Clothing is fiber and textile material worn on the body. It provides protection against the elements, such as rain, wind or cold, and may prevent sunburn. It also provides warmth or coolness depending on the season and local climate, and may enhance safety for activities such as hiking or cooking. Clothing is made of a variety of animal and vegetable skins, or synthetic fabrics such as cotton, silk, linen, wool and hemp.
The development of clothing has been driven by social, economic and technological factors. Clothing is a medium for communicating status, wealth, group identity, and individualism. Clothing can be used to mark membership in a profession, club, school, or religion; for example, police officers and firefighters wear uniforms and members of a religious order wear a particular robe or habit. It may be used to identify a sexual orientation or sex, as in the case of a thong, bikini, and other swimwear, or to protect a particular body part from public view (genitals, breasts, buttocks, and thighs).
Historically, many cultures developed an extensive range of furs and skins as a primary source of clothing. Some societies, such as the peoples of the Arctic Circle, made their entire clothing from prepared and decorated furs and skins. Others supplemented their furs and skins with cloth, which was woven or twined from animal or plant fibers such as sheep’s wool, flax, and ramie. The earliest fabrics were made by hand, but the first powered loom was invented during the Industrial Revolution and significantly reduced the labor required for fabric production.
In addition to its functional uses, clothing may serve as a medium for art and communication. It can be a statement of personal style, as with a brightly colored scarf or a pair of snazzy sneakers. It can also be a way to express a political or social view, as in the case of T-shirts bearing anti-war messages or displaying a designer logo.
It is often considered a form of personal expression, and some people spend a great deal of time planning, shopping for, purchasing and wearing clothes that they consider to be “in fashion.” The fashion industry has developed an entire vocabulary of terms to describe trends in clothing, including fads, crazes, and tendencies.
Clothes may be used to signal status, such as the fact that only Roman emperors could wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple, and only high-ranking Hawaiian chiefs wore feather cloaks or palaoa adorned with carved whale teeth. In modern society, high-status clothing is usually marked by its expensive price, which limits access to it. The desire to appear fashionable can also lead to waste, as consumers regularly replace worn items with new ones. In addition, the creation of clothing is a labor-intensive process with significant environmental impacts. This has led to criticism of the clothing industry, and a variety of initiatives to reduce its impact. Many countries have labor laws that regulate the working conditions of workers in the apparel industry. However, millions of children are employed in the manufacture of clothing worldwide, often in conditions that are unsafe, unhealthy and unsanitary.