Functions and Theories of Clothing

Clothing is an essential thing in human life. Weather conditions and climatic changes have obviously played a crucial role in the invention of various kinds of attire. The fundamental role of clothing is to create different layers of barriers that can protect the naked body against various environmental conditions. With the protection of the body, clothing achieves other objectives like maintaining right thermal temperature to the body which is necessary. It also protects body from being injured by radiation, abrasion, chemical and other microbial substances. Clothing is not only the outer garment a person wears, but it also includes ornaments and even accessories. Clothing also acts as a non-verbal medium of communication by which we can identify a person's community, culture and origin at any given historical period. Clothing used by human acts as a tool for social interaction.

Before we learn about the theory of clothing, we should discuss the reasons why people wear clothes. There are 3 different perspectives, they are
  • Historical Perspective
    Historical Perspective explains the origin of clothing and all the major milestones that shaped the history of clothing evolution. In other words it can be defined as the mode of formation of clothing.
  • Fundamental Theory
    Fundamental Theory gives you an idea of how fashion enthusiast, professionals and philosophers view role of clothing.
  • Application Theory
    The Application Theory is about how the Historical and Fundamental functions are applied.
Origin of Clothing
History of Clothing
From various Ancient Paintings and Archaeological findings, we have figured out evidence from where the clothing was originated. The actual date of origin of clothing is still uncertain and it keeps on changing with new findings by archaeologists and interpretations provided by anthropologists who research on various aspects of human existence. Anthropological research on lice over human head and on clothes suggests that clothing may have originated around 1,70,000 years ago. There are other anthropologists, who say that the origin of clothing was around 5,40,000 years ago. It is believed that clothing was invented as a necessity due to the loss of body hair during the process of evolution. Severe cold climatic conditions in the northern regions would have forced them to cover themselves with natural objects available around them. The earliest form of clothing have been made of barks, leaves, grass, animal skin and fur which they wrapped around their body. In one of the caves located in Georgia named Dzudzuana, Archaeologist had found the oldest colorful flax fibers on earth. They also found dyed and twisted flax fibers, sewing needles made of ivory which suggest that clothing may have originated very early in the human history.
Dzudzuana Caves in Georgia Clothes made with Animal Skin
Milestones in Clothing History
The clothing what we see now has evolved over a long period of time. There were many milestones in the history of clothing. They include
1. Fibre & Thread
The first major milestone in clothing was the evolution of Fibre and Thread. Felt was the first textile made by the process of compressing and pressing fibres together. Bark cloth called Kapa or Tapa was the basic fabric made by beating and matting the inner bark of the paper mulberry or similar trees. Anthropologists found twisted and dyed flax fibres in prehistoric caves of Georgia. A form of single needle knitting technique known as "Needle Binding" or Nale Binding was followed later on. For the ease of travel in a hunter-gathered society, cords and threads made of grass and animal sinews (a piece of tough fibrous tissue uniting muscle to bone; a tendon or ligament) were used to bind or fasten tools & other possessions.
2. Sewing
In 1988, Archaeologists discovered tools which were used to make clothes from the caves in Russia. One of the earliest tools used for sewing was the needle with an eye made of ivory or bone. Pieces of leather or vegetation were stitched together using a sewing needle to make clothes which provided protection from extreme cold climatic conditions.
Ivory Needle
3. Woven Fabric
The next major milestone was Spinning and Weaving with Cotton, Wool, Flax and Silk. It was developed and spread during the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BC). It was found that the oldest cotton fabric was used around 2,500 BC in the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro. The usage of Silk textile in Japan and China also increased during the Neolithic period. Archaeologists have evidences that China began the production of Silk between 5000 - 3000 BC.
4. Sewing Machines
In 1790, the English inventor Thomas Saint invented the first design for Sewing Machine. This machine was meant to be used on leather and canvas material which used the chain stitch technique. Thereafter, many people made subsequent attempts to create better sewing machines. Later the American inventor, Sir Isaac Merritt Singer made major improvements over the sewing machine design to win the technology race in 1851. He later got the patent on sewing machines and dramatically changed the way clothing was sewn.
Ancient Sewing Machine
5. Power Loom
One of the most significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution was the introduction of mechanized power loom. Power looms partially automated textile weaving procedure which saved a lot of time and effort. The first power loom was designed in 1784 by Edmund Cartwright. He built and got patent for the power loom the next year. Later in the year 1842, Kenworthy Bullough developed the semi-automatic power loom called Lancashire loom. 50 years later, a fully automatic loom with self-feeding shuttle mechanism called Northrop was developed. Power loom was a major milestone in the Clothing industry which ensured that there were no shortages of fabrics.
Power Loom
6. Fashion Design
Most fashionable figures and people from the royal family required custom made clothes. The start of custom made designs for the royal families by Tailors, Dressmakers and Seamstress was another major milestone in the evolution of clothing industry. During the French Revolution, the dressmaker Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin had to face criticism for excessive spending on clothes. Rose Bertin was the dressmaker exclusively for the French Queen Marie Antoinette. In the 18th and 19th century, the history of fashion began with the development of clothing and textile industry. Charles Fredrick Worth, an Englishman living in Paris was the first Professional Fashion Designer who had a business employing many tailors, seamstress and drapers. Charles was also known as the 'Father of Couture'. The support by the French Empress brought the talents of Charles into the limelight. This was one of the main reason which made Paris, the Fashion Capital. It also influenced many other fashion centers in other countries.
ancient egyptian fashion history

Importance of Clothing Theory

It is very important to understand the functions and theories of clothing, as it helps
  • To understand the specific and exact nature of functions that a consumer needs.
  • To identify the motivation behind the interest of individuals for choosing certain types of costumes.
  • To provide maximum level of consumer satisfaction, by designing clothes in an innovative way.
With the study of clothing theory, you will be able to describe how clothes satisfy social, personal and psychological needs of a person. You will also grab the knowledge about how various theories can help you in understanding consumers clothing requirements. We will also be able to explain the different reasons why people wear clothes.

Origin of Clothing

The word Costume which means "a complete set of outer garments" is derived from a Latin word "Consuetudo". The Origin of Clothing is derived from statues, ancient paintings and archaeological researches. To protect the body from the cold climatic conditions, human needed warmth which motivated the origin of clothing. During the middle ages, human had a custom to cover their body with loosely woven wool fabrics called flannel. As a part of treatment for fever, physicians also used to cover patients with woolen garment and feather.
Origin of Clothing

Classification of Clothing

Clothing is classified into 2 different classes.
  • Fixed
    The fixed classes are significantly permanent and are not subject to changes in the fashion, but they vary from one locality to another.
  • Modish
    The modish type has more influence in the Western countries which changes at a rapid pace at any point of time, over all the parts of the world with respect to changes in fashion.
Theories of Clothing Evolution
Anthropologist (a person engaged in the practice of scientific study of humanity) have traced historical evidences on the factors which affect clothing.
  • Protection Theory
    People from the earliest civilization have been known to use natural elements to protect themselves. Protection Theory also known as the Climate Theory, states that human beings invented clothes in order to protect themselves with respect to the climatic changes they encounter. They covered themselves with various clothes depending on the weather conditions. For warmth and better insulation, animal skin was used and barks & leaves were used to cover genital organs. Animal skin was wrapped around the feet to give warmth and it also provided comfort during long walks. It was also believed that placing shells close to sexual organs would prevent pain and sterility. Leaves, leather, fur, grass etc were the other natural elements which were draped around the body as a medium of protection. Protection theory is even used today. One of the best and most commonly used item would be a "Raincoat". The other products based on protection theory are fire fighting suit, swimming suit, bullet-proof jacket, thermal wear, space suit etc. Clothing has also served as a camouflage for soldiers during war. Military personnel have thought beyond in different ways of protecting themselves. Over a period of time the warfare became more advanced as they built protective uniforms for combat which provided them protection from being seen and from the impact of bullets.
    Bulletproof Vest Raincoat Camouflage Uniforms
  • Modesty Theory
    Modesty Theory is also known by two other names, Shame theory & Fig Leaf Theory. The word "Modesty" comes from the Latin word "Modestus" which means "keeping within measure". According to this theory, clothing is used to cover or conceal the genital organs from the sense of shame, modesty, embarrassment, or some other forms of sexual emotions. The need for clothing arose when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit which arose the feeling of nudeness and thus the sense shame which made them cover with few leaves and barks around them. As a part of Fig Leaf Theory, Italian artist Michelangelo's masterpiece marble statue named 'David' was immediately attached with a Fig Leaf made of plaster, soon after it was placed in the South Kensington Museum. It was done to spare the blushes of females visiting the Muesum.
    Fig Leave Theory
    Different people felt ashamed for different reasons. The women of Botocudo (South American people of Eastern Brazil) were unaffected if their breasts were left exposed but at the same time they felt ashamed when they were seen without wooden plug in lower lip and earlobes. Aboriginal tribe (the people who belong to the Australian when Europeans arrived), felt ashamed when seen eating but they were fine being seen naked. The history also denotes that, in the Arab world a women must cover her face even if other parts of the body were left uncovered.
  • Immodesty Theory
    Immodesty Theory is also called Sexual Attraction Theory. According to this theory people first wore clothes in order to grab attention towards private parts. This theory was designed to attract attention to sexual organs and also to make the wearer an object to sexual interest. Immodest clothing reveals the sensual aspects of a women's body, the rounded breast, hips and buttocks.
  • Adornment Theory
    Human beings began to wear garments as an expression of their desires. They also started to enjoy exhibiting how beautiful they look with the clothes they wear. Few tribes in the African continent also started Painting and Tattooing their body. It is a proof that even before human discovered garments and fashion, they enjoyed decorating themselves for social status, beautification, sexual attraction and for many other aesthetic expressions. In general, adornment is the ornaments and accessories one wear to express his/her uniqueness, individuality and creativity. It also defines the religious, cultural, social status within a community.
  • Body Modification
    The alteration of human physical appearance or human anatomy is known as Body Alteration or Body Modification which includes the practices such as piercing, tattooing, and any other modification. Foot binding was the Chinese practice of tightly binding the feet of young girls in order to change the size and shape of their feet. The custom which is now abolished was known as Lotus Feet. It was also considered as a mark of beauty and a status symbol. The special shoes made for bound feet were known as Lotus Shoes. Another practice which was following by Mursi tribe, was to wear large circular lip plates. They considered themselves undressed without the lip plates. Lip plate is also known as lip disc or lip plug made from clay or wood. Girls of the Paduang Tribe also known as Kayans used a series of brass rings around their neck to get artificially elongated looks for their neck.
    Foot Binding or Lotus Feet Foot Binding Shoes Lip Plate on Mursi Women Brass Rings of Paduang Tribe
  • Body Scarification
    Soon after people started body modification, another form of body decoration came into practice. Body Scarification is an art of making permanent body modifications with scratching, burning and etching. Designs, words or pictures are permanently marked on the skin. Healing process after such kind of body modification takes around 6-12 months. Among the African tribes, it was considered as an indication of status.
    Body Scarification
  • Body Tattooing
    Body Tattooing is the art of decorating body with inks and puncturing nerves to create a dark tone on the skin. People have found evidence that in the Egyptian era, Mummified bodies were found with elaborate designs tattooed on their body. Body Tattooing Art was very popular among all tribes irrespective of their nationality. It involved a permanent change on the base and color of the body which left a permanent mark on the skin.
    Body Tattooing
  • Body Painting
    Painting or coloring of the body with the use of clay, wood powder, oil and colored pigments from parts of plants was the most common type of body decoration. During special occasions people also had a practice of decorating their face using the colors of white ochre, red and yellow ochre (an earthy pigment containing ferric oxide, typically with clay). Certain sets of colors were applied according to the occasions. Pale green was painted during mourning (death ceremony), yellow was used to indicate high fashion, white was used during festival occasion where as yellow, red, blue colors were used during war.
    Body Painting
  1. Combined Theory
    This theory states that clothing evolved as a result of the combination of various needs like safety, self-esteem, protection, social status, self-actualization and belongingness.
Published On   -  
Modified On   -   2021-02-16
Publisher   -   Waves Fashion Institute
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