Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel and attire) is items worn on the body. Clothing is typically made of fabrics or textiles but over time has included garments made from animal skin or other thin sheets of materials put together. The wearing of clothing is mostly restricted to human beings and is a feature of all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on gender, body type, social, and geographic considerations.
Clothing serves many purposes: it can serve as protection from the elements, rough surfaces, rash-causing plants, insect bites, splinters, thorns and prickles by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Clothes can insulate against cold or hot conditions, and they can provide a hygienic barrier, keeping infectious and toxic materials away from the body. Clothing also provides protection from ultraviolet radiation.
Wearing clothes is also a social norm, and being deprived of clothing in front of others may be embarrassing. In most parts of the world, not wearing clothes in public so that genitals, breasts or buttocks are visible could be considered indecent exposure.
Origin of clothing
There is no easy way to determine when clothing was first developed. Estimates by various experts have ranged from 40,000 to 3 million years ago. Some more recent studies involving the evolution of body lice have implied a more recent development with some indicating a development of around 170,000 years ago and others indicating as little as 40,000. No single estimate is widely accepted.
The most obvious function of clothing is to protect the wearer from the elements. In hot weather, clothing provides protection from sunburn or wind damage. In the cold, it offers thermal insulation. Shelter can reduce the functional need for clothing. For example, coats, hats, gloves and other outer layers are normally removed when entering a warm place. Similarly, clothing has seasonal and regional aspects so that thinner materials and fewer layers of clothing are generally worn in warmer regions and seasons than in colder ones.
Clothing performs a range of social and cultural functions, such as individual, occupational and gender differentiation, and social status. In many societies, norms about clothing reflect standards of modesty, religion, gender, and social status. Clothing may also function as adornment and an expression of personal taste or style.
Clothing has been made from a very wide variety of materials, ranging from leather and furs to woven fabrics to elaborate and exotic natural and synthetic fabrics. Not all body coverings are regarded as clothing. Articles carried rather than worn (such as purses), worn on a single part of the body and easily removed (scarves), worn purely for adornment (jewelry), or those that serve a function other than protection (eyeglasses), are normally considered accessories rather than clothing.
Clothing protects against many things that might injure or irritate the uncovered human body, including rain, snow, wind, and other weather, as well as from the sun. Garments that are too sheer, thin, small or tight offer less protection. Appropriate clothes can also reduce risk during activities such as work or sport. Some clothing protects from specific hazards, such as insects, noxious chemicals, weather, weapons, and contact with abrasive substances.
Humans have devised clothing solutions to environmental or other hazards: such as space suits, air conditioned clothing, armor, diving suits, swimsuits, bee-keeper gear, motorcycle leathers, high-visibility clothing, and other pieces of protective clothing. The distinction between clothing and protective equipment is not always clear-cut, since clothes designed to be fashionable often have protective value and clothes designed for function often consider fashion in their design. The choice of clothes also has social implications. They cover parts of the body that social norms require to be covered, act as a form of adornment, and serve other social purposes. Someone who lacks the means to procure reasonable clothing due to poverty or affordability, or simply lack of inclination, is sometimes said to be scruffy, ragged, or shabby.
Serious books on clothing and its functions appear from the 19th century as imperialists dealt with new environments such as India and the tropics. Some scientific research into the multiple functions of clothing in the first half of the 20th century, with publications such as J.C. Flügel’s Psychology of Clothes in 1930, and Newburgh’s seminal Physiology of Heat Regulation and The Science of Clothing in 1949. By 1968, the field of environmental physiology had advanced and expanded significantly, but the science of clothing in relation to environmental physiology had changed little. There has since been considerable research, and the knowledge base has grown significantly, but the main concepts remain unchanged, and indeed Newburgh’s book is still cited by contemporary authors, including those attempting to develop thermoregulatory models of clothing development.[further explanation needed]
In most cultures, gender differentiation of clothing is considered appropriate. The differences are in styles, colors, fabrics, and types.
In Western societies, skirts, dresses, and high-heeled shoes are usually seen as women’s clothing, while neckties are usually seen as men’s clothing. Trousers were once seen as exclusively men’s clothing, but can nowadays be worn by both genders. Men’s clothes are often more practical (that is, they can function well under a wide variety of situations), but a wider range of clothing styles are available for women. Men are typically allowed to bare their chests in a greater variety of public places. It is generally common for a woman to wear clothing perceived as masculine, while the opposite is seen as unusual.
In some cultures, sumptuary laws regulate what men and women are required to wear. Islam requires women to wear more modest forms of attire, usually hijab. What qualifies as “modest” varies in different Muslim societies; however, women are usually required to cover more of their bodies than men. Articles of clothing Muslim women wear for modesty range from the head-scarf to the burqa.
Men may sometimes choose to wear men’s skirts such as togas or kilts in particular cultures, especially on ceremonial occasions. Such garments were (in previous times) often worn as normal daily clothing by men.
Clothing designed to be worn by either sex is called unisex clothing. Unisex clothes, such as T-shirts, tend to be cut straighter to fit a wider variety of bodies. The majority of unisex clothing styles have started out as menswear, but some articles, like the fedora, were originally worn by women.