Aug 29, 2009

Clothing: A gift of modesty & deceit.

When did humans begin to wear clothing? Estimates seem to differ widely but, I think we can safely say it was between the dawn of the neolithic age, 11, 000-15,000 years ago and human control of fire as far back as 650,000 years. I wrote about Skin and Eccrine sweat glands: A new sensitivity & mobility. in May. Clothing is a unique human creation that provides a second skin and a cultural pallet.

Beyond protection from the elements and establishing gender differentiation, marking status, and style, clothes have become a form of communication. Clothes are a canvas for self expression and a tool to conceal or reveal the form of our flesh. We use clothes to shield our neighbors from having to look at our sex organs, to make statements about politics or economics and obscure the real shape of our bodies. We accentuate what we perceive to be our best features with clothing. We use color to express our feelings and, while these uses of this ancient tool are in the forefront today, clothes' functions: warmth; protection from insects, disease, weapons, or hazards of the surrounds, are still paramount to a garment's usefulness.

I want my clothes to fit, be stylish -after a certain fashion that may not fit within the strictures of contemporary design - and to protect me from a myriad of potential ills. When I put on the red suit, whether a full Santa costume or just a vibrant tee, I put on a form of modesty and I start to live a lie. I'm a portrayer of Santa. I am not Santa. I live as Santa 24/7 but when the reindeer go to sleep and I curl up with the paper the sad fact is I cannot fly anymore than they can. But, I can give gifts. I can tell stories of our past and point out how far we've come since our naked ancestors started using tools to increase our ability to survive into the next generation.

Now, we've come so far that our biology would perish if our tools had to all be abandoned. Most people would die without tools. If you're a regular reader of The Wisdom of Santa, you know that I chronicle gifts from our ancestors that are often tools. Physical tools are becoming less important than social tools. Look at facebook or twitter. These tools, like clothes, allow a double use. One is to polish or protect us, make look shiny, happy, or goth - ready for work, play, or relaxation. The other is to obscure us. To hide our zits, our scars, our flab or skinny exposed ribs. Clothing can make the small look large and the large small.

When protect our body from the cold or our friend from having to look at our sorry flesh, we use clothes for modesty and deceit. Our style of clothing follows our ability to control the materials we use fashion our clothes. I marvel at how far we've come just in my lifetime in fabrics to keep us warm. From amazingly scratchy, heavy wool to the softness of PolarFleece or the claustrophobic rubberized rain gear to today's Gortex. The culture uses of clothing are as important as its functions.

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