Fashion Fundamentals: Function, Gender and Symbolism Are Essential to Apparel

**This article was originally posted on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voice before AC and eventually Voices were taken down by Yahoo. I own the content and am the copyright holder. Original url: http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/2208815/fashion_fundamentals_function_gender.html**

Fashion is more than just creating an article of clothing, showcasing it on the catwalk, and selling it in stores. Fashion has a purpose, it is fundamental to the human existence. Three basic principles of fashion that are understood by any successful designer are function, gender specificity, and symbolism

The Function of Fashion

All fashion has to serve a purpose. It must be functional to sell. This is true for all aspects of fashion from apparel to furniture. Fashion's function is to cover the body and offer a degree of protection from external elements. Face it, unless you live on a nude beach, you can not legally go outside in most countries without having your sex organs completely covered at the very least. However many societies expect for the sex organs, buttocks, and breasts to be covered as well. If they are not, a person may run the risk of being arrested for lewd behavior or some similar charge.

Not only is clothing suppose to cover certain areas of the body, it also needs to offer a degree of protection. Typically, the seasons and inclement weather dictate the degree of protection clothing offers. Rain coats serve the purpose of protecting the body from getting wet during a rain storm. Coats, sweaters, fleece wear and other cold weather clothing carry out the function of protecting the body from the cold weather by keeping it warm. During the warmest months, less clothing is needed. Lighter fabrics, shorts, sleeveless shirts, etc. are worn to help keep the body cool.

Fashion is Not Gender Neutral

Even though men and women have shared clothing and some attempts at gender neutral clothing have been made, fashion as a whole still has to recognize female and male separately. The basic structure of garments need to take into account the silhouette of a man and the silhouette of a woman.
In general women have an inward curve to their waists and an outward curve to their hips. When a woman bends at the hip, her hip area expands. A woman's waist ideally is smaller than her hips plus women have breasts. These aspects of a woman are her curves and the construction of fashion has to take these curves into consideration. Have you ever wondered what those side half seam looking lines around your bust area are on a blouse? These are darts and their purpose is to contour the blouse to take up the excess fabric beneath the underarm so the fabric can lay smooth over the breasts. Since the curves of a woman often expand with certain movements, ease (extra fabric measured into a garment section) needs to be added at these stress points so the seams of the garment do not split.

For men, they generally do not have curves, their bodies are more angular. Men also do not have an outward curve to their hips, but they have broader shoulders than females. If you look at a clothing size chart you will notice that men do not take a hip measurement, just a waist measurement. This is because both numbers are pretty much the same. Men also have different stress points than females do. One of the major stress points is across the shoulders. This is why many men's shirts have what is called a back yoke, a panel of fabric stretching across the shoulder area that is slightly longer than the shoulder span. A back yoke provide ease to the shoulder area so the muscles of that area can expand, stretch and contract as needed without ripping the garment.

The Symbolism of Fashion

Historically fashion has been a symbol of status. Elaborate and ornate fashions have always been reserved for the wealthy and powerful in societies. A person making $75,000.00 a year can not realistically afford to purchase the latest couture. A person within the upper middle class can afford designer labels off the rack, while lower middle-class to the poor would purchase private label clothing from Kohl's, Kmart, or Wal-Mart.

Fashion also is a symbol of culture. Many sub-cultures have emerged in the later half of the 20th century and during the 21st century. Many different uniforms have existed such as the hippie style of dress in the 1960s, the grunge look of the 1990s and the emo look of the 1st quarter of the 21st century. Each subculture could be recognized by the style of clothing worn.

Fashion also symbolizes what a person does for a living. There are the obvious uniforms of a fast food worker or janitor, but there are less strict uniforms related to the working class. One can often tell if a person is in senior management at a company by the wearing of a suit complete with jacket and tie. Business casual for workers in a less stringent professional atmosphere will typically consist of a dress shirt or blouse, neatly pressed slacks or a straight skirt and sensible shoes or heels. Not everyone follows these "rules" but in general one visually associates these articles of fashion with certain career levels.

Function, symbolism, and gender are the fundamental basics of fashion. Once a designer understands and recognizes this, every design regardless of how avant garde it may be will be created with these three principles in mind. Bear in mind the most important principle is function. Clothing that does not function on the basic levels of covering and protecting the body will not sell well. Some designers have had to learn this lesson the hard way. By designing with these principles in mind, you will be able to please your consumers.

Main Image: daniel arnold (alison) CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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