Clothing refers to any covering for the human body that is worn. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of nearly all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on functional considerations (such as a need for warmth or protection from the elements) and social considerations. In some situations the minimum amount of clothing (such as covering of a person's genitals) may be socially acceptable, while in others much more clothing is expected.
Clothing can serve as protection from the elements. Clothes can also enhance safety during hazardous activities such as hiking and cooking, by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Further, clothes can provide a hygienic barrier, keeping toxins away from the body and limiting the transmission of germs.
Clothing performs a range of social and cultural functions, such as individual, occupational and sexual differentiation, and social status. A uniform, for example, may identify civil authority figures, such as police and military personnel, or it may identify team, group or political affiliations.
In many societies, norms about clothing reflect standards of modesty, religion, gender, and social status. Clothing may also function as a form of adornment and an expression of personal taste or style.
Clothing can and has in history been made from a very wide variety of materials. Materials have ranged from leather and furs, to woven materials, 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, as are footwear and hats. However, if functional due to local and weather condition and benefits your well being, footwear can be considered clothing.
It can be said that there are four primary factors in clothing comfort, identifiable as the '4 Fs of Comfort' (1) fashion; (2) feel; (3) fit; and (4) function. In hot climates, clothing provides protection from sunburn or wind damage, while in cold climates its thermal insulation properties are generally more important. Shelter usually reduces the functional need for clothing. For example, coats, hats, gloves, shoes, socks, and other superficial layers are normally removed when entering a warm home, particularly if one is residing or sleeping there. Similarly, clothing has seasonal and regional aspects, so that thinner materials and fewer layers of clothing are generally worn in warmer seasons and regions than in colder ones.
Clothing protects people against many things that might injure the uncovered human body. Clothes act as protection from the elements, including rain, snow and wind and other weather conditions, as well as from the sun. However, if clothing is too sheer, thin, small, tight, etc., the protection effect is minimized. Clothes also reduce the level of risk during activity, such as work or sport. Clothing at times is worn as protection from specific environmental hazards, such as insects, noxious chemicals, weapons, and contact with abrasive substances. Conversely, clothing may protect the environment from the clothing wearer, as with doctors wearing medical scrubs.
Humans have shown extreme inventiveness in devising clothing solutions to environmental hazards. Some examples include: space suits, air conditioned clothing, armor, diving suits, swimsuits, bee-keeper gear, motorcycle leathers, high-visibility clothing, and other pieces of protective clothing. Meanwhile, 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.
Although dissertations on clothing and its functionality are found from the 19th century as colonising countries dealt with new environments, concerted scientific research into psycho-social, physiological and other functions of clothing (e.g. protective, cartage) occurred in the first half of the 20th century, with publications such as Flugel'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. While considerable research has since occurred and the knowledge-base has grown significantly, the main concepts remain unchanged, and indeed Newburgh's book continues to be cited by contemporary authors, including those attempting to develop thermoregulatory models of clothing development.
In most cultures, gender differentiation of clothing is considered appropriate for men and women. The differences are in styles, colors and fabrics.
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 male clothing, but are nowadays worn by both genders. Male 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 females. Males are typically allowed to bare their chests in a greater variety of public places. It is generally acceptable for a woman to wear traditionally male clothing, while the converse is 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 are. Articles of clothing worn by Muslim women for purposes of modesty range from the headscarf to the burqa.
Men may sometimes choose to wear men's skirts such as togas or kilts, especially on ceremonial occasions. Such garments were (in previous times) often worn as normal daily clothing by men. Compared to men's clothing, women's clothing tends to be more attractive, often intended to be looked at by men.[
In some societies, clothing may be used to indicate rank or status. In ancient Rome, for example, only senators were permitted to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple. In traditional Hawaiian society only high-ranking chiefs could wear feather cloaks and palaoa or carved whale teeth. Under the Travancore Kingdom of Kerala, (India), lower caste women had to pay a tax for the right to cover their upper body. In China, before the establishment of the republic, only the emperor could wear yellow. History provides many examples of elaborate sumptuary laws that regulated what people could wear. In societies without such laws, which includes most modern societies, social status is instead signaled by the purchase of rare or luxury items that are limited by cost to those with wealth or status. In addition, peer pressure influences clothing choice.
Religious clothing might be considered a special case of occupational clothing. Sometimes it is worn only during the performance of religious ceremonies. However, it may also be worn everyday as a marker for special religious status.
For example, Jains wear unstitched cloth pieces when performing religious ceremonies. The unstitched cloth signifies unified and complete devotion to the task at hand, with no digression. Sikhs wear a turban as it is a part of their religion.
The cleanliness of religious dresses in Eastern Religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism is of paramount importance, since it indicates purity.
Clothing figures prominently in the Bible where it appears in numerous contexts, the more prominent ones being: the story of Adam and Eve, Joseph's cloak, Judah and Tamar, Mordecai and Esther. Furthermore the priests officiating in the Temple had very specific garments, the lack of which made one liable to death.
Jewish ritual also requires rending of one's upper garment as a sign of mourning. This practice is found in the Bible when Jacob hears of the apparent death of his son Joseph.
Spread of western styles
By the early years of the 21st century, western clothing styles had, to some extent, become international styles. This process began hundreds of years earlier, during the periods of European colonialism. The process of cultural dissemination has perpetuated over the centuries as Western media corporations have penetrated markets throughout the world, spreading Western culture and styles. Fast fashion clothing has also become a global phenomenon. These garments are less expensive, mass-produced Western clothing. Donated used clothing from Western countries are also delivered to people in poor countries by charity organizations.
Ethnic and cultural heritage
People may wear ethnic or national dress on special occasions or in certain roles or occupations. For example, most Korean men and women have adopted Western-style dress for daily wear, but still wear traditional hanboks on special occasions, like weddings and cultural holidays. Items of Western dress may also appear worn or accessorized in distinctive, non-Western ways. A Tongan man may combine a used T-shirt with a Tongan wrapped skirt, or tupenu.
Sport and activity
Most sports and physical activities are practiced wearing special clothing, for practical, comfort or safety reasons. Common sportswear garments include short pants, T-shirts, tennis shirts, tracksuits, and trainers. Specialized garments include wet suits (for swimming, diving or surfing), salopettes (for skiing) and leotards (for gymnastics). Also, spandex materials are often used as base layers to soak up sweat. Spandex is also preferable for active sports that require form fitting garments, such as wrestling, track & field, dance, gymnastics and swimming.