Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel, and attire) are items worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fabrics or textiles, but over time it has included garments made from animal skin and other thin sheets of materials and natural products found in the environment, put together. The wearing of clothing is mostly restricted to human beings and is a feature of all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on gender, body type, social factors, and geographic considerations. Garments cover the body, footwear covers the feet, gloves cover the hands, while hats and headgear cover the head. Eyewear and jewelry are not generally considered items of clothing, but play an important role in fashion and clothing as costume.
Other wearables are not always considered to be clothing despite belonging to an accepted class, such as orthodontic headgear, which is a medical appliance. The human body is not always complete, and sometimes includes prosthetic devices, such as a limb prosthesis, which might be adorned similarly to an intact body, differently, or not at all. Some styles of prosthetic legs are designed to require ordinary street shoes to function properly.
Clothing serves many purposes: it can serve as protection from the elements, rough surfaces, sharp stones, rash-causing plants, insect bites, splinters, thorns and prickles by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Clothing can insulate against cold or hot conditions, and it can provide a hygienic barrier, keeping infectious and toxic materials away from the body. It can protect feet from injury and discomfort or facilitate navigation in varied environments. Clothing also provides protection from ultraviolet radiation. It may used to prevent glare or increase visual accuity in harsh environments, such as brimmed hats. Clothing is used for protection against injury in specific tasks and occupations, sports, and warfare. Fashioned with pockets, belts, or loops, clothing may provide a means to carry things while freeing the hands.
Clothing has significant social factors as well. Wearing clothes is a variable social norm. It may connote modesty. Being deprived of clothing in front of others may be embarrassing. In many parts of the world, not wearing clothes in public so that genitals, breasts, or buttocks are visible could be considered indecent exposure. Pubic area or genital coverage is the most frequently encountered minimum found cross-culturally and regardless of climate, implying social convention as the basis of customs. Clothing also may be used to communicate social status, wealth, group identity, and individualism.
Some forms of personal protective equipment amount to clothing, such as coveralls, chaps or a doctor’s white coat, with similar requirements for maintenance and cleaning as other textiles (boxing gloves function both as protective equipment and as a sparring weapon, so the equipment aspect rises above the glove aspect). More specialized forms of protective equipment, such as face shields are classified protective accessories. At the far extreme, self-enclosing diving suits or space suits are form fitting body covers, and amount to a form of dress, without being clothing per se, while containing enough high technology to amount to more of a tool than a garment. This line will continue to blur as wearable technology embeds assistive devices directly into the fabric itself; the enabling innovations are ultra low power consumption and flexible electronic substrates.
Clothing also hybridizes into a personal transportation system (ice skates, roller skates, cargo pants, other outdoor survival gear, one-man band) or concealment system (stage magicians, hidden linings or pockets in tradecraft, integrated holsters for concealed carry, merchandise-laden trench coats on the black market — where the purpose of the clothing often carries over into disguise). A mode of dress fit to purpose, whether stylistic or functional, is known as an outfit or ensemble.
The most basic items of clothing are “underwear” and “socks” for warmth, followed by all other body protection. In cold climates, underwear may not be a separate item, it may be built into the main item of clothing. In warm climates, underwear may be very sparse. In hot climates, underwear is not normally worn for modesty or decency but it is important to have a supply within reach to change into for hygienic reasons.
In some circumstances the visible outer layer of a garment will carry a social message, such as a business suit which has strict conventional dress rules. In a harsh environment, the outer garment may be the only piece needed to protect the clothing underneath from damage or rips. Sometimes, a layer of clothing will be worn for purely aesthetic purposes. In either case, often a second layer of clothing is worn beneath the main garment for insulation and protection, but sometimes also for warmth. Different types of fabrics require different amounts of insulation or moisture wicking properties to avoid chafing or stickiness when layered sequentially, depending on climate and activity.
The most basic forms of clothing are woven materials such as fibers and fur, which serve the purpose both in insulation and protection from rain and cold rain. A layer of cloth provides a laminate of fibers acting as a barrier, while a skin-tight garment may also trap a layer of air between the layers for insulation.
An alternative to woven materials is the use of non-wovens such as cotton, polyester or other synthetic materials (most frequently nylon). The pliability of these materials allow them to act as tightly wrapped tubes that often offer greater comfort and protection, but can lack the insulation nature of traditional woven fabrics. Non-woven ponchos are ubiquitous in tropical regions and physical education textiles. Felt is a non-woven fabric formed by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. It is often used to make hats, caps and coats.
As human cultures began to spread across the earth and experience other climates, clothing became a more intricate affair. Climate, physical environment (e.g., sand vs. snow), wildlife (e.g., protective vs poisonous snakes), social expectations (e.g., degrees of nudity taboo) — all these factors became woven into the fabric of clothing design and use throughout the world in different ways.