Dress for Evolutionary Success

April, 2013                                                                                                    Nautilus

Picture one of those ascent-of-man charts that depict a progression of profiles, from an ape walking on all fours to a slumped hominid to a modern human standing erect. What’s missing? The modern human is naked. No accessories!

Illustration by John Hendrix
 We may not find a chapter on fashion in science textbooks but ornamentation and tailoring have played feature roles in our success as a species. On the prehistoric catwalks we creamed the Neanderthal competition on both functionality and style and went on to become the dominant hominid in virtually every climate zone on earth. 

As I discovered through a host of interviews with paleontologists, anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists, and fashion historians, clothes don’t just make the man—they make us human. Clothes and body decoration evolved in a suite of human communication tools and behaviors that have shaped the runway of human evolution and culture.

Fashion has been as “crucial to the emergence of the modern human as music and dance, art and humor, and language,” says evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. “It’s a legitimate part of human nature.”

That’s hardly news to the well-dressed man and woman. Still, putting fashion and science in the same sentence can seem a little strange. So, to reassure you that the pride and excitement you feel when you put on an Armani suit or a pair of Manolo Blahniks is emotionally legit, let’s turn back to our evolutionary past. The dawn of clothes reveals that we were born to strut.   (More)


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