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Clothing in history, showing (from top) Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, and 13th through 15th century Europeans.

Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel and attire) is a collective term for items worn on the body. Clothing is typically made of fabrics or textiles but over time has included garments made from animal skin or other thin sheets of materials put together. The wearing of clothing is mostly restricted to human beings and is a feature of all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on gender, body type, social, and geographic considerations.

Clothing serves many purposes: it can serve as protection from the elements, rough surfaces, rash-causing plants, insect bites, splinters, thorns and prickles by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Clothes can insulate against cold or hot conditions, and they can provide a hygienic barrier, keeping infectious and toxic materials away from the body. Clothing also provides protection from ultraviolet radiation.

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Emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan
Credit: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky

Alim Khan wearing ceremonial robes in an early color photograph by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky shot in 1911. Lavish silk and embroidery is symbolic of rank in many cultures.

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Samuel Slater
Samuel Slater (June 9, 1768 – April 21, 1835) was an early American industrialist popularly known as the "Founder of the American Industrial Revolution" because he brought British textile technology to America. A native of England, he trained as an engineer and violated a British emigration law in 1789 that was designed to keep manufacturing technology within the country when he left for New York in disguise. He soon found work in Rhode Island replicating British factory equipment for a textile mill, and earned the owner's backing to design and build the first water powered mill in the United States. Slater established tenant farms and towns around his textile mills such as Slatersville, Rhode Island. Due to his technical knowledge from Britain, he became a full partner and eventually went into business for himself and grew wealthy. By the end of Slater's life he owned thirteen spinning mills.

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Dried teasel pod

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The Leader of the luddites, engraving of 1813
The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested — often by destroying mechanized looms — against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood. This English historical movement has to be seen in its context of the harsh economic climate due to the Napoleonic Wars; but since then, the term Luddite has been used to describe anyone opposed to technological progress and technological change. For the modern movement of opposition to technology, see neo-luddism. The Luddite movement, which began in 1811, took its name from the earlier Ned Ludd. For a short time the movement was so strong that it clashed in battles with the British Army. Measures taken by the government included a mass trial at York in 1812 that resulted in many executions and transportations (removal to a penal colony). Their principal objection was to the introduction of new wide-framed looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour, resulting in the loss of jobs for many textile workers.

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Charlotte Brontë
The hour spent at Millcote was a somewhat harassing one to me. Mr. Rochester obliged me to go to a certain silk warehouse: there I was ordered to choose half-a-dozen dresses. I hated the business, I begged leave to defer it: no—it should be gone through with now. By dint of entreaties expressed in energetic whispers, I reduced the half-dozen to two: these however, he vowed he would select himself. With anxiety I watched his eye rove over the gay stores: he fixed on a rich silk of the most brilliant amethyst dye, and a superb pink satin. I told him in a new series of whispers, that he might as well buy me a gold gown and a silver bonnet at once: I should certainly never venture to wear his choice. With infinite difficulty, for he was stubborn as a stone, I persuaded him to make an exchange in favour of a sober black satin and pearl-grey silk. “It might pass for the present,” he said; “but he would yet see me glittering like a parterre.”
Glad was I to get him out of the silk warehouse, and then out of a jewellers shop: the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation. As we re-entered the carriage, and I sat back feverish and fagged, I remembered what, in the hurry of events, dark and bright, I had wholly forgotten—the letter of my uncle, John Eyre, to Mrs. Reed: his intention to adopt me and make me his legatee. “It would, indeed, be a relief,” I thought, “if I had ever so small an independency; I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me.


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