December 10, 2023

The Nature of Dress: The Broader Purposes of Fashion

Many people who are contemplating a career in fashion design are lovers of clothing. They are in awe of the seasonal collections that grace the runways each year and love watching celebrities wear the latest designs. These things become their inspiration and spark the desire to design fashions of their own. However, unbeknownst to these aspiring designers, fashion has a deeper purpose beyond style.

Fashion is Functional

Fundamentally fashion is about function. Every piece of fashion whether it is an article of clothing, an accessory, or even a piece of furniture has a purpose. Clothing has two fundamental purposes, to cover the body sufficiently and protect it from the elements. With the exception of the rare private nude beach, a person’s body must be covered. Specifically certain portions of the body must be covered, namely those which are a part of our reproductive centers, the breasts, crotch area, and buttocks.

However, clothing needs to be designed in such a way to not only cover these parts, but protect our bodies from the elements. During the cold months the body needs more areas covered with a heavier material to protect it from the cold and wind. When the weather becomes warmer, less of the body needs to be covered and the clothing needs to be of a lighter weight to keep the body cool.

Fashion is Symbolic

Throughout human history, fashion has served as a symbol in society. The easiest way to visualize this more clearly is to look at fashion as a uniform. Observe people in different environments for a few weeks and you will notice certain groups and professions wear a typical style of dress. This is a uniform. Those who work in the business sector tend to dress in suits, conservative skirts or pants, and button down or conservative knit shirts/blouses. People who work in more physical intensive jobs dress in what is normally viewed as a uniform or in thick denim, corduroy, fleece, and loose knitted fabrics.


Socio-economic status also dictates our uniform. Though you may hate to admit it, money has a lot to do with the way we dress. Those who are affluent will dress the part. They may be seen in formal attire, more trendy youthful looks, and even casual wear, however they are always of a top designer label and they are accessorized. While those of the working classes may have some of the designer labels, but they are worn on special occasions, not everyday, and tend to have less designer accessories adorning them.


Fashion is Gender Still Gender Specific

Even though there are movements such as the metrosexual movement that blur the line between gender specific styles of dress, fashion is still geared towards either sex. Throughout the history of fashion we have seen where articles of clothing that were traditionally associated with men, have now been assimilated by women, such as bifurcated garments (pants and shorts). While some articles of clothing, like pants, are worn by both sexes they are still made to fit a man or a woman specifically.

Men and women are built differently so their clothing has to fit their body. Men tend to be broader up around he shoulders with longer limbs than females. Most of their stress points are around the shoulder area, backside, and knees. Women on the other hand have these same stress points in addition to their bust, hip, and thigh areas.

The function of clothing is different between the sexes as well. Closures on men’s clothing close left over right. Also men require pockets in their clothing. Unlike females, men do not normally carry a purse they carry a wallet which they like to carry on their person. The best way to carry a wallet is in a pocket. Females on the other hand require more function built into the seaming of a garment to accommodate certain areas like the hip and bust. Women’s clothing closes right over left further differentiating it from men’s clothing.

These are all basic ways to get you to see fashion as more than just style. Fashion serves a purpose beyond the visual. Always remember that fashion is function plus style.