clothing size chart

Why Do We Wear Clothing At All?- Part 2

Why Do We Wear Clothing At All?

Aside from the reasons of modesty, and inclimate weather, why do we wear clothing at all? It has been shown that clothing is not considered necessary in all parts of the world. So why have people been infatuated and even controlled by fashion since the beginning of time?

The Beginning of Fashion

From the first article, we determined that the earliest known evidence of clothing is thought to be around 170,000 years ago, give or take a millennium. This clothing was made from the skins of animals, the wool of animal fur, and later, materials made from plant fibers.

Wool is typically made from sheep fur but can be harvested from goats, muskoxen, rabbits, alpacas, and Llamas. Using all sources of materials at hand was not only enterprising but crucial.

Looking back into time, the first depictions of actual clothing was from Biblical times. This included ancient Hebrews, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Israelite nations.

Following basic garments, clothing with religious significance came next.[12] “The Bible has a surprising amount to say about clothing”. [22]

“Our clothing makes a statement about us, and, in the case of many people, that statement is all about dignity, a sense of self-worth, and, yes, respect for all those with whom we come into contact”. [23]

The everyday fashion in Biblical times included many items. Head coverings, shoes, wigs, jewelry, and other accessories were often significant as well as plentiful.

For the purpose of keeping the article to a minimum, however, I will briefly cover the topic of basic clothing. Much more information on the topic can be found and certainly in more detail in the references from which the information was taken at the end of the article.


The first basic garments, of course, were skins wrapped around the hips as an apron. When held together by a cloth or sash this garment was known as an ‘ezor.[3]

clothing of ancient Hebrews
clothing of ancient Hebrews

This graduated to garments made of fabric covering the body to the knees or ankles. Their heavy materials were crudely sewn together with openings for the arms.[1] [3] This sleeveless type of tunic often left the shoulders uncovered.

In later times, anyone dressed with only this type of garment (kethōneth)[4] was considered naked. Interesting to note, however, they did wear underwear.

dress of Biblical times

Much of the way they dressed, and the various layers they used, had spiritual or religious significance. Their dress had a purpose. Some of the items used were only allowed to be worn by men of rank or of the priestly order.

There were vestments that were common to all priests and those worn by high priests alone. The Torah provided specific vestments to be worn by the priests when ministering the temple.[2]

The Torah says little about clothing. It does forbid men from wearing women’s clothing, however. And without explanation, it prohibits blending wool and linen in a garment. [9]

The Torah also commanded the Israelites wear tassels or fringe attached to the corners of their garments to remind them to keep the Lord’s commandments. [10] Accessories of head coverings, breastplates, shoes, and undergarments were all specifically outlined for them. This showed that their fashion choices were heavily impacted by their religious beliefs.

The Israelite women wore clothing similar to the men though were longer in length. [1] [3] The women did not wear veils.

Modern Day Islam

In reference to the code of dress as embraced by Islam and those of the Muslim belief, we address appearance from an Islamic perspective.

I cover it only because of the significant difference in the dress worn by Muslim women in comparison to other geographical locations and beliefs.

The custom in the Middle East of the veil to the face originated with Islam. According to ancient law, it reached from the forehead, over the back of the head to the hips or lower.[3]

“Muslims are required to pay attention to their appearance, making sure that their clothing is beautiful and clean, especially when dealing with others and when performing the prayers, as the Qur’an states”. [24]

Yemeni women dressed in the niqab

“The general rule in the Sharee‛ah is that all types of clothing and adornment are allowed. “Islam has fixed the standards of modesty for both men and women. For men, the minimum amount to be covered is between the navel and the knee.

For women who are in the presence of men not related to them, they must cover their bodies except for their face and hands.  Muslims are required to cover their private parts with appropriate clothing, as the Qur’an states. Skin-tight and see-through clothes are not allowed in Islam.

muslim dress
muslim dress

Clothing that involves dressing like or imitating the opposite sex: This type of clothing is strictly forbidden in Islam and wearing it is considered one of the major sins.” [24]


In ancient Egypt, linen was the textile that was used almost exclusively. To the Egyptians, the wool from animals was considered impure and animal fibers were considered taboo. [2] Wool could only be used for warmth in coats.

ancient egyptian clothing
ancient Egyptian tunics

Egyptian fashion was created to keep cool in the hot desert environment.[5] People of the lower class wore only a loincloth covering their vital reproductive parts.

Egyptian loincloth

Although depicted in most murals as dressed, slaves often worked completely naked. [5]

The tunic and the robe were common amongst both genders. This remained unchanged over several millennia. [6]


Despite the depictions by the media, of all white tunics, clothing in ancient Greece was quite colorful. These garments were called peplos or chiton. [7]

ancient greece
Greek tunics

Their clothes were made of a linen or wool fabric, secured with a pin or a sash at the waist. Men’s chiton hung to the knees whereas women wore the garment to the ankles.


The ancient Roman wardrobe was a toga. This was usually a one-piece garment wrapped around the shoulders and down the body. Togas could be wrapped in different ways and became larger as time went on.[8]

The transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire in 44 BC changed fashion for the Romans. Following this time period, only men who were citizens of Rome were allowed to wear the toga.

Roman toga

All others were forbidden unless they were conducting official business.  By the second century BC, the toga was worn over a tunic. [8] The tunic was then the basic item of clothing. [2][11]

“In Ancient Rome, both men and women originally wore the toga made of plain white wool.

Over time matrons adopted the stola as the preferred form of dress, while prostitutes retained the toga. The stola was a long loose tunic or robe without sleeves.

Later, under the ancient Roman law, Lex Julia, women convicted of prostitution were forced to wear a toga muliebris, as the prostitute’s badge of shame. [20]

Moving on to other parts of the world, we continue our journey as we travel to China.


In ancient times the clothing of China defined status, profession, and wealth. The many rules about what could and could not be worn were strict.

ancient china
Chinese dynasty clothing

The styles were mostly unisex and uncomplicated in design, with box-shaped tunics ties with a sash, over skirts and trousers. The color of clothing and the materials they were made from held great definition.[13] [14]

Chinese dress

“The higher the rank the better the clothes they wore were. This included the length of a skirt, the wideness of a sleeve and the amount of ornamentation.

As the dynasties changed, gender specifically came into the Shenyi. During the winter months, people wore padded jackets over their tunics.” [13]



“From the Jomon period, from 14000 BC BC at 300 BC, Japan had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle; houses on stilts of wood, dwelling in pit and agriculture. The weaving was still unknown and the old Japanese clothes were fur.” [25]

Japanese dress

The fashion statements of ancient Japan were very blended with Chinese culture and its practices. For this reason it very difficult to see an obvious distinction. Their original garments were one piece coverings.

japanese obi sash
Kimono with Obi Sash

Over time, however, the Japanese developed a kimono tied with an Obi or sash. The female version of the Obi would be more elaborate than that of the male version.

“The most interesting piece of clothing is the ju-ni-hitoe or ‘twelve layers’. It is multi-layered, very heavy, and worn on a daily basis for centuries”. [15]

Southeastern Islands-Pacific and Asia:


Hawaiian Islands

Prior to this Western contact, clothing in the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific was minimal due in part to the tropical conditions.

native Tahitian-Hawaiian dress

During the early 1800s, the paradise islands of Hawaii were discovered by the missionaries. [16] The native people who populated the islands at that time wore little to no clothing due to the temperate climate. The basic garments worn were a loincloth (malo) for men.

For the women, it was a skirt, and if they wore anything at all to cover their breasts, it was a rectangular cloth (Kihei). “For the missionaries, covering the breasts was required for the sake of Christian notions of modesty.” [18]

kapa-lole.hawaiian bark cloth jpg
barkcloth clothing

The original garments were made from a fabric which was made from the bark fibers of a mulberry tree. This barkcloth or “kappa”” as it is known, was felted into a paper-like material that was used for anything from clothing to bedding material.

The Hawaiians used designs, dyes made from vegetables, and floral fragrance to adorn their fabrics. Sometimes feathers were used for garments of high rank and status. [17]  “Although kapa was the traditional fabric, it could not be cleaned, did not wear well, and even one layer was stiff”. [18]

The missionary women brought the Victorian style of clothing to the islands with their high-necked, empire-waist, long sleeve dresses.

Apparently, some of the Hawaiian queens of the 1820’s favored the European styles and wanted those dresses too.

The missionary women were small and petite while the Polynesian-Hawaiian women were not. They decided that a long loose dress with a high neckline and long sleeves were better suited for the queens.

hawaiian muumu
Hawaiian muu muu

The missionaries then decided that this holoku or mu’umu’u was to be required to show their ethnic difference. This was eagerly embraced by the Islanders among the upper class as a sign of high status.

“As missionaries left Hawaii to convert other islanders, they took the mu’umu’u with them and introduced it to women on other islands.” [18]

Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines


The traditional textiles and style of dress of Malaysia and Indonesia are somewhat similar. Malaysia is a country whose belief is that of the Muslim faith.

“In Malaysia, traditional clothing includes a lower body covering (sarong) worn by both sexes. Men’s sarong is plaid, women’s are designed with floral patterns.

The upper body covering for men is a shirt referred to as a baju. For women, a sheer blouse referred to as a kebaya is worn in Malaysia.

0064e2634535a3412e25a8f3a1e124e8.jpgPhillipine sarong
Philippine sarong

Indonesian national dress derives from the Muslim inhabitants of Indonesia’s main island, Java. The dress is an indicator of cultural change in Indonesia where history can be divided into three eras categorized by dress terms: sarong (local dress), jubbah (Islamic influences) and trousers (Western influences). [18]

The island nations of Malaysia and Indonesia have developed highly complex textiles. The designs and colors of these fabrics have symbolic meaning as to an individual’s social status. [18]

The people of Indonesia and Malaysia settled in the Philippines prior to the Spanish colonization of the sixteenth century.

The Spanish Catholic priests were scandalized by the relative nudity of the Filipinos. Wearing only minimal lower body coverings the priests were in a hurry to educate the natives about decency. [18]

Spanish colonists brought Western notions of modesty and opulence in the dress that influenced the styles of Filipino national dress thereafter.

For an everyday dress, however, they still retained the light, loose garments made of pineapple fiber due to the tropical environment. The Filipinas soon learned elaborate embroidery from the Spaniards which they then applied to their formal dress. [18]


“The culture, religions, and languages that are spoken in India are as diverse as the landscape in this vast country”, and change according to the region they inhabit. [30] In the northern part of India the Muslim beliefs impact the style of dress.

Aside from the loose trousers and divided skirts is the Sari. It is a six to nine-yard piece of cloth which “gives grace and elegance to the woman wearing it”. [30]

styles of Sari

The style of wearing a Sari reflects the age, region, religion, status, and occupation of the woman to some extent.


Native American Indian

native Plains American Indian dress

“Using animal hides that they had to hunt down, skin, and prepare to the proper softness, Native American Indians took the task of making clothing very seriously. It was a time-intensive chore that required many hours to make one simple garment.” [19]

A woman could wear the same dress for many years so they were designed to be not only pleasing to the eye but they also conveyed specific information about the wearer.

Symbols on a dress could provide information about the tribe they were attached to, her marital status, or even the skill of her husband or father as a hunter or trader.” [19

“Many of the hides were from elk, deer and bighorn sheep. They were warm, tough, and relatively weatherproof.

Inuit-Indians-Eskimo women-dress-Native American-Alaska
Inuit Eskimo dress

The Inuit Indian tribes of Alaska however, used caribou and seal skin hides for their clothing, whereas the Plains Indians wore buffalo skins. Other tribes such as the Apache and Navajo made clothing from woven threads and plant fibers.”[21]

Although they were mostly utilitarian, there were highly desirable embellishments added to adorn the garments. Initially, leaving the tail of the animal at the top of the dress seemed pleasing to the eye. This was later replaced by intricate beadwork.” [19].

native American Indian breechcloth
American Indian breechcloth

Common clothing worn by men was a breechcloth. This was a rectangular piece of cloth or hide tucked over a belt in front and back to cover the genitalia.

Native American leather dress
Native American Indian leather beaded dress

In cold climates, leather leggings, fur trousers or short skirts (kilts) were worn.” [21] Not all tribes wore shirts.

“The women often used porcupine quills, bits of tin, carved bone, animal sinew, coins, animal teeth, fossilized shells, and the brightly colored glass beads that traders brought from the glass factories of Venice or what is now the Czech Republic. Thousands of hours went into the embellishment on many of these garments.” [19]


African clothing is the traditional clothing worn by the people of Africa. In all instances except rural areas these traditional garments have been replaced by Western clothing introduced by European colonialists.”[26] The many varied countries in Africa have a distinct regional dress.

Doris Imalenowa in traditional African dress.
Cameroon dress of Africa

It is interesting to note that the sale of used clothing from western societies is quite prevalent in many African nations. “Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are one of the top destinations for the import of used clothing.

Secondhand clothing is found in everyday apparel for many people, regardless of their class difference. This is because there was always a variety of clothing and it was a good price.”[26]

“These foreign clothes often are drastically different than what people are used to in more rural parts of Africa. People may believe that they are being insulted by being given something that they believe to be old, tattered and dirty.

Generally, it seems that most countries have adapted to the use of secondhand clothing and have used it to their advantage.” [26]

typical modern African dress

“However, typically in Muslim regions, such as North Africa, do not partake in this trade due to religious reasons. Instead, Islamic African men wear a long flowing robe and women wear hijab along with a dress covering all skin.” [26]

In the region of South Africa, we find that age and social standing has great bearing on what is worn.

south african women
south African tribal dress

The various clothing and accessories can depict the different stages of life and marital status. The parts of the body that are covered, the fabric colors and design, and the embellishments used are all significant to the wearer.


South America

The South American continent covers a vast extreme in both climate and dress. From the worlds largest tropical rainforest to the driest areas in the world, we find the clothing styles that are equally as varied. [31]

Having the influence from the early European Spanish conquistadores’ travelers, to the African nations we can see extensive diversity in dress.

Incan civilization
children of the Incas

In the high Andean mountains, the clothing required was heavier incorporating animal furs and heavy handwoven garments.

ancient indian cultures
A portrayal of ancient Indian cultures

On the coastal front, minimal clothing was worn, displaying more body adornment with tattoos and jewelry at the time than anything. The customs of minimal clothing changed with the western influence of Christianity over time.


During the study of the history of Russian clothing in 1832, it was discovered that actual specimens of early Russian dress have not been preserved.

“The most reliable information that we have concerning Russians dress of the pre-Christian period comes from our knowledge of the materials common to that period: hides and leather, bast (a plant fiber), wool, flax, and hemp.

The style of dress did not differ from that of the other Slavonic nations.” [27]

Russian peasants
Russian peasants

Climate conditions had a distinct effect on the materials used in their clothing. Clothing was worn to the ankles and often bound at the wrists for warmth.

“The short-flap male dress virtually disappeared from the Russian court under the Byzantine influence, although peasants continued to wear it for two more centuries.

There was a prohibition against taking many types of fabrics out of Constantinople, and for this reason, the garments were, for the most part, rougher and less colorful.” [27]

Russian_Skolt_Sami_after_Photo_1871.jpg Skandanavian dress
Russian-Scandinavian dress

“The Tatar-Mongol invasion led to a break in the contacts with Western Europe, and the immediate proximity with Turkic-speaking peoples led to a change in the form of Russian dress.

A good example of this is the caftan, a type of wide-opening garment with a deep wrap-over, worn by both men and women.” [27]

“The need to protect their national sovereignty compelled Russians to preserve their national dress by modifying imported types of dress. ” [27]

Russian embroidery

Folk art embroidery was seen on most of the dress garments, with the exception of the work clothing and those found on peasants.

“Starting with the fourteenth century, trade between Muscovite Russia and Europe expanded. Brocade, velvet, and various kinds of silk and wool were brought to Moscow from England, Italy, and France.

royal russian court dress 1800
Royal Russian court dress over a corset

“The formative element of the European female dress that had been brought to Russia in the eighteenth century was the corset, and it contradicted the Russian ideal of beauty.” [27]


Knowledge of clothing from the Nordic countries and the Viking era are sparse indeed. Warmth and comfort were the key factors in their fashion styles and design.

Finland Saami family
family from Finland

“Viking clothing was designed to keep the wearer warm and normally made from many materials found locally like wool, linen, and animal skins.

Most commonly, wool and linen were used to create most items like trousers, tunics, and dresses. Wool was used for the winter clothing, which in Scandinavia could last up to six months.

And linen was used for summer clothing, providing a much lighter weight and less dense item of clothing.” [29]

“Dresses (on the women) were common and in winter they would wear a close-fitting, long woolen gown that would hang to the ankles without a belt. In the summer they would wear a much lighter linen dress.” [29]

In Conclusion

So, in conclusion, we see a vast difference in clothing style throughout history. Some of it was due in part to the climate and geographical locale. The other matter was the natural resources at hand.

As time continued on, however, religious beliefs and traditions became the backbone to the change and style of dress, regardless of the nationality.

Status and financial wealth also played a significant role in the style of clothing a person was allowed to wear. The colors worn and the degree of embellishments also played a major part in all cultures.

There has always seemed to be the need to establish rank and class among people to determine the hierarchy of things. Not only was a division created with the financial standing of a person, but the style of dress made that distinction obvious upon first glance.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I realize that I lightly touched on much of the information. I could have easily written a blog about each country or geographical location. For the purpose of keeping it “brief, however, I wrote as little as possible while still trying to keep it interesting and informative.

So now that we have covered the very basics of the type of clothing worn in various cultures, where do we go from here?

What about the clothing that is worn today? How has time and opinions changed our style of dress? Do we still adhere to our time-honored beliefs and traditions?

Next Up: Part 3

In part 3 of my blog, I will cover the type of clothing which is worn for work.

What type of clothing is worn for a job interview? More importantly, how this makes a difference in a person’s career? What about the dress code that is imposed in certain offices?  Do dress uniforms make a difference in how we are perceived by others?


[1]  “Costume: In Biblical Times”Jewish EncyclopediaFunk & Wagnalls. 1901 (permanent dead link) Wikipedia.

[2]  Biblical Clothing. Wikipedia.

[3]  “Dress and Ornament, Hebrew”Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious KnowledgeBaker Book House. 1907. Archived from the original on 2014-12-13. Retrieved 2012-11-21

[4] “Coat”Jewish EncyclopediaFunk & Wagnalls. (permanent dead link) Wikipedia.

[5]  Ancient Egypt Fashion. Retrieved on 2012-05-05.[6]

[6] Thompson, James. C. “women’s clothing and Fashions in Ancient Egypt”.

[7]  Art, Author: Department of Greek and Roman. “Ancient Greek Dress – Essay – Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – The Metropolitan Museum of Art”. The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

[8] Steele, Philip. “Clothes and Crafts in Roman Times”. Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2000, p. 20

[9] -2018

[10] Hebrew lexicon: ẓiẓit; The Hebrew lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon[permanent dead link]










[20]  McGinn, Thomas A. (1998). Prostitution, sexuality, and the law in ancient Rome. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. p. 340. ISBN 0-19-508785-2.


[22] The Biblical Meaning of Clothing ROBERT COVOLO AUGUST 28, 2015

[23] The Spiritual Significance Of Clothing

[24] Clothing From An Islamic Perspective




[28] Russian Fashion Blog; Brief History of the Serafan