A Pin alert from Pinterest got me thinking about Fashion in Nature. The Pin was about ‘1+1’ project of photos by the Russian artist Liliya Hudyakova showing how fashion designers chose color and those fantastic flowing shapes of their gowns and robes; how the blue sky inspired a designer to choose the sky blue color for their prize winning stringed long gown; how a crimson red flowering creeper on a large wall created a bold red frock and a lot more of that kind. In an article by MMK on May 8, 2015, it is said ‘The world of fashion often draws heavily upon the natural world to drive its creativity… other pieces with the natural views that she (Liliya Hudyakova) imagines might have inspired them.’
As a designer of a different type and enthusiastic photographer, I was impressed by the idea more than I was by the designs, but I dare state that Nature is Fashion and Nature has Fashion.
Yes, Nature IS Fashionable!
Apparel, accessories, hairdo, perfumes, body sprays and even the looks some people practise hard to adapt, we get from Nature.
Fashion for Identity, Uniformity and diversity!
Fashion in Nature is to identify one species of a living being – from the single cell organism to the whale – from the other species and one sub-species from another, and so on.
Living beings are given attractive shapes, colors and odors by Nature. There’s fashion all round us: plants and their flowers, especially the exotic flowers and even the drab color flowers that give out very good scent; animals and their coats and scents; birds and their plumage and calls; and fish and their multitude of colors and shapes, especially those living in and around coral reefs, reiterate the fact that Nature is full of Fashion.
Just by a casual look we can recognize an animal, plant or even a bacterium by its shape, color and/or smell.
There’s uniformity in Nature. All lions look the same but look different from the other cats – tigers, leopards and cheetah; all zebras look the same but look different from the other horse family members – horse, donkey; all wolves, from other members of the dog family – foxes, hyenas, wild dogs; all sunbirds, from the other birds – eagles, crows, pigeons; and all cat-fish, from the other fish – brass, sword fish.
However, as there are several sub-species in each species, each sub-species is separated from the others with a few additions (accessories) like a crest on the head, different color spots on the wings like beauty spots, a long tail or without tail, long legs or short legs, a different call, a different odor, and so on.
Some monkey families, other than the humans, have additional decorations the nature has given them. A mandrill has very bright colored vertical lines on its forehead; the proboscises monkey is distinguished from other monkeys by its large nose; a mantled guereza has a black and white coat with long white fringes of silky hair, like a mantle or ornamentation, and a long tail that ends in a white tuft; and a gorilla is distinguished by its large body, thick hair and the human-like face.
What about the difference needed to show one’s dominance within a group?
Once the sub-species’ identity is established, there is this need for an immediate identification mark to distinguish males from females, adults from juveniles, leaders from followers and the strong from the weak.
The Fashionable nature has taken care of that too. The alpha mandrill has thicker and wider lines on its forehead; the matured proboscises monkey develops a larger, redder and more drooping nose and a large belly; and a dominant gorilla has a silver back.
How about humans, the dominant species on Earth?
The human races have been established by physical features. Color and shape of the nose and the forehead, and the size of the body to some extent help us to recognize each of the five different races.
As gender difference is for the purpose of reproduction of the species, each member of a family tries to look more attractive so that they can get the best mate to produce stronger, healthier and more number of attractive offspring. A bull elephant with the longest tusks obviously gets more cows to mate; a buck with the widest antlers has more does in its harem; and a man with a strong body and good looks gets the best looking and youngest women. This characteristic is embedded in every living thing, including plants.
Though most other animals have seasons to mate and produce offspring, people do not have any season… they are ready to mate and produce offspring any time of the day and any time of the year, which results in more competition among themselves to get the best.
So, looking attractive, dominant, healthy and, more importantly, rich throughout the year has become inevitable. As appearance plays an important part in finding a suitable mate in humans, naturally, every man and woman tries to look better than the next one, which results in very many Fashions!
But what about within a community, clan, tribe and nation?
Unfortunately, Nature hasn’t given the humans any special fashionable natural identification marks to distinguish one from the other, except the gender. However, Nature does give humans a larger brain which they use to make up for the lack of Nature’s support.
How do you know a dominant man or woman of a family; a rich person of a community, a headman of a tribe or a leader of a nation?
Grey hair may not help much because there may be several men or women with grey hair.
The immediate solution is some sort of ‘mark’ or ‘decoration’ on the face or head. Humans have had this craze for hair and body decoration, especially the face, since Palaeolithic age. Even before man started wearing clothes, he started wearing shells, pieces of bones and flowers as ornaments; pierced his nose and ears and used stone, shell and bone pieces as nose-rings and earrings; and used dyes to paint fashionable marks on his face and body.
Passion for Fashion is embedded in humans.
As we the naked apes shed our body hair permanently long ago, we needed some sort of external protection from wind, rain and sun.
Scientists believe that Cro-Magnon humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, the nearest relative of the presentday human, Homo sapien, some 7000 BCE, used animal skins to protect themselves from heat and cold and used stone and bone tools to cut the animal skins and shape them into crude forms of clothing and other things. Read more about the history of logo design.
Scientists believe it was in Mesopotamia, near and around the presentday Iraq, and in Egypt, that the humans used clothing other than animal skins.
Gradually, as making cloth became easier, people started wearing clothes. When everybody wore the same clothes, how did we make the difference between a headman and a footman?
There kicked in the human imagination: The headman wore a large turban, often in a bright color which was not worn by others, or the woman wore a garland of large beads, and carried a staff, usually with a peculiar shape, often crooked at one end.
You went to the centre of a settlement (village) and when you saw this man with these ‘decorations’, you didn’t have to be told that he was the headman or headwoman!
Once weaving loom was invented, clothes became more important than food and shelter.
The best cloth and the most skilled seamstresses who made the best clothes (the most fashionable clothes) were retained by the highest rung of the society, while the middle rung used the fashions that were discarded by the higher-ups and the lowest rung still used the cheap and almost shapeless apparel because they could not afford the fine material and the skilled seamstresses, and in some societies, they were barred from using the material the ‘gentry’ used.
In every era in every corner of the world people preferred clothing and accessories depending on the geographical and climatic conditions. Eskimos used seal fur to cover themselves from head to toe with seal skins; native Americans changed their apparel per the material available, mostly the bison’s body parts; Arabs chose relatively thin white cloth covering from head to foot to avoid sunburns and sand; people living in mountainous regions preferred thick clothing that can keep off high winds; people in temperate forests were mostly without clothes, except in winter when the weather could turn real nasty.
Gradually, cloth making became some industry and clothes making a lucrative profession. The kings and queens retained the best artisans who made them look attractive and grand.
Traditional family trades and crafts grew into serious professions and consequently, each profession maintained a strict dress code — Uniform! As weaving and tannery methods improved, crude and hard-to-use accessories were replaced by finer, lighter and more user-friendly products.
For example, hats and caps replaced turbans and other ways of head dresses; jackets replaced cloaks; gloves replaced mittens; soft durable leather and synthetic rubber shoes replaced wooden or tough leather footwear, and metal brooches or clasps and small, convenient metal buckles replaced wooden or tough leather links that were used to keep parts of the dress in place.
As professions became more sophisticated, some old uniforms which looked heavy or gaudy were discarded, and finer uniforms and their accessories made their way into our lives. However, most of the discarded uniforms or the items of the accessories in some of them are still found in our modern casual wear.
Cravat, bandana, pinafore, bib, bracelet and anklet, belt, ankle-high and knee-high boot, vest and many more are still found in our fashion.
You will have more in our next article: Uniforms in Fashion!