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No one knows exactly when people invented clothes. Usually, the origin of clothing is dated back to 100,000 years ago. According to archaeological research, “prehistoric hunters may have worn the skins of bears or reindeer in order to keep warm or a sign of personal skill, bravery, and strength” [1]. The needle was invented by the end of the Old Stone Age – about 25,000 years ago. At about the same time, people started to make yarn from plants or from the fur or hair of animals. They had begun to raise plants and started to herd “wood-producing” animals like sheep.

Of course, clothes have a very important biological function, but it appears that “even in cold climates, some people seem more interested in decorating their bodies than in protecting them. In the 1830s the British biologist Charles Darwin (1809-82) travelled to the island of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of South America. There he saw people who wore only a little paint and a small cloak made of animal skin, in spite of the cold rain and the sleet. Darwin gave the people scarlet cloth; they took it and wrapped it around their necks, instead of wearing it around the lower body for warmth. Despite the cold weather, the people wore clothing not for protective reasons, but primarily for decorating their bodies and making them appear attractive” [1].

Humans “have used clothing to define our kind (especially to differentiate ourselves from animals), and to differentiate ourselves from each other” [2]. In all societies and cultures, “dress characterizes group membership and beliefs”. “Shamans … have always worn special clothing to identify themselves. … Motorcycle gang members … wear leather jackets, boots, and various items such as brass knuckles to convey toughness and group identity” [1].

It is not a great discovery that “what makes nudity appealing … is the absence of clothing”. “Nudity is the oppositional counterpart to clothing”. Clothing and nudity “constitute a single system of meaning” [1].

So what does nudity mean? There is a simple answer: “nudity is associated with sex because … one usually becomes nude in order to engage in sex” [3]. Despite the fact that one may find this explanation exhaustive, there’s another point of view on nudity.

It was noticed that “in a clothed society, … nakedness is special, and can be used as a “costume” [4]. In other words, nudity can be “imagined as a form of clothing” [2]. If so, when was it appropriate to wear this “costume”, in historical perspective?

“In anthropology, for example, nudity-as-clothing can appear as the category of “ritual nudity”, in which the theorist analyses the way nudity can function as a kind of costume in ritual or magic” [2]. “In Greece the remarkable innovation of athletic male nudity, which surely originated in a ritual, religious context, developed a special social and civic meaning. It became a costume, a uniform: exercising together in the gymnasia marked men’s status as citizens of the polis and as Greeks”. Men “attended the gymnasium, and proudly wore the “costume” that was appropriate for this place”. “Nudity as a costume was fashionable” [4].

“Throughout the sixth century B.C., black-figure Attic vases regularly show athletes competing in the nude, as well as nude gods, heroes, mortals, revelers, etc.” [4]. “In the convention of heroic nudity, gods and heroes were shown naked, while ordinary mortals were less likely to be so, though athletes and warriors in combat were often depicted nude” [5].

In this context, the “modern” attitude towards nudity seems disappointingly primitive. Nudity, a “costume” related to magic and heroes, has lost most of its meanings. It’s time to find them again.

Isaac Newton by William Blake

Isaac Newton by William Blake – Wikimedia Commons

References
[1] Marcel Danesi, The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice, University of Toronto Press, 2007
[2] Ruth Barcan, Nudity a Cultural Anatomy, Berg, 2004
[3] Yahoo Answers: Why most peoples always associated nudity with sexual?
[4] Larissa Bonfante, Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 93, No. 4, 1989
[5] Nude (art) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oddly enough, man has never felt sure of himself in the nude. This in itself has made an end of the struggling cult of nudism. Men and women will never trust themselves to the opinions of their fellows, based on their unadorned bodies. People do not dress for modesty. Modesty, like many other excuses in our moral codes, serves a better reason.

Human beings wear clothes to shield their nakedness, to keep them warm, and to adorn themselves. But a woman can hide her nakedness in fifty cents’ worth of cotton cloth. She can keep herself warm in six dollars’ worth of wool. Nevertheless she spends fifty dollars for her coat and five thousand if she can afford it. This will serve as a measure of the relative importance of these three influences in feminine attire. People dress to conceal the defects of the body, to neutralize the onset of age, to hide the effects of gluttony and sloth.

Source: Men of wealth: the story of twelve significant fortunes from the renaissance to the present day by John Thomas Flynn (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1941)

Bravery By Rsms | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Bravery By Rsms | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Image: Bravery | Flickr – Photo Sharing! (under Creative Commons license)

Vintage Portrait of two Babies in an Old Fashioned Antique Baby Carriage Buggy by Beverly & Pack | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Vintage Portrait of two Babies in an Old Fashioned Antique Baby Carriage Buggy by Beverly & Pack | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

“Nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance.” The author of the article on Smithsonian.com means, of course, that boys wear blue, while girls wear pink. But it wasn’t always that way. Jo. B. Paoletti, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year, says:

“For centuries children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. What was once a matter of practicality … became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted”.

As a matter of fact, “pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I”. The present-day color associations also weren’t accepted immediately. For instance, in 1927 Time magazine informed its readers that leading U.S. stores in Boston, New York City, Cleveland and Chicago “told parents to dress boys in pink”.

“Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers.”

Source: When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? By Jeanne Maglaty
In great-grandma’s time, little kids went around un-gendered

There are always people using religion as a road to power and wealth. Some of them would never leave the clothes alone. They not only wear strange-looking ceremonial clothes, but also know how everybody should be dressed.

On January 18, 2011, The New York Times has published an article by Ellen Barry entitled “A Dress Code For Russians? Priest Chides Skimpiness”. According to the article, Russian church officials are hoping to introduce a dress code not for women and men attending church services or just visiting places of religious worship, but for all people on any occasion. The very first lines are worth to be quoted:

A top official for the Russian Orthodox Church on Tuesday proposed creating an “all-Russian dress code,” lashing out at women who leave the house “painted like a clown” and “confuse the street with striptease.”

The same official who is a close associate of Moscow patriarch had previously attracted public attention in Russia, saying at a round table that a woman wearing a miniskirt “can provoke not only a man from the Caucasus, but a Russian man as well” and adding “If she is actively inviting contact, and then is surprised that this contact ends with a rape, she is all the more at fault”.

The Russian orthodox church is not going to publish any official documents on the issue choosing the way of social pressure. The author of the article in The New York Times quotes the chief spokesman of the patriarch who has told the Russian news agency: “If a young woman knows that people will look at her askance and consider her an outcast, she will not dress the way so many of them do today”.

Russian human rights activists oppose the innovations like that. “We overcame Communism as the state ideology and certain forces want to replace it with Orthodox Christianity,” said the chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki group, on another occasion.

The article from The New York Times was immediately translated into Russian by the popular internet website ИноСМИ.ru. Some Russian commentators responded with shock and large doses of sarcasm. But the church closely bound to the country’s leaders is increasing its power in Russia. Before the Communist revolution all state officials were obliged to attend the church services and even receive communion, while religious teaching occupied a central place in Russian classrooms. It seems that nowadays the status quo is on its way to being restored.

Devotees by t-maker (Vadimage) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Leaving the church by t-maker (Vadimage) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Updated: The Christian Science Monitor also amused readers by the article of its Moscow correspondent Fred Weir entitled “Russian Orthodox Church calls for dress code, says miniskirts cause ‘madness'” published on January 20, 2011. The article gives a few more quotes of the same top official of the Russian orthodox church:

It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work. If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her thatMoreover, if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.

Maybe Russian conservative quarters have in mind the perfect outfit like that 🙂

Moscow Girl of the XVII century (Andrey Ryabushkin. 1903. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Moscow Girl of the XVII century (Andrey Ryabushkin. 1903. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)