B2 Reading Multiple Choice Exam 9


Clothing is a distinctly human artifact. Even more than the use of tools, it distinguishes humans from the other creatures on this planet. While there are other creatures which use implements to a greater or lesser degree, clothing is unique to humanity. Clothing is also uniquely human, in that it serves more than one function. The basic purpose of clothing was originally utilitarian. By putting on an artificial skin, humans were able to move into regions where they otherwise would have been unable to cope with the climate. An extreme example of this use of clothing can be seen among the Eskimos, and other people who live with extreme cold. However, clothing was not only used for protection from the elements, but has also been a means of displaying one's status and sense of style for as long as humans have had civilisation. Thus clothing also developed in countries where there is no real practical need for it, apart from the other, very human function of preserving the modesty of the wearer.
Clothing tells us many things about the wearer. It can be used to indicate whether she is a member of a particular group or organisation, the most extreme example of this type of clothing being a uniform. It tells us a lot about the importance of clothing that the clothes a person was wearing have been, literally, the difference between life and death. In war, soldiers recognise friends and enemies by their uniforms. Spies may be shot if captured, but if they go about their business in the uniform of their country, they are regarded as legitimate members of that country's armed forces.
Uniforms can also be less formal. Anyone who has seen a group of teenagers walking together will have noticed that their clothing conforms to the standard set by their particular group. Nor are teens the only ones who are subject to such pressures. It is a rare businessman who does not feel the need to wear a suit and tie. Most politicians also try to be neat and well-dressed. People who wish to impress others often do so by the selection of their clothes - sometimes by choosing more expensive versions. This can be seen particularly in the fashion industry, where clothing by a particular designer fetches prices which are out of all proportion to the actual utilitarian value of the material.
The significance of what we wear and how we wear it is, if anything, becoming more rather than less important as the cultures of the world mix and sometimes come into collision. There have been cases on holiday islands where the locals have a strict conservative tradition and have been outraged by visitors - especially female visitors - who wear far less than the minimum that the locals consider decent. The humble headscarf has become a symbol of conformism to religious values, and some westerners are as affronted by a woman wearing one as others in the middle east are upset by its absence. (Yet in medieval Europe, both men and women habitually kept their heads covered in public, and almost always when outdoors.) Indeed, the signals given by clothing as worn by men and women has not decreased because many women now wear what were once "men's" garments. For example today most women are very comfortable wearing jeans. Yet the sight of a man in a dress would raise eyebrows in most western cultures. For even though the signals given by clothing change over time - the ancient Romans thought that only barbarians wore trousers - the signals themselves are as strong as ever. It is impossible not to signal something about yourself in the clothes you wear, for even not trying to say anything is itself a strong signal.
Therefore, even though we are steadily managing to adjust our micro-environments to temperatures which are as close to ideal as the human body wants, and even though sexual taboos of undress are being steadily eroded, it is highly unlikely the there will be no use for clothing in our future, unless humanity evolves into a completely new species.