What the Dress!

By Prince & Sarah

We have been using clothing for as long as we can remember. It has been an integral part of our everyday life that sometimes makes us wonder what it is for and why people are wearing clothes based from different perspectives.

We conducted a short interview with Ms. Elena Marie Calamlam and asked her three relevant questions. She is a BS Civil Engineering sophomore student in UP Diliman, part-time model in several haute couture shops, and also the grand winner of the Ms. Santa Cruz 2015 pageant. Watch the interview below. 

To put an end to our curiosity, we researched comprehensively and came up with the list below of the different motivations for and functions of dress. We categorized the entries according to what we have learned in our CT 15 class and read from Eubank and Tortora’s A Survey of Historic Costume and supported them with a couple of references.

Furthermore, we included some examples that support the following motivations for and functions of dress as well as those that do not.

Motivations for Dress

This part answers the question, “why do people wear clothes?” Each one of us has his or her reasons in wearing clothes in general and using particular clothing. These reasons vary depending on the time period, place of origin, and other factors.

The following four motivations for dress are the main categories that we have discussed in our CT 15 class.

  1. For Protection
    According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, protection is “something that keeps a person or thing from being harmed, lost, etc.” Marshall, S., et al. (2004) suggested two types of motivations under protection—physical and psychological.
    a. Physical
    As stated by Jones, S. (2011), “clothing has evolved to meet many practical and protective purposes.” Clothing can be motivated by environmental conditions. People have developed certain dresses for cold weather, rainy season, firemen, science laboratory personnel, and so on.

Left: Bianca wears an appropriate clothing for a hot weather. Right: Prince wears a clothing appropriate for a cold weather despite the scorching heat.

    b. Psychological
    Some groups of people, especially in ancient times, have beliefs which somehow affect and can be seen in their clothing. For instance, some elderlies in our province let their young children wear red-and-black beaded bracelet as protection against bad elements.

Left: A baby girl wears a “Pwera Usog” bracelet to ward her off from “Balis.” Right: Giliane never wore any charms to ward her off of evil.

  1. For Modesty
    We believe that the definition of modesty is definite but the perception of the word differs from culture to culture, from era to era.
modest 1

Left: It is still modest for American girls to wear short and skimpy skirts and dresses. Right: It would be very immodest for Islamic countries, like Syria, to wear such clothes.

modest 2

Left: It is modest for UP Students here in the Philippines to wear skinny pants. Right: It is immodest for girls in Islamic countries to wear tight and skinny pants.

  1. To Denote Status
    Jones, S. (2011) cited George Sproles, in his book Consumer Behaviour Towards Dress (1979), who suggested symbolic differentiation and social affiliation—such as profession, social standing, and religious association—as factors affecting clothing.
denote status

Left: Beads and accessories like these can only be worn by Kings and royalties in Africa. Right: But in India, similar accessories can be bought from gypsy sellers.

  1. For Decoration
    Marshall, S., et al. (2004) notes that clothing can be inspired by adornment to enhance the body, hair, face, and the overall sexual attractiveness of a person.
decor 2

Left: Mimi and her friends wear shades as an accessory and additional decoration to their overall clothing. Right: A blind Filipino street performer wears shades as a necessity.

decor 1

Left: Quimzon Family wears a Santa cap as an accessory. Right: Santa Claus wears Santa cap as a part of his uniform.

Functions of Dress

On the other hand, this part answers the question, “what is clothing for?” More than the influences for dressing, it is also important to know the purpose that all types of clothing serve. Eubank, K. and Tortora, P. (1994) mentioned the following six functions of dress in their book.

  1. Designation of Age
    Eubank and Tortora mentioned that “clothing serves to mark age change.” Indeed, there are clothing which are only used by a certain age group.

Left: Royal children in Ancient Egypt have Horus Lock all throughout their childhood, until they reach puberty. Right: Anakin from Starwars plays his part wearing a Padawan Braid as part of his character dress.

  1. Designation of Gender Difference
    Furthermore, according to Eubank and Tortora, the norm in almost all societies is that men and women’s clothing should be dissimilar. Marshall, S., et al. (2004) also mentioned that though men and women may have similar clothing, some features of the dress will indicate masculinity or femininity.
gender 2

This is a photo shows that the clothing of Koreans, in International Center, UP Diliman, functions with gender differentiation.

gender 1

Left: Ate Tin wears a dress showing femininity, while Kuya Jan wears a polo showing masculinity. Right: Both wears the same shirt, disregarding the gender differentiation function of clothing.

  1. Designation of Status
    Eubank and Tortora noted that clothing serves differently depending on occupational and marital status, as well as cultural, social, and economic status. Peculiar clothing of a certain culture may not be allowed to be worn by others; common people might not be allowed to wear the dress of high ranked people in the society.

Left: Ma’am Kaye, the English Department Head, the Principal, and two students all wearing their designated uniforms; it shows the different status they are in. Middle: Ma’am Kaye, in her uniform, and her students casually eat in a tea house. Right: Ma’am Kaye, off of her uniform, casually bonds with her students.

  1. Identification of Group Membership
    In addition to the previous function, some group of people dress differently from the others because they belong to a certain group—ethnic, religious, and social among others. According to Jones, S. (2011), “people dress alike in order to belong to a group” and “those who don’t conform to the accepted styles are assumed to have divergent ideas and are ultimately mistrusted and excluded.”
group diff

Left: Dave wears an attire for a Catholic Ceremony. Right: Muslim men wear their traditional Islamic attire in the Mosque.

  1. Ceremonial Use of Clothing
    People from different backgrounds observe their own practices, rituals, and ceremonies. Additionally, different dresses are usually an integral part of such events. Eubank and Tortora emphasized that the society dictates proper clothing for special events such as weddings and burials. There are also specific clothing for other events like in professional football and basketball games.

Left: Daddy Glenn wears a jersey uniform for their basketball game. Right: He wears a jersey shirt while swimming at Taytay Falls.

  1. Enhancement of Sexual Attractiveness
    As stated by Jones, S. (2011), “clothing can be used to accentuate the sexual attractiveness and availablity of the wearer” and it can be designed to improve our individuality and physical attractions.

Left and Middle: Tattoo enhances the sexual attraction of the wearer. Right: During the Edo Period in Japan, tattoo marks are put on the forehead of criminals as punishment.


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Corrente, Sal (Photographer). (2012). Heart-Rush: The Power of Sexual Attraction, Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/heart-rush-the-power-of-sexual-attraction

Eubank, K. and Tortora, P. (1994). Chapter 1 Introduction. A Survey of historic costume: a history of Western dress. (pg. 1-3). New York: Fairchild Publications.

Evangelista, Christine (Photographer). (2014). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/enits001/photos?ref=br_rs

Jones, S. (2011). The Uses of Clothing. In Fashion Design. (pg. 24-30). London: Laurence King.

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Marshall, S., etal. (2004). Cultural influences. In Individuality in clothing selection and personal appearance (pg. 25-54). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Master Blaster (Photographer). (14 March, 2013). Criminals of Japan’s Edo Period Were Often Punished by Getting Face Tattoos [Photograph], Retrieved from http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/03/14/criminals-of-japans-edo-period-were-often-punished-by-getting-face-tattoos/

Merriam-Webster.com. (2015). Protection. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/protection

Muslim men cooling off in the mosque [Photograph]. (2010). Retrieved from http://downtheroad.org/Alaska-Canada-USA/letters/b1_New_Delhi_1india.htm

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Vlue/Shuttershock (Photographer). Two teen girls and many exposed limbs [Photograph], Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/02/15/dress_codes_for_girls_they_don_t_teach_self_respect_only_respecting_girls.html


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