Clothes protect our vulnerable skin and they keep us warm or cool. They help us show that we are young or old, rich or poor, at work or play, and whether we may be good to know. But though they are basic, much as food and shelter are - and also may be beautiful - they have long had a bad press in serious, moral and philosophical writing. The main reason for this is that they are external to us, a cover we may hide behind, and one on which some people spend too much money, perfecting a pompous plumage of vanity: also they, and the fashions for them, may not last long. Nonetheless, when we choose our own clothes, we know the choice is a sensitive matter and far from being merely superficial. John Harvey considers the overlapping values that clothes have for us. Clothes both cover and advertise the bodies within them. They help make us the men and women we are, and help us to attract each other. They enroll us in groups, from our own circle to our generation worldwide; and they show just how, as individuals, we want to be noticed. Clothes, like their wearers, may compete in claiming power. They may also, on and off the catwalk, compete to claim the spotlight. In sum they show how we think we matter - and they can matter themselves in ways that may be intimate and even crucial to us. At all times clothes have demanded attention, even when they have been castigated for their vanity, and contemporary opinion is still divided. Are clothes the most frivolous of consumer disposables - or are they, however extravagant, art? Though we wear and see them every day, the value that they have for us is multiple and fugitive and hard to catch exactly. "Clothes" attempts to sort the many-coloured wardrobe which marks off mankind from other creatures.
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