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Clothing

lpetrich

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Our species has many oddities, and one of them is clothing. Only a few species use anything that is structurally and functionally like human clothing.

As broader context, note that nearly every organism has a well-defined surface layer. Every virus, every cell, and nearly every multicellular organism with differentiated cells. Some organisms grow loose outer structures, like bark and shells and scales and hairs and feathers. Mammalian hair goes back as far as the late Permian (coprolites), while feathers go back to the Jurassic (Archaeopteryx, a pigeon-sized feathered birdlike dinosaur).

Back to clothing.

 Hermit crab (Paguroidea) - hermit crabs live inside of seashells that they find.

 Caddisfly (Trichoptera) - some caddisfly larvae (some 30 families in Integripalpia) make cases for themselves, tubes that they live inside of.

When our ancestors started making clothes for themselves is a difficult problem, but one clue is from when head lice and clothing lice diverged.

Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa - PMC
Clothing use is an important modern behavior that contributed to the successful expansion of humans into higher latitudes and cold climates. Previous research suggests that clothing use originated anywhere between 40,000 and 3 Ma, though there is little direct archaeological, fossil, or genetic evidence to support more specific estimates. Since clothing lice evolved from head louse ancestors once humans adopted clothing, dating the emergence of clothing lice may provide more specific estimates of the origin of clothing use. Here, we use a Bayesian coalescent modeling approach to estimate that clothing lice diverged from head louse ancestors at least by 83,000 and possibly as early as 170,000 years ago. Our analysis suggests that the use of clothing likely originated with anatomically modern humans in Africa and reinforces a broad trend of modern human developments in Africa during the Middle to Late Pleistocene.
That article mentions
  • Estimated time for loss of body hair ~ 1.2 Mya
  • First evidence for hide scrapers ~ 780 kya
  • Median head-clothing louse divergence ~ 170 kya
  • First evidence for tailored clothing ~ 40 kya
During the latter part of the Middle Pleistocene (e.g., 83–170 Ka), archaic hominins lived in cold climates in Eurasia, whereas H. sapiens was still in Africa. Whether these archaic hominins had clothing is unknown because they left no clothing louse descendents that we can sample among living humans. All modern clothing lice are confined to a single mitochondrial clade that shows a contemporaneous population expansion with modern humans ∼100 Ka (Reed et al. 2004, 2007). Therefore, we are left to conclude that regular clothing use must have occurred in H. sapiens at least by 83 Ka and possibly as early as 170 Ka. Whether archaic hominins used clothing cannot be assessed from these lice and may require the collection of lice from archaic human remains, which is unlikely.

Over the last half millennium, European explorers discovered numerous people who still used Paleolithic or Neolithic technology ("primitive people"). In warm climates, Paleolithic-tech people tended to wear very little clothing, and that's likely how the first members of our present species dressed. But making clothing enabled living in very cold climates, even with Paleolithic technology. That clothing was made from animal skins, something that we still do today: fur coats and leather.

With Neolithic-level technology came evidence of looms in several places: loom weights. Looms are for making cloth by weaving, and we soon ended up making a *lot* of it. So in warm climates, we wear more clothing than our Paleolithic ancestors did, sometimes much more, and something that we have been doing for several centuries in several places. The first fibers for weaving were stems of flax plants and the like, going back to the Paleolithic, and in the Neolithic and later, additional fibers were added, like cotton (seed parachute) and wool (sheep hair), fibers that require spinning to make threads. Also added was silk, threads made by caterpillars for their cocoons, and over the last century, plastic. Also over the last century was plastic-sheet clothing like surgical gloves and fake leather.

So why did we start wearing lots of clothing where we seemingly didn't need to?

Some clothing has obvious purposes of protection, like warm clothing for cold weather, and also footwear. The oldest known footwear is sandals found in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, dating back to 8000 - 7000 BCE. Their makers had Paleolithic-level technology, so footwear likely goes back a long way. Animal-skin shoes and boots also likely go back very far.

Modesty is another reason. We don't like to reveal our genitals. But one does not need much clothing for that.

Aside from all that, it's hard to say. Do we like the feel of clothing against our skin?
 

lpetrich

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Another feature of clothing is that it is can be much more colorful than our bodies, especially with recent technology. Not just solid colors, but also patterns and prints.

We are not a very colorful species, it must be noted. We have one color of hair for all our body, and our skins are likewise monotone, though dark-skinned people have light-skinned palms and soles. Our skin color varies dark brown - light brown - yellow - light orange - light pink, and our hair color covers the full range of mammalian fur colors, which isn't very much: black - gray - white, brown - orange, yellow. Our eyes range dark brown - light brown - green - blue.

Our skin color doesn't have the multiple colors of a mandrill face -- such multicolored skin is rare among mammals. Fur-color variations are more common, often producing stripes or spots. But we don't have that either.

Skin-color variations are adaptations to solar ultraviolet light, with the more UV, the darker the skin. But most human populations usually have black or dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. Western Eurasians are exceptional there.

Birds, however, can be much more colorful, sometimes with more colors in a single feather than across our entire species. But our clothing can make us as colorful as birds.
 

lpetrich

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Related to clothing is body painting. Common among "primitive" people, it is less common among people with more advanced technology, though some subsets of it continues to be common: makeup and nail polish.

Related to body painting is tattooing, injection of pigments into the skin. That also has a long history, from "primitive" people to the present day.
 

bilby

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Clothing is just a subset of tool making and use; Clothes are a tool that enables humans to use a wider range of environments without injury or death.

Because they are visually obvious, they also immediately fall into having a secondary function of display; They are potentially expensive, so they advertise wealth, which is an excellent proxy for evolutionary fitness; and likely trigger some Fisherian runaway, whereby both the desirability of (more expensive) clothing, and the attractiveness of that clothing to potential sexual partners, become complimentary traits that generate large selection pressures for each other.
 

Loren Pechtel

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Clothing is of substantial protective value. There are few environments in which a human is always comfortable without clothing.
 

lpetrich

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Bilby mentions clothing as protection and conspicuous consumption. There seems to be more, like wearing lots of clothing in warm temperatures, like warm weather or indoors, clothing that is not obviously protective or status-symbolish.

So far, I've thought of liking the feel of clothing on one's body, and wanting to look pretty.
 

skepticalbip

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Bilby mentions clothing as protection and conspicuous consumption. There seems to be more, like wearing lots of clothing in warm temperatures, like warm weather or indoors, clothing that is not obviously protective or status-symbolish.
Modern times (at a minimum since the Victorian era) modesty and social pressure can be added to the reasons people wear clothes in western cultures and cultures influenced by the west.
So far, I've thought of liking the feel of clothing on one's body, and wanting to look pretty.
AAW, you'll always look pretty to me.
 

lpetrich

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skepticalbip, it's not just the Victorian Era. Look at previous centuries and millennia. Look at places without any Western influence until recent centuries - India, China, Korea, Japan, ... It should be easy to find stuff on people's clothing in past centuries with some online searching.
 

lpetrich

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 History of hide materials - scrapers go back some 400,000 years at least. These would be used for scraping fur and subcutaneous fat off of skin. Further processing is  Tanning (leather) though it's hard to say how far back that goes.

Animal skins are useful not only for clothing but also for bags. These were sometimes used for liquids:  Wineskin We still sometimes use animal skins for bags, like leather handbags and alligator-skin ones.

These Vintage Threads Are 30,000 Years Old : NPR
30,000 Years Old Wild Flax Fibers - Testimony for Fabricating Prehistoric Linen
These flax fibers were likely braided together to make cords and the like. Flax fibers are in the plants' stems.

Flax was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, and it was likely soon woven into cloth.

Cotton also goes back to the Neolithic, and it was domesticated both in Eurasia and in the Americas. It does not come in convenient strands, as flax does, but instead as a lump of fibers attached to the seed, so that the seed can be carried by wind. To make a usable fiber, one has to spin that fiber from these fiber lumps.

Wool is Late Neolithic, though a few millennia after the domestication of its source, sheep. Their wild relatives have typical mammalian fur -- short hair -- and the first domestic sheep likely did also. Dogs and cats have long-haired breeds, though most of these animals continue to have short hair, and there was once this dog breed:  Salish Wool Dog bred by Pacific Northwest people.

Wool, like cotton, needs to be spun to make usable fibers.

Silkworm moths were domesticated in China in the Late Neolithic there, and silk is extracted from the moths' cocoons. The moths' caterpillars make their cocoons by secreting silk strands and surrounding themselves with those strands. They then go into their pupal phase, protected by their cocoons.

 List of domesticated plants and  List of domesticated animals
 

lpetrich

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So we have three kinds of clothing aside from clothing made by our species and recent ancestors:
  • Hermit crabs' shells
  • Caddisfly cases
  • Moth cocoons
All found or made by arthropods.

It's also rather evident that by the time that we invented writing, we had several sources of fiber for weaving into clothing -- fiber utilized separately in several places. Flax (Middle East), wool (Middle East, Pacific Northwest), cotton (North Africa, India, Central and South America), silk (China), ...

With the development of plastics in the 20th cy. came several kinds of  Synthetic fiber like nylon and polyester and aramids (Nomex, Kevlar).

We have also made artificial leather out of plastic and rubber.
 

lpetrich

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Another use for skins is shelter: tents and huts.

2.2: The Paleolithic Period - Humanities LibreTexts
Caves

Caves are the most famous example of Paleolithic shelters, though the number of caves used by Paleolithic people is drastically small relative to the number of hominids thought to have lived on Earth at the time. Most hominids probably never entered a cave, much less lived in one. Nonetheless, the remains of hominid settlements show interesting patterns. In one cave, a tribe of Neanderthals kept a hearth fire burning for a thousand years, leaving behind an accumulation of coals and ash. In another cave, post holes in the dirt floor reveal that the residents built some sort of shelter or enclosure with a roof to protect themselves from water dripping on them from the cave ceiling. They often used the rear portions of the cave as middens, depositing their garbage there.

In the Upper Paleolithic (the latest part of the Paleolithic), caves ceased to act as houses. Instead, they likely became places for early people to gather for ritual and religious purposes.

Tents and Huts

Modern archaeologists know of few types of shelter used by ancient peoples other than caves. Some examples do exist, but they are quite rare. In Siberia, a group of Russian scientists uncovered a house or tent with a frame constructed of mammoth bones. The great tusks supported the roof, while the skulls and thighbones formed the walls of the tent. Several families could live inside, where three small hearths, little more than rings of stones, kept people warm during the winter. Around 50,000 years ago, a group of Paleolithic humans camped on a lakeshore in southern France. At Terra Amata, these hunter-gatherers built a long and narrow house. The foundation was a ring of stones, with a flat threshold stone for a door at either end. Vertical posts down the middle of the house supported roofs and walls of sticks and twigs, probably covered over with a layer of straw. A hearth outside served as the kitchen, while a smaller hearth inside kept people warm. Their residents could easily abandon both dwellings. This is why they are not considered true houses, which was a development of the Neolithic period rather than the Paleolithic period.
 

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An interesting aspect of clothing comes from the social stratification signals that exist in the expression of color.

For a very long time, access to attire with strong purples and blues was associated with leadership and wealth. One thing that I find interesting is that I only very rarely even now see clothing with a good mix of blues, purples, magentas, and cyans.
 
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