Because our need for newness never ends, our quest for new things, new environments, and new visual stimuli is endless. Try to remember the last time you changed your home’s living room around, or bought new clothing. Were your motives for doing so solely pragmatic? Inevitably, the answer is in some cases yes – your jeans or running shoes can literally wear out. Ballgowns in contrast, very rarely do; they are substituted after considerably less wear. This is due to the fact that people have a very genuine need for changing visual stimuli: kids who are constantly given shiny and interesting toys and games will grow up to be inquisitive and demanding adolescents; if deprived of colour, texture, sound and interesting activities, they can become boring listless and silent. So, by constantly modifying what we wear, we change our environment and fulfill a basic need, not only in ourselves but in people that know or meet up with us.
However, this human need for change is only one of the explanations why people change the way they dress. Some fashion industry theorists believe that fashion, like other designed forms, responds to the Zeit geist theory, that is that fashion shows the ‘spirit of the age’. It is generally accepted that this is, at least partly, correct so let us look at issues related to life in society which may influence the way we dress.
Individuals who express an extreme or unusual political belief often dress differently. Some do this because it is part of belonging to a group, other individuals because they have to dress differently to stand out from the crowd. It is not a new concept. Politically influenced dress does not start and end with the freedom-fighter appearance of Che Guevara’s camouflage-dressed and moustache comrades, or even with punks wearing ‘Anarchy during the UK’ T-shirts. People have been utilizing dress to express political persuasion for quite a while. In seventeenth-century England, admirers of King Charles I adopted a fancy style and were known as Royalists. Fans of Oliver Cromwell (an anti-Royalist and a republican) wore military-style dress and were known as Roundheads due to the helmet they wore as headwear. The Puritans, a religious Protestant group, who did not approve of the extravagant chosen lifestyle of the Royalists, wore clothing which was dull, quite practical and very modest. All three of these groups, consequently, plainly demonstrated their political opinions in their style of dressing. Even if not all the men and women of seventeenth-century England adhered to their styles precisely, they were still vastly significant in their time.