March 8, 2013
Fashion can be the boldest expression of an individual's style, personality, mood and behaviour, and yet we obey some fashion rules intuitively. For instance, some instinctive fashion rules might see us choosing a bright colour or a sexier outfit for a romantic dinner, wearing sober attire or minimal make-up at a funeral service, or ensure we don't turn up to a wedding in beachwear. Additionally, we have an acute awareness of fads and gender 'norms' in fashion. From early childhood we're instilled with an understanding of which type of clothing signifies which gender, and in later life one can make an audacious statement by transgressing against or subverting these gender rules. For some, choosing the right shoes and nail varnish is as important as choosing the right life-partner, while others won't be seen dead without a designer watch!
Fashion is a uniquely complicated social phenomenon which drives our everyday emotional and social states and intrinsically alters how we react to the world, and how the world reacts to us. In this article, we examine the basic question of why humans are drawn to fashion in evolutionary, behavioural, psychological and neurological contexts.
Is survival of the "fashionably" fittest an essential trait?
The evolution of fashion, from a time when basic clothing was merely used to protect the skin from heat or cold, is incredible. Ten thousand years ago Neanderthals were the first pre-humans to wear clothes, which allowed them to run faster, stay outside longer and hunt more easily, resulting in a better quality of life. Custom-made clothing (designed for their pleasing aesthetic qualities, rather than just practicality) only emerged relatively recently, around the 16
centuries. Two hundred years later, the first 'fashion designer' -
Charles Fredrick Worth
- officially labelled his clothes. Ever since, the fashion industry has undergone several revolutions, in correspondence to the passing of the decades.
Might, then, the 'evolution' of fashion be linked to the evolution of humans? Does the Darwinian principal of
the survival of the fittest
ring true for those with style? Our human society is largely monogamous. The choice of mates for procreation is primarily governed by signs of fertility and virility: a healthy body, youth, and myriad other highly desirable traits like intelligence. So in this system, where the most desirable are most likely to reproduce, surely the sharper dressed amongst us are more likely to turn some heads! There is, however, no evidence that fashion has evolved to be an 'essential trait', for selecting a viable mate to propagate the human race! If this were the case, swathes of people deemed 'unfashionable' would fail to reproduce, leaving only a well-dressed populous short of scruffy farmers and geeky scientists. At the most, unfashionable men and women might be less favoured as mates; nevertheless, this does not brand them any less capable of procreation.
Does your dressing sense dictate your behaviour?