Origins: of Cloth and Clothing

Have you ever wondered about the origins of clothing? Well of course you have. In fact, if you’re like me, the subject is on your mind this morning as you ponder the circumstances that triggered ideas that led to the making of cloth. I wonder when and where people began wearing clothes. Was the motivation to cover one’s body a matter of physical protection (e.g., avoiding sunburn, etc.) or was it something less rational (e.g., modesty)? Cloth. When was the first cloth made? What raw materials were used in its making? How were those materials spun together (or otherwise combined and/or connected) to form cloth?

These thoughts lead us (assuming you’re with me in this journey) to wonder whether there is a precise moment at which raw materials, when being combined/connected, become cloth? Before reaching the point of full transformation from raw material to cloth, would the not-yet-cloth be rightly called proto-cloth? If not, what would one call the unfinished assemblage?

Speaking of clothing and its relative degrees of completion, have you ever wondered about the phrase “fully-clothed?” How about the phrase “half-naked?” Do you hear what would, in my mind, be their natural corollaries: “half-clothed” and “fully-naked?”

Back to the origin of cloth. Was the original use of cloth to make clothing? Or was the original cloth used for other purposes, for example to make sacks to hold pecans gathered from the floors of pecan forests (or some other such use we rarely consider when wondering about the origin of cloth)?

I think it’s safe to assume the making of cloth and its namesake (at least in English), clothing, preceded written language. Otherwise, we’d all have read about the origins of cloth long before now. Unless, of course, there was some arcane prohibition against the use of language to describe the journey of cloth from cotton to clothing. I can imagine that only the select few were permitted to write and to read about the mysterious evolution of clothing:

In the beginning, Carmichael (for it was Carmichael) created a mighty clump of fibers. Now the fibers were formless and futile, so useless fibers covered the surface of the ground, and the mood of Carmichael was hovering over the fluff.

And Carmichael said, “Let there be cloth,” and there was—magically and without the aid of modern machinery and petroleum-based components—cloth. Carmichael saw that the cloth was good, and he separated the cloth from the abundant nakedness all around him. Carmichael called the cloth “clothing” and the nakedness he called “nudity.” And there came upon the gathered throngs a new emotion, which Carmichael called “modesty.”

I’m not saying that’s exactly how it went. But I’m not saying it’s not, either. You know, I want to be open-minded about it.

And that’s the odd place in which I find my mind wandering this morning.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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