Importance of the dress to the human body

General importance of the dress to the human body in shaping its identity

Articles of clothing are worn by the entire human race for various reasons that include protection against extreme weather conditions, such as strong winds, extreme heat conditions, extreme cold and precipitation. The articles of clothing may take different forms and play a major role in defining human identity. For instance, different cultures across the globe have different dressing codes that help in defining their cultural identity. In the same terms of identity, there are various professions that have diverse dressing codes. Taking an example of a chef and a lawyer, we are able to construct the implication of this role of the dress. While the dress may be seen as the covering of the torso of human body and human limbs, the way a lawyer dresses may be very different from the way a chef dresses; yet they both dress to achieve the primary function of the dress.

While most cultures adopted the use of the dress and clothing in  general as a way of mitigating the extreme effects of nature,  the modern human race has come up with different dress codes that basically define the identity and help in cultivating diversity that spans from cultural identity to professional identity. Therefore the social functions performed by the dress to the human cannot be overlooked. Since there are conservative as well as liberal cultures, the dress code for the conservative societies is different from the liberal societies because both are based on different social values and they have varied beliefs as to the role played by the dress to the human body (Roach-Higgins and Joanne, 1992).  For instance, some of the conservative societies find it very offensive to show others any part of the body torso hence the dress worn is one that would cover the entire human body anatomy. This means that the social function performed by the dress in such conservative societies relates to covering the body parts and hiding them from the world.

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The dress also carries a significant religious identity (Neil, 2011).  Religion, integrated with the customs and historical circumstances have shaped the function  performed by the dress to the human and the way various people feel or have felt about the dress at different times and what reactions the dress and exposure elicit to them based on the religious, customary and cultural understanding they have inherited over time (Entwistle, 2000). Besides this function, the dress has been used as a way of creating variation in terms of social class within the same cultural setting. For instance, over the years members of the royal families dressed differently and would be distinguished from the common people easily thereby earning the respect they deserved much easier.

The above functions imply that the dress performs that can be understood by others who share the values being portrayed by the dress and who can decode the codes relayed by the dressing code at hand. Therefore, correct interpretations of the messages transmitted by the different clothes require that an individual to be familiar with the ability to translate the specific codes correctly. For example, most cultures prefer white as the best dress for the wedding (basically worn by the bride). In the same fashion, there are cultures that prefer white dress during the funeral function (mostly the eastern societies) while most western cultures find white an inappropriate dress choice for a funeral function.

The complex dynamics in the modern societies where the choice of the dress comes along many other factors makes the function of the dress to human just as complex. After the advent of industrialization, various materials have come up as potential clothing materials or materials that can be used to make the dress. It is now possible for an individual to purchase a dress made from natural and synthetic materials or from both materials depending on the objectives of the dress choice. The natural materials include silk and wool and leather (Entwistle, 2000). To get the importance of this in the modern world it is important t imagine the environmental activist who comes dressed all in leather and is campaigning against the depletions of the animals that produce leather. It would sound ironical and ridiculous and people listening to the environmental advocate are less likely to take whatever message is being passed seriously. Some of the synthetic materials that an individual can choose from for the dress include the clothes made from nylon and polyester. With more advancement in the technology field, it would be possible to have more developments in the dressing and clothing arena that the functions performed by the dress are likely to be revolutionized by these developments.

Dress and Gender Identity

The role played by the dress for displaying the gender identity cannot be disputed. In the modern society where there has been a lot of debate (which has been more of political) about LGBT and human rights, the dress performs another function of defining an individual’s sexual orientation. For instance, there are individuals commonly known as cross-dressers who are attracted to the dresses of the opposite sex. For that reason, it is common to find males who dress in female clothes and females who dress in male clothes. While gender identity has been differentiated from sexual orientation, the dressing code can be used to bring both human aspects out distinctively (Hardcastle, 2010). Gender boundaries form a major component of the human identity and the society’s expectations are cultured in such a way that men are just expected to men and women expected to be women in terms of dress.

It has been determined, through previous research studies; the dress code is an important element of an individual’s professional success. Traditionally there is a concept of dressing for success, which basically connected the dress to the profession an individual pursues. Human interactions within a particular industry demand that professions within these industries have distinct dress that helps in maintaining professionalism and professional image. To this end, there are companies that put strict dress code demands for their employees that going such dress code demands implies the individual employee has gone against professional code and defied the company culture (Hardcastle 2010).  Even small businesses that maintain a strong professional image are highly likely to succeed and build a loyal customer base.

Still on the aspect of professional image, there are many athletes that are signed up by various companies to do promotions and therefore they are required by the companies and contractual terms of the agreements to dress in a way that makes this professional affiliation come out very clearly that everyone sees the link created. For instance, the Vodafone 2010 promotional advertisement of “Vodafone Power to you” elicits a sense of business executives’ environment where the daughter of the business executive calls his dad, who leaves the celebration to comfort his daughter.  The celebrations concern his promotion. Everyone in the party is dressed in away that elicit a sense of common objective and a strictly serious business environment.

Dress is also an important element in defining team affiliation especially when considering athletics and sports in general. Therefore, a player in a particular team will have uniforms accredited by the team as a way of communicating with other team members and the fans. It becomes easier to pass the ball, for instance, and creates harmony in the field.

Dress and Dressing Codes in the Middle-Eastern Cultures

The Middle East has a culture that is closely intertwined to the conservative culture where the females in the society are supposed to dress in a way that covers all parts of the body and only eyes are left to guide one seeing direction and general interaction. Therefore, the hijab worn by Muslim female members of the Middle Eastern societies cover the entire head down to the feet, slightly sweeping the ground as one moves or goes about the daily activities. This hijab is worn to fulfill the function of covering the entire body because the cultures in this region consider it inappropriate for a woman to expose any part of the body hence it has to be covered. It is of course not possible to separate the culture and religion when talking about the dressing culture of the Middle Easterners (The American Forum for Global Education, 2004). Religion is integrally compacted with the values of the society and with strict repercussions for those who break the dress code, the dress plays an important role for women and men.

Ramin Haerizadeh and the concept of male dress

Ramin alongside his younger brother, Rokni were exiled in 2009 for their work of art that were seen to defy the Islamic sense of dress and the important role played by clothing according to the Islamic teachings and laws. The artist painted partially nude self-portraits in his “Men of Allah” works but this brought a lot of controversy and caused him trouble (The Economist, 2010). His works were confiscated by the authority because they did not display the Islamic understanding of male dress. Generally, Islamic teachings abhor revealing any part of a female body and most parts of the male body save for the head. Therefore by painting naked portraits of self, Ramin was definitely defying the laid down r4ulesa and laws of the land according to the Islamic teachings. Yet, Ramin uses his own image to portray his feelings about the male dress. For this reason, most of the photography and paintings are explicit and scarcely cover the entire body as most Middle Eastern cultures would advocate (The American Forum for Global Education, 2004). Other concepts that are evident in Ramin’s works of art include the codes of gender, sexuality and the human body.  Looking at the pictures below, it would not be possible to state what gender the pictures though it is clear that they depict cross-dresser men who are dressed in women clothing and they are not dressed in clothes worn by the Middle Eastern women since we would expect them to be dressed in hijabs. Rather, the men are dressed in clothes worn by western women, which tend to be more liberal in dressing codes.  The provocative pose of the individuals can be seen from the individual portrayed in the right.

Figure 1: Cross Dressed Men

Most of the works of art produced by Ramin are however contorted and do not display particular gender forthwith but seem to be epicurean and eliciting an exotic origin. They touched with digital alteration to create a sense of cubism and the skin of the pieces of work seems folded and the skins mutated to generate a drapery effect of the luxurious clothes.

Shadi Ghadirian and the concept of Female clothing

Shadi’s works of art deal with the concept of female clothing. Shadi’s works of art are motivated by her own experience as a modern woman living within the confines of Sharia law that is based on ancient codes passed down through history and are meant to dispel the international presumptions of the role played by women in the Islamic society.  Through her works, she endears to describe the female identity in a holistic, humorous and positive way while at the same time criticizing the traditional roles of the woman in the world as a whole. For example, the image below, which is one of the photographs of the artist’s works, gives and impression of the role a woman plays as a profound eye while still being able to preserve the age-old concept of hijab. Nevertheless, we find that the artist gives only one eye to the woman in the veil. This could be a derogatory feeling that is meant to provide a concept of the way the world perceives the woman as incapacitated naturally.

Figure 2: Shadi’s work from “Like Everyday Series”

There is yet another concept of identity that clearly comes out from the entire works of the artists and this can be seen from the following photographs. While it can be seen that all her works depict a woman as entirely covered with the hijab, it is evident that all the freedom is left in the face of the woman and it is through the face that the artist makes different changes to  create a sense of different images of the woman.

Figure 3: Shadi’s Work Woman Covers Face.

In figure 2 above, the photograph portrays a woman who has covered her face with a gloved hand while the hijab covers the entire body. This could possibly portray the anonymity nature of the person behind the photograph even though it is evident that it is a photograph of a woman. What if the image also could imply the individual is not comfortable in the way the outside perceives her? There are a number of aspects that could be deciphered from the image though it no doubt depicts the image of a woman and a Muslim woman for that matter.

In other works, Shadi mixes the normal kitchen utensils to give an impression of how the Middle East and the world in general perceive women and the role women play in society. Though the use of items like frying pans, brooms and graters as depicted in the following pictures, it is evident that there is a hilarious presentation of a woman as “belonging to the kitchen” and meant to be domestic.

Figure 4: Works depicting Normal house items

By elevating the normal items that women use in their day-to-day life, the artist is able to raise them from the anonymity hidden behind the veils to distinctive portraits that reveal the role of the woman in the Islamic world in different ways. For that reason, the first image in the figure 3 above presents a woman who has a strainer or sieve in her face to depict a woman who likes to gossip and who is all mouth. Therefore, common items are used to resonate with understandable suggestive narratives that can be decoded as cultural messages. The image in the middle has a veil that reveals a broom. While the broom represents the woman behind the veil as a strong backbone to the society, it also represents an apprehensive demureness. Nevertheless, the general identity depicted by the works of Shadi resonates around presenting women as domestic workers, cleaners and cooks.

Kader Attia and the concept of women identity in the veil

The artistic works by Attia barely present women as having any life in them. First, the artist makes them from domestic throwaway materials like tin foil and aluminium and presents them as empty shells as they are seen in groups in prayer (Saatchi Gallery, 2012). Thus, the artist creates veils of tin foil and aluminium foil to show that even though they are conducting prayers they are currently devoid of any personhood in them apart from having or clinging on hopes of a futuristic nature. The works also provoke the question of women identity and how this identity is perceived by the viewer. For instance, we see that the veils are empty and in a mosque or place of worship. Could this be a way to show that women are presented as hollow and wretched and only meant to retreat to their empty selves for solace and hopes? This presents strong questions concerning women’s social identity, individual identity their devotion and the exclusion in the society. The picture below depicts Attia’s concept of a woman’s identity in the Islamic world.

Figure 5: Women veiled in Aluminium and Tin foil at prayer

There is a common theme that flows between the works of Attia and those of Shadi in that they both question the place of the woman in the society since it seems that the woman is veiled in obscurity and her future is merely based on hopes that are seemingly not assured but more or less like a prayer that is conducted in a seclusion. They both question the woman’s veiling and domesticity as these aspects have only worked to heighten the obscurity and seclusion that faces the Islamic woman hidden behind the veil while to the world is perceived as an empty shell or a piece of broom belonging to the domestic chores keeping silent behind these veils of anonymity and insignificance. The above pictures of the artist’s works of art come from the series Ghost (Saatchi Gallery, 2012). The artist notes that she does not take proportion into much consideration but bothers about presenting the women bodies to create a historical trace and cast their identities the way they are perceived by different cultures across the world. Through her works, Attia is able to bring out the woman’s identity across different cultures depicting them in the sex business, in a state of exile, and the battle for legal citizenship in the land of exile.


It is evident that clothes or dress plays an important role to the human body and some of the functions played by the dress are age-old while others are shaped by the modern societal dynamics. One of the age-old functions of the dress to the human body is preserving the body and guarding it against extremities of nature such as temperature, precipitation, wind and dust. As society has transformed through history, the dress performs a significant function of depicting identity. Besides this, the dress is an important element in the creation and construction of gender boundaries. As such, the societies have its expectations of what women should dress and what clothes a man should wear. These dresses are used to identify the different genders and to construct the gender boundaries. The boundaries created have however been intertwined with the roles played by individuals in the society and this has brought controversy.

References and Bibliography:

Entwistle Joanne. 2000. The fashioned body: fashion, dress and modern social theory. Paris, France: Lavoisier

Hardcastle, Jonathon. 2010. The Importance Of Clothes:

Neil, Kokemuller. 2011. The Importance of a Dress Code for Professionalism, Demand Media. (November 16, 2012)

Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen and Joanne B. Eicher. 1992. Dress and Identity. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal   10, no. 4 (June 6), (accessed November 16, 2012).

Saatchi, Gallery. 2012. Ramin Haerizadeh: Ramin Haerizadeh EXHIBITED AT THE SAATCHI GALLERY. (November 16, 2012)

The American Forum for Global Education 2004. Spotlight on the Muslim Middle East Issues of Identity. New York, (NY): American Forum for Global Education

The Economist, 2010. Artists at work, Brothers in exile: Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh on making art about sex and politics in the Middle East

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