Why Do We Wear Clothes? 

This article was originally featured in the V&A Blog. Written by Chinami Sakai.

Have you ever wondered why we wear clothes?

To keep us warm, to protect ourselves from rain, or just to look fancy?

Why Do We Wear Clothes?  was written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks. The book shows us that there are many different reasons why people choose what to wear.

Some clothes are designed to have a special purpose. A raincoat to protect you from rain, or a spacesuit that keeps an astronaut safe in space. Clothes are not always just about how they make you look!

Let’s get inspiration!

In her book, Helen introduces some of the strangest fashion items she found in the V&A. Let’s take a look at two of these objects and her wonderful illustrations.

What do you think people did in these? These very high shoes from 17th century Venice are called chopines, and are made of pine wood and leather. It is said they were very popular for women who wanted to keep their dresses clean from dirty streets. Very convenient and clever, but do you think they would be easy to walk in?


Sources: Pair of chopines, about 1600, Venice © Victoria and Albert Museum (left), Helen’s illustration of the Chopine shoes, from Why Do We Wear Clothes? © Victoria and Albert Museum, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks (right).

The image below is a woman’s marriage coat made about 120 years ago in Siberia. Can you guess what it is made of? It is made of salmon skin. Sixty Pacific salmon were used to make it! The skins of fish make effective wind and rain-proof garments. This is very important for people in cold places like Siberia.


Coat, sewn salmon skin, about 1900, Siberia © Victoria and Albert Museum (left) and Helen’s illustration of the Salmon Smock, from Why Do We Wear Clothes? © Victoria and Albert Museum, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks (right)

Today, fashion designers are experimenting with shapes and materials that are just as fascinating.

Let’s look at how designer and engineer Oluwaseyi Sosanya explores the potential of 3D weaving. In this video, he explains a new invention using a new technology. Using a single string he creates a new way to make the sole of a shoe.

Have you ever had to throw out or give away your favourite clothes because you outgrew them? Designers from Petit Pli wanted to make children’s clothes that can be worn for a long time. They came up with a special folded design for clothes that means they can change their size. This range is called Clothes that Grow and can be worn from 18 months to 4 years old. This type of folding is called pleating, and it allows clothes to stretch. Even better, they are made from recycled bottles! At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we are exploring ways to work with designers like them to inspire the next generation of problem solvers. Look out for Petit Pli in the new Design Gallery.