Monday, February 1, 2010

Fashion: Protection & Status

“Clothes are not for triumph but defense, hast thou always worn them perforce and as a consequence of Man’s fall…?” Thomas Carlyle

Pistoletto, 1967

Clothing is normally considered the basic forms, unadorned and destined to be laundry. Fashion however has an aesthetic appreciation for the design and the presentation. Two of the most important texts on fashion are "Protection" by John Flugel from the Psychology of Clothes, 1950 and & "Fashion" by Georg Simmel from 1904.

The essential basis for the form of clothing is the human body. Clothing covers the body and takes shape in human scale. In “Protection,” John Flugel describes clothing as protection against physical danger. The idea of wearing clothing for protection is more directly related to the need in cold climates, evident in the use of fur.

Fur in 1900 and 2009 by Dennis Basso. Wile fur is still used to cover the body the meaning has changed due to contemporary interest in animal rights.

Most people however wear more clothes each day than they actually need for protection . We have also sought clothing for protection from enemies such as armor. There are also examples of clothing which is intended to protect from sporting accidents or animal threat.


13th century European Crusades metal armor compared with 19th century Korak fiber and metal armor.

Dolce & Gabbana S 2007 and Hussein Chalayan, S 2000


Hermès, 2008

Rasmus Motensen, 2007

From protection to ornament

Michael Kors F 2009 and Chanel Haute Couture SS 2009

Fugel also describes clothing as protection against imaginary dangers such as magic or spirits. The author speculates that some of the first clothing may have been ornamental items to protect from negative psychological threats. He suggests that clothing began as a utilitarian thing but like art it gradually was transformed into decorative. The idea of clothing with psychological power – such as luck or supernatural blessing – is still practiced by some.

The military uniform does not physically protect but provides a sense of community and recognition on the battlefield. William Richard Rumbold by George Romney and Balmain S 2009

We widely associate certain aspects of clothing with certain personalities. Soft collars are for soft people while firm collars are for firm business men. Black is associated with evil and white with innocence while color coordinates to emotional expression. Covering the body is modest. Thick and stiff clothing suggests protection and uprightness. Tightness varies by how much it reveals of the body.

Balenciaga by Nick Knight, 2003

Clothing also provides a comfort, putting personal things closest to the body. We are inclined to cover ourselves with unnecessary outerwear when we are not comfortable or feel our clothing is not like those around us. The author also suggests that our love needs may also be expressed by how much clothing we wear or our feelings of hot or cold. Clothes are womb like in their complete coverage. Clothes are also more commonly associated with the formation of the concept of mother and woman.

Georg Simmel was a German sociologist who was one of the first to identify fashion as a social system in 1904.

He analyzed “animal man” at the turn of the 20th century and suggested that fashion only happens when formal societies with class structures exist. Primitive societies do not have fashion as a social system of change. He believed that capitalism created the defensive elite class that used clothing to separate themselves from the lower classes.

Fashion is a tool for both union and segregation.

What Simmel found is imitation dominants social groups. Lower classes try to imitate upper classes and stay up with the codes which were made more available through fashion magazines.

There are however strange “classics” that endure and resist change. These are known as clothing codes while seasonal forms are fashion codes. Simmel also suggested that fashion had the ability to absorb any content or style. So while fashion may seem “natural” to us, it is a social construction that we can deconstruct.


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