The history of dress

Kristina Akhrarova

Observations of animal behavior studies on the origin of clothing indicate two facts about the origin of clothing. First of all, animals grow natural warm coats in cold climates and pass them on to offspring through genetics. However, humans traditionally use the dress to resist weather conditions. Second of all, chimpanzees swing objects around their bodies and run around to display them. This act of self-decoration can be considered as the prehuman roots of clothing.

The accessories of shells, animal teeth and ivory only appeared throughout Europe and parts of Africa in the late Paleolithic or Late Stone Age. Archaeologists found that the nude female figurines were wearing bracelets and did not show any form of clothing. The term “Venus figurine” is used to describe voluptuous female statuettes, because these figurines pre-date myths about the goddess Venus by thousands of years and have a direct connection with fertility and sexuality, two traits associated with the goddess.

There is a solid affiliation in western civilization between dress and the covering of the sex organs due to the instinct of modesty. Westermarck once said, that the dress is essentially rooted in the erotic impulses and can be called as the "Primitive Means of Attraction.” For instance, European men wore the codpieces while some Papuan tribes squeezed their organs of reproduction into the opening of a gourd. The genitals were covered to attract attention rather than to divert it.

The rise of fashion had to do only with the urban population and, especially, with the late medieval or Early Renaissance periods, the time when court life was conjuncted with the appearance of a merchant class.

For instance, Medicis, the famous Florentine banking family accumulated great fortunes, and the liquidity of their assets allowed them to gain significant political influence. The newly formed merchant class sought a way to publicly proclaim their strength because those families did not have the right to carry a noble coat of arms, and it is here where the roots of the fashion system may first be discerned. By flexing the purchasing muscle the merchant class established its newfound license. This class's ability to define itself on the dictatorial whim of fashion by the appropriation, and further disposal, and then replacement of goods, regardless of their lingering usefulness — still is one of the defining features of the fashion system to this day. In the Western democratic model, fashion is the devoted mistress of capitalism, constantly cannibalizing itself and calling for the rapid infusion of the new.

On the other side, the grotesque exaggeration of certain features, like the elongated head dress that was held on by a chin band was a response of Isabella of Bavaria, wife of Charles VI to the newly formed merchant class. Since then, fashion has always been essential to dress.

In the early sixteenth century, the portraits of the Italian Renaissance demonstrate the most pleasing styles of all western European fashions. The woman's hoop skirt was elaborated, however, the extreme forms came back in the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries.

In the eighteenth century, under the reign of Louis XVI the extremely impractical but glamorous dress was accompanied with highly expensive materials, and dress became a primary means for the ostentatious exhibition of wealth.

In the nineteenth century, the constricted waist, the bustle, and the heavy skirt became known as the ugliest and unhealthy fashions in the history of women's clothing in western society.

It is very likely that in our culture, this rapid succession of dressing styles will retain itself as a fixed feature of our civilization.

The study of modern civilization fashion along with mass production can derive no assistance from world history before comparatively modern times. In human history fashion is new and its future path is unknown.

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Codpiece | Clothing. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021].

Eagles, L. and Eagles, L., 2021. “Beauty Adorns Virtue”: Italian Renaissance Fashion | Fashion History Timeline. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021]. 2021. A George Santayana Home Page:: Miscellaneous Quotations. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021]. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021].

HISTORY. 2021. The Medici Family. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021]. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 January 2021].

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Dress is a fundamental element of social evolution. It comprises one of the most basic building blocks of inequality. Fashion, likewise, is neither frivolous nor trivial. It matters, has consequences. Dress and fashion have a significant impact on the way people live, define themselves, and operate within their own habitats. It is a game of differentiation, the means by which one ethnic group distinguishes itself from another, one social status and religious affiliation from another. Dress and fashion help identify the foreign, the minority, and the marginal, and can emerge as an influential means by which people challenge their status and reshape their identity within their own societies or on the global stage. In order to understand the complexities of what people wear and why, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, philosophers, semiologists, linguists and many others input their immense expertise. The study of modern civilization fashion along with mass production can derive no assistance from world history before comparatively modern times. In human history fashion is new and its future path is unknown.

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