How has the required function of clothing changed over the centuries?

Clothing has been around for the last 170000 years and I would say that the required function of it has changed very minimally. The required function of clothing is to serve a desired purpose. Clothing has been developed, designed and changed to serve its purpose more effectively throughout history as technology has evolved. The effectiveness of clothing to serve its desired purpose hasn’t always been successful.

The very basic most primal purpose of clothing is to protect us from the environment. Humans ability to predict and prepare for future climatic events has been pivotal in our survival.  The variety of potential environmental threats that can influence clothing decisions is almost endless. For example, wearing a rain jacket in the middle of a red hot Australian summer or sun-baking in shorts during a snow storm, are unwise decisions that are potentially life threatening.  This required function of clothing to protect us from the environment was exactly the same for the Neanderthals as it is for current day humans.

The requirement of clothing to protect humans from other humans has changed very little, it has just been done better. The plague doctor costume worn in the 17th Century attempted to protect the doctors from the black plague where as doctors in todays surgery wear scrubs, gloves and masks to reduce the potential for infection. Knights in the 700’s wore heavy plated armour for protection from foe compared to soldiers of today wearing trauma proof vests. Workers in dangerous areas are more likely to wear protective clothing and equipment that they might not have previously. The effectiveness of clothing to protect humans from other humans over time has improved in most fields.


Source; Batts, 2008


Clothing has been used as a tool for oppression whether it be symbolic or physical in nature for many years. In an ideal world, one would hope the frequency of this occurrence has decreased in recent times. During World War II the Nazi’s forced prisoners to wear striped uniforms. Prisoners were identified and labelled by a number printed on their clothing and an inverted triangle to signify the reason for imprisonment. (The Weiner Library 2016) Another example of oppression, the straitjacket has been used repeatedly since the 1700’s to oppress slaves, inmates and the mentally insane. (

Conversely, Clothing has been used as a tool for uniformity. To bring people together for a singular cause or purpose to represent teamwork and dedication. Whether it be a sporting team, a fan of a sporting team, as part of defence forces or a team member of a business.

Clothing has been used throughout the centuries for symbolism, persuasion, provocation, leverage, power, manipulation, trickery, deceit and many more. Clothing is also used in religion, in self expression, in entertainment, in business and the list goes on. Some clothing has no required function at all, and spends its entire existence as a dirt rag but as long as its an effective dirt rag, it hopefully wont end up in the trash.

It is the context which has changed fashion and clothing over the centuries. Fashion and design are heavily influenced and often reflects a greater movement or cultural issue that is at the forefront of the current times.

Lets explore the some of the context around changes in style of clothing, over the centuries especially in Women’s fashion.

  1. 1900’s Edwardian corset was designed differently to aid women to breathe more freely. Mme. Gaches-Sarraute of Paris, a corsetiere who studied medicine, designed a corset intended to aid health instead of endangering it.She introduced the straight fronted busk which was aimed at leaving the thorax free, but at the same time designed to support and raise the ab
    Image 2; Edwardian Corsetry

    domen instead of compressing it and forcing it downwards.She rightly, aimed at removing pressure from the vital female organs and dispensed with the constricting curve at the waist which was customary in all previous corsets.Medical books of the era gave images like these which suggested changes to the internal organs and skeletal frame due to wearing over tightened corsetry.

  • 1920s: The Flapper Dress

    After the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women’s fashions took a drastic turn. Frowned upon for wearing makeup, chopping off their hair, smoking, and drinking, these “flapper” women abandoned their female form and wore straight-cut dresses that were hiked above their knees and bras made specifically to flatten their chests. This look, created by Coco Chanel and termed “garconne” was also about comfort, they continued without the corsets, but also ditched other uncomfortable undergarments to move more freely during the Jazz Age.

    Image 3; ‘Americans In Paris’ Source Pinterest

    1930s: Puff Sleeves

    Moving away from the Chanel “garconne” look of the 1920s, women of the this decade returned to more feminine shapes in their wardrobes. The puff sleeve was said to help bring back the curves of a woman’s body, while also helping to create a curve if the woman didn’t have one.


    Image 4: The shoulders that launched a thousand puffs. Joan Crawford. 1932


    1940s: Utility Dresses

    Much of the decade’s fashion was based on what many call civilian uniforms. These clothes, marked “CC41” for “civilian clothing 1941,” were made to be durable and affordable, not fashionable. Women rolled up the sleeves of their utility outfits, sported a cloth in their hair, added a bit of red lipstick, and went to work. Along with the lack of materials came creative solutions for clothing such as repurposed old clothing, bedsheets and other scrap materials with patterns.

    Image 5: Deborah Kerr models the 1942 British Utility Dress

    1940s: High-Waisted Bikini

    In previous decades, women had no choice but to wear one-piece bathing suits. In the 1940s, the two-piece bikini became popular which showed off slightly more skin. Because of the war-time rationing, these bikinis were cut plain and simply, with no adornments. Jewels, ruffles, and lace were added to these bikinis in the 1950s.


    Image 6: Jantzen Bathing Costumes, circa, 1940’s

    1950s: The Poodle Skirt

    Image 7; 1950’s skirt styles


    With the end of the war came the end of rationing and the beginning of a generation of rock ‘n’ roll dancers. These dancers craved clothing that was moveable, and the poodle skirt allowed them to dance without any restriction. Termed “poodle” skirt because many of them sported an image of the dog on the hem, these knee-length skirts were often worn with cardigans, neck scarves, bulky belts, frilly socks, and oxfords.




    1960s: Go-Go Boots

    Image 8 Frank and Nancy Sinatra 1960’s Go-go boots

    These social movements of each decade generated their own fashions with help from international celebrities. From England’s Twiggy and The Beatles and France’s Brigitte Bardot, women in America began trying new trends, one of which was the boot. As the hemlines of the decade were hiked, the height of the go-go boot rose to meet it. By the end of the decade, the focus of the boot became more about the height and shape of the heel than the height of the boot itself.


    1970s: The Crop Top

    In the decade of social change and freedom, people saw something that they had never seen before and wanted to be part of it. Thus, the crop top was born.


    Image 9: Bell Bottoms 1970’s




    1970s: Bell Bottoms

    One of the most popular fashion items in the ’70s was bell-bottom pants (for both men and women). While bell-bottom pants had started their rise in the ’60s with non-conformist youth, the ’70s welcomed an era of mass-produced flared pants in a plethora of different fabrics.


    1980s: Shoulder Pads

    The 1980s was a decade of self indulgence. Women looked for fashion inspiration from television shows, movies, and music videos and the fashions were over the top. Women were now becoming a large part of the workplace. The “power suit” emerged as a woman’s go-to outfit for the corporate world, complete with immensely padded shoulders and a straight jacket cut. The thought was that the wider the shoulders were, the smaller the waist looked.

    1990s: Floral Dresses

    As the over-the-top style of the ’80s faded, the ’90s welcomed a much more laid-back look. This was the first time in history that people were going to work in something other than a suit, people were more interested in comfort. People began boycotting brands and there was a decline in upscale clothing. Instead, women wore unfitted floral dresses and paired them with big hair, jean jackets, Keds, and ankle socks.



    Consumerism and industrialisation took a hold making it easier and cheaper to purchase goods over the internet. Self Expression and freedom of choice is paramount in a faster paced world and to stand out from the crowd. The style that  developed was a fusion between Pop culture and comfort melding into a Hip-Hop/street style.




Image 1: Shelly Batts, ‘Beaked Hats, Waxed Pants, Anti-plague medical garb’ Blog Post, 8th January 2008, Science blogs <; viewed 24th of February 2017

The Wiener Library 2016, for the study of the Holocaust & Genocide. No known author or date, Available from; <; Viewed 24th of February 2017

Webpage,, no author, n.d, <; Viewed 24th of February 2017

Featured Image: No known photographer, n.d, no known designer, SEO blog post avaiable Viewed 24th of February 2017

K. D’Souza, ‘The History of Fashion; Most important style moments of the 20th Century’ Blog Post, May 27 2014, updated October 11 2016, Viewed as the 9th of March 2017, Available from: <!last-slide&gt;

Image 2:Pauline Weston Thomas, n.d , Blog Post, ‘Edwardian Corsetry Fashion History’ Available from <; Viewed on the 9th of March 2017

Image 3: Americans in Paris, Fall 2010, Photo ‘Paris in the 1920’s, Changes in Society Lead to Changes in Fashion’ by Maggie Burch, n.d, Available from <; Viewed 9/3/2017

Image 4: The shoulders that launched a thousand puffs. Joan Crawford wearing Adrian in Letty Lynton, 1932, Blog Post Monday, September 05, 2011 ‘Puffed Sleeves In The 1930s’ available from <; viewed 9th of March 2017

Image 5: 1940’s Fashion, Deborah Kerr models the 1942 British Utility Dress. Originally published in Picture Post 1942. February 17th 2013, Available from <; Viewed 9th of March 2017

Image 6: A man and a woman modelling Jantzen bathing costumes on the beach, circa 1940s. Photographer unidentified. Copy photograph by Gordon H Burt. Source Pinterest, Available from <>

Image 7: Not just for teens, Blog Post ‘1950’s skirt styles and history’ n.d, no known author, Available from  <; viewed 9th of March 2017

Image 8: 1960s Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Go Go Boots Fringe Mini Dress Fad Fashion Vintage Photo Womenswear, Photo by Christian Montone, n.d, available on <> viewed 11th of March 2017

Image 9: 70’s Bell Bottoms Wild Chevron printed softy cotton woven Pant, n.d, available from <> viewed 11th of March 2017


One Comment Add yours

  1. Millionaire's Digest says:

    Hey there!

    I’m K&L, the CEO from the Millionaire’s Digest who runs the 400+ Millionaire’s Digest team, and I recently received your application to join our team. Anyway, this is a letter to let you know that I have completely looked over it and have officially approved you to become a part of our team, so I’ve sent you an invitation to your email!

    I hope you are as excited as I am to have you on my team, and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for thousands of our readers every day!

    The Millionaire’s Digest Author, Publisher & CEO


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s