may be from Walmart as low-class and poor. Whether these judgements are intentional or unintentional, they’re being made all the time. So people wear certain things in order for people to view them in a certain way. Along with this comes things we don’t choose to wear but wear because of restrictions or dress code, i.e. at graduation the graduates wear a cap and gown, or a private school had a uniform all students must wear. These are traditions that translate social status, whether the person wearing it wants that status or not.

3. We wear clothing for modesty.

Ever since Adam and Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit, man and woman have had a sense of immodesty if their bodies weren’t somewhat covered. Different cultures have different views of modesty, ranging from Muslim women who are required to wear veils covering the majority of their body, while some tribes in the Amazon are completely nude except for ear and lower lip plugs (which really doesn’t constitute as clothing to me, but to each it’s own…). As Americans, modesty is even more difficult because we have countless cultures within cultures, as well as generations differing from the previous one. The bikini isn’t thought immodest to almost every one in my generation, but previous generations may find it to be immodest because when they were our age, they wouldn’t have been allowed to wear it. Regardless, unless you live in a nudist colony, clothing to cover certain areas is a necessity. Consumers, once again, will purchase clothing because it’s necessary.

4. We wear clothing for decoration.

This is what I thought of when I asked myself why I wear clothes. Some of the main motives for personal adornment are to “express an image, gain admiration, and create a sexual attraction” according to my professor. When I get dressed each day, my main goal is to express my personality and how I’m feeling that day, thereby “expressing my image”. All men and women since the beginning of time subconsciously want the opposite sex to be attracted to them. Through the years both genders, especially female, dress in order to create desire by showing off certain body parts. One reason fashion is constantly changing is that desire for something fades after overexposure to it, so instead of showing off the legs, for instance, dressmakers will adapt designs to focus on the bosom. This basic human instinct that all consumers are born with is yet another reason why clothing is necessary.

After pondering about all this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clothing industry may be one of the luckiest industries ever. Unless the Earth becomes a place where a) no protection from the environment is needed, b) everyone has the exact same social status, c) everyone belongs to a nudiest colony (largest nudiest colony ever) and d)everyone has absolutely no desire to attract the opposite sex, the clothing industry will never go out of business.




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