Fashion as Speech: We Don't Have to Take our Clothes Off 

 The first in a series of interactive essays focusing on the link between Music and Fashion Body Identity.
Dene October

What are clothes for? Is this not the same question as asking what is fashion? These are simple enough questions, yet there are no simple answers that can claim to be culturally universal.
Before reading on, think about why you wear clothes. How many reasons can you think of?

Watch the music video. 

What part does dress play in communication?

How many reasons can you think of for wearing clothes now?

The anthropologist Malinowski (1884–1942) claims that clothing was invented in response to primary human needs, such as shelter and protection. However there is considerable evidence to contradict these as reasons.
The Naturalist Charles Darwin - who was interested in human variation and later wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) - was fascinated with the Yahgan people of Tierra del Fuego (South America). This led him to make a voyage to observe them on the HMS Beagle in 1839. The 'Fuegians' wore little clothing so Darwin's group offered them blankets. But the Yaghan people had culturally specific ways of keeping warm, such as covering the skin in animal grease and resting in a deep squatting position [see image]. 

If the primary purpose of clothing is to keep us warm or cool, why do so many of us wear clothes inappropriate to the weather? In the UK during the 1970s industrial disputes, problems with oil supply led to cold classrooms at infant schools. One solution demanded children keep their coats on in class, but many refused to do so perhaps associating coats with rules. Should we be surprised?
Juliet Schor's book Born to Buy points out the more recent rise of the 'tweener' - a kid that recognises a logo at 18 months of age. At two-years-old the child is demanding the product by brand. At three-and-a-half the child is associating the brand with the communication of personal qualities. By 1st Grade, the child can name 200 brands.

Malinowski's thesis that clothes are used for protection is given an ironic twist by clothing company Vexed Generation. Designers Adam Thorpe and Joe Hunter made their  parkas with knife retardant material and padding over the kidney area so wearers will be safe in the streets.
The fact that the shop is set up like an art gallery alerts the customer that these designs are statements about the convergence of style and street.

If protection is one of the reasons we wear clothing, consider the following museum pieces. A Victorian corset, shoes worn during the Chinese foot-binding era, platform shoes worn by a member of a Japanese Kawaii subculture [see images].

Clothes can be functional. Work clothes can offer protection and fit the specific needs of the work environment, such as keeping clean and having pockets for necessary instruments.
But utility wear is not always matched up with practical needs. In this colour plate by W. F. Phillips for the 1970 Dent edition of the Jules Verne novel, From the Earth to the Moon, it is not those wearing utility outfits who plan to fly to the moon, but the ones who look like bankers.
What is the relationship between the clothes and the social positions of each wearer?

Even utility clothes must pass other aesthetic tests that have little to do with their practicality. This photoshoot shows the model dealing with being required to pose with a Bond-style demeanour. This request is a short-cut to associations such as Britishness, class, style, action, masculinity. Nor are the colours, patterns and style of the outfit without cultural connotations.
The reality behind the image may be somewhat less glamorous however: I was the
model for this and I was chosen because I was slim and boyish. However, since the target market was identified as being considerably heavier in build, the fit of the garment was only achieved by using nearly twenty bulldog clips running alongside my backbone.
If this seems an odd thing to have happened, ask yourself why it is often said that girls model women‘s fashion.

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ANSWER CLICK + RUN YOUR CURSOR BETWEEN HERE They tore them into strips to use as body ornaments.AND HERE

Juliet Schor, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, New York: Scribner, 2004

link to original article pending clearance