The history of clothing is as old as that of humanity itself. From the time human consciousness first awakened from animal nature, we humans have wrapped our bareness in clothing, very much the way Adam and Eve did with fig leaves. The first human clothes were animal pelts, a sign of supremacy over other animals by virtue of our superior physical skills and intelligence. Humans used weapons and tools to kill animals, skin their hides, and eat their meat.
Fur served to help humans conserve body heat and survive the ice ages, but conversely led to the devolution of body hair. The ability to maintain a constant body temperature, whatever the climate, is thought to have contributed to making human estrus, or sexual “heat,” constant as well, this permanent mating season greatly strengthening the human capacity to propagate. Likewise, clothing came to conceal our genitalia while enhancing physical measures of attraction, enabling us to consciously control our reproductive activities. These added, interrelated dimensions of clothed body expression must have played a major role in the socializing process and the rise of civilization.
By the age of the earliest civilizations, humans had gained the knowledge of how to weave and dye plant fibers, and as primitive communal society stratified into classes, clothing came to symbolize rank and status. Figures of authority in particular made extra display of their power and wealth by means of special clothing and adornment. In India, China, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia―as in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome―ancient civilizations each developed a unique culture of attire.
In the early fifteenth century, Europe entered the age of seafaring and exploration, while scientific advancements led to an ever more logical mindset and with it a rational worldview of a spherical planet―which grew “smaller” with every new discovery. Thereafter, European imperialist expansion encompassed almost the entire world, this overwhelming rule establishing a primacy of Eurocentric standards of dress that became synonymous with modernization.
Gender awareness again came to the fore in the 1920s―after World War I―and the progressive emancipation and elevation of women earned fashion an important place in modern life, thanks especially to the pioneering efforts of Madeleine Vionnet and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. The Dada, surrealist, and futurist avant-garde art movements further influenced fashion, and this fusion of fashion and art has continued into the present day. Stylized Sculpture looks at the post-Vionnet history of fashion with a view toward the human body clothed in “artificial skin” as modern sculpture.
- Hiroshi Sugimoto