Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Humans also decorate their bodies with makeup or cosmetics, perfume, jewelry and other ornament; cut, dye, and arrange their head and body hair (hairstyle), and sometimes their skin (tattoo, scarifications, piercing). All these decorations contribute to the overall effect and message of clothing, but do not constitute clothing per se.
People wear clothing for functional and/or social reasons. Clothing protects the body; it also delivers social messages to other humans.
Function includes protection of the body against strong sunlight, extreme heat or cold, and precipitation; protection against insects, noxious chemicals, weapons, contact with abrasive substances -- in sum, against anything that might injure an unprotected human body. Humans have shown extreme inventiveness in devising clothing solutions to practical problems.
See: armor, diving suit, bee-keeper's costume, motorcycle leathers, high-visibility clothing.
Social messages sent by clothing, accessories, and decorations can involve social status, occupation, ethnic and religious affiliation, marital status and sexual availability, etc. Humans must know the code in order to recognize the message transmitted. If different groups read the same item of clothing or decoration with different meanings, the wearer may provoke unanticipated responses.
* Social status: in many societies, people of high rank reserve special items of clothing or decoration for themselves. Only Roman emperors could wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple; only high-ranking Hawaiian chiefs could wear feather cloaks and palaoa or carved whale teeth. In other societies, no laws prohibit lower-status people wearing high status garments, but the high cost of status garments effectively limits purchase and display. In current Western society, only the rich can afford haute couture. The threat of social ostracism may also limit garment choice.
* Occupation: military, police, firefighters usually wear uniforms, as do workers in many industries. School-children often wear school uniforms, college and university students wear academic dress. Members of religious orders may wear uniforms known as "habits". Sometimes a single item of clothing or a single accessory can declare one's occupation and/or status -- for example, the high toque or chef's hat worn by a chief cook.
* Ethnic, political, and religious affiliation: In many regions of the world, styles in clothing and ornament declare membership in a certain village, caste, religion, etc. A Scotsman declares his clan with his tartan; an Orthodox Jew his religion with his (non-clothing) sidelocks; a French peasant woman her village with her cap or coif.
* Clothes can also proclaim dissent from cultural norms and mainstream beliefs, as well as personal independence. In 19th century Europe, artists and writers lived la vie de Bohème and dressed to shock: George Sand in men's clothing, female emancipationists in bloomers, male artists in velvet waistcoats and gaudy neckcloths. Bohemians, beatniks, hippies, Goths, and punks continued the ( counter-cultural) tradition in the 20th century West. Now that haute couture plagiarises street fashion within a year or so, street fashion may have lost some of its power to shock, but it still motivates millions trying to look hip and cool. People such as inventor Dean Kamen or film director Peter Jackson wear simple functional clothing to distance themselves from the establishment (and possibly to attract additional attention).
* Marital status: Hindu women, once married, "wear" sindoor, a red powder, in the parting of their hair; if widowed, they abandon sindoor and jewelry and wear simple white clothing. Men and women of the Western world may wear wedding rings to indicate their marital status.
* Sexual availability: Some clothing indicates the modesty of the wearer. For example, many Muslim women wear a head or body covering (hijab, bourqa or burka, chador, abaya) that proclaims their status as respectable women. Other clothing may indicate flirtatious intent. For example, a Western woman might wear extreme stiletto heels, close-fitting and body-revealing black or red clothing, exaggerated make-up, flashy jewelry and perfume to show sexual availability. What constitutes modesty and allurement varies radically from culture to culture, within different contexts in the same culture, and over time as different fashions rise and fall. Moreover, a person may choose to display a mixed message. For example, a Saudi Arabian woman may wear an abaya to proclaim her respectability, but choose an abaya of luxurious material cut close to the body and then accessorize with high heels and a fashionable purse. All the details proclaim sexual desirability, despite the ostensible message of respectability. Similarly, a Japanese schoolgirl may wear the required school uniform in a way (skirt's waistband rolled to shorten the skirt, long sleeves rolled up) that says "sexy schoolgirl" rather than "good girl".
Because clothing and adornment have such frequent links with sexual display, humans often develop fetishes. They may strongly prefer to have sexual relations with other humans wearing clothing and accessories they consider arousing or sexy. In Western culture, such fetishes may include extremely high heels, lace, leather, or military clothing. Other cultures have different fetishes. For many centuries, Chinese men desired women with bound feet. The men of Heian Japan lusted after women with floor-sweeping hair and layers of silk robes. Fetishes vary as much as fashion. Sometimes the clothing itself becomes the object of fetish, such as in case with used girl panties in Japan.