Clothes - for Individuality or Conformity's Sake

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The reasons why people wear what they wear

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A walk through any cultural museum gives us glimpses of how our earliest ancestors looked like. We may remember and characterize them by their unkempt hair and exhibition of unruly behaviour. But can any of us remember what they used to wear? If you look closely enough at the exhibits, you will realize that most of our ancestors roamed the earth with nothing but a few pieces of animal skin or leaves on their body. Little did we know, that those few pieces of animal skin are the earliest forms of clothing. Now, let’s fast forward in time and take a look at today’s world. As you turn around the bend to any busy street in the world, endless lines of boutiques will greet you with sophistication and glamour to the tastes of Chanel, Gucci and many more just like these. Waltzing out of their glass doors, you will find shoppers with illuminated faces of indescribable joy laden with huge shopping bags filled with their buys. Comparing the wide array of clothes which vary in colour, texture and material that are available to us now and the limited choices that our ancestors had, it is clear that the look of clothes has evolved tremendously with the passing of time. Let us now examine whether the purposes clothes have changed. Back then, clothes were made with two simple objectives. Firstly, they were worn to conceal human parts for the purpose of modesty (Harms, 1938). Secondly, they helped to increase survivability (Danesi, 2006, p. 496) and were often “perceived as additions to our protective bodily hair and skin thickness” (Danesi, 2006, p. 496). But today, clothes have become more sophisticated and have changed from mere “objects for the body” to “cultural objects” (Bovone, 2006 p. 377) that can actually “articulate the soul” (Bovone, 2006 p. 377). It is also ironic to see how people today use clothes to accentuate body parts, such that they can act as devices for enhancing physical attractiveness as compared to the initial purpose of modesty (Laurie, 1981). Thus, it is evident that clothes hold more significance today than in the past, where they were only considered as mere body coverings.

What we should know is that clothes are more than just a few pieces of cloth meticulously stitched together. They are a form of non-verbal communication, a new language (Roach, 2007). In the same way that different words and phrases are adeptly pieced together to convey certain messages in languages, clothes can also be mixed and matched with varying colours or textures to express a multitude of different meanings (Roach, 2007). This mix and match process for clothes can result in an unlimited number of outcomes. What then are some of the messages that can be conveyed using the language of clothes? Through clothes, one can actually “shout” out his “personality, social status, and overall character” (Danesi, 2006 p.123). As a result, clothes are able to establish social readability such that we are able to guess who a person really is just by a single glance (Vinken, 1999).

Other than being a form of non-verbal communication, clothes are also a means of social organization with the ability to categorize the society into groups. They have this ability simply due to the fact that people usually “position themselves and one another within groups according to style choices centred on clothing”(Croghan et al, 2006). This is relevant to a literal interpretation of the old saying “Birds of a feather flock together”. In this case, the feathers refer to the clothes that people wear. Being a form of non-verbal communication and also a means of social organization, we can see some of the purposes of clothes. Knowing what clothes entail prompts the question why people choose to wear what they wear. Amidst all the different reasons why people wear clothes, there are two main reasons. Firstly, clothes are worn for personal purposes with...
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