The word theory is derived from the ancient Greek word theoria, which meant “to look at or view.” Greek philosophers would “look at” a situation and try to find an explanation for it. In scientific terms today theories are a framework for thinking about, examining, or interpreting something. To illustrate, consider the following definitions of theory:
•“A conceptual network of propositions that explain an observable phenomenon” (Lillethun, 2007, 77).
•“A systematic explanation for the observations that relate to a particular aspect of life” (Babbie, 2004, G11).
•“A set of interrelated constructions (variables), definitions, and propositions that presents a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables, with the purpose of explaining natural phenomena” (Kerlinger, 1979, 64).
Theories examine behaviors, actions, occurrences, works, and any other tangible or intangible phenomena, and are made of different parts that contribute to an understanding. Part of the theory might be supported while other parts might not have support, but it does not necessarily change the theory as a whole. “Like fashion itself, the theories that explain fashion movement are constantly revised and refined” (Brannon, 2005, 82). By analogy, a garment that is made up of a bodice, skirt, collar, sleeves, and cuffs is called a dress. However, if you remove the cuffs it is still called a dress, or if you add a pocket it is still a dress. Changing a part does not invalidate the whole.
Theories are divided into three categories based on their scope of explanation: grand, middle-range, and substantive (Merriam, 1988). Grand theories are very broad, all-inclusive, universal, and are useful for organizing other ideas; they offer general ideas, such as Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Middle-range theories do not attempt to explain such overarching phenomena as do grand theories but rather concentrate on limited phenomena; one could argue that the theory of collective selection (i.e., that fashion trends are inspired by specific groups of people with unique aesthetic styles; further explained in Chapter 5) is a middle-range theory. And substantive theories offer ideas and reasons in a narrow setting, such as the reasons for Japanese immigrants to adopt westernized clothing in Honolulu, Hawai‘i in the 1920s.
Theories are frequently developed from concepts or laws. A concept
is a general abstract idea; the idea of fashion
—adoption of trends for a specific time period—is a concept. A law
is a simple, basic description of a phenomenon that is undoubtedly true, but the explanation of how or why the phenomenon occurs is a theory. A theory is sometimes referred to as a theoretical framework
. A theoretical framework is different from a conceptual framework
, where the specific relationships between variables are detailed. A conceptual framework is
nested within or based on a theoretical framework. For example, a theoretical framework might be that people
tattoo their bodies to mark rites of passage, whereas a conceptual framework will use this theory and examine specific variables—how do age, social rank, economics, and gender affect tattooing? Theories are developed from hypotheses, which are educated guesses based on observation. Hypotheses can never be proven, only supported or rejected, but when a hypothesis
has been supported by numerous tests it becomes a theory. There is no guideline as to how many tests it takes to transform a hypothesis into a theory; rather, that decision is left up to the community studying it after they have determined they have exhausted all possible variations of the hypothesis.
In a very general sense, we can say that “people wear clothing in civilized societies” is a law. The explanations why people wear clothing can constitute a theory. The ideas that test or support the theory are hypotheses that are either accepted or rejected. You will see in the following example that, with each level, the wording is more specific as it moves from the abstract (e.g., concept) to the concrete (e.g., hypothesis).
Concept: Clothing is items made of fabrics or skins that cover the body.
Law: People in civilized societies wear clothing.
Theory: People change the amount of layers of clothes they wear due to weather conditions.
Hypothesis 1: As temperatures drop, people will wear more layers of clothing.
Hypothesis 2: As temperatures increase, people will wear fewer layers of clothing.
Hypothesis 3: The change in temperature will have no effect on the number of layers of clothing that people wear.
In order to test the hypothesis, you record temperatures in a given area and ask people how many layers of clothing they are wearing. When you analyze your data you find that when temperatures dropped, people added more layers of clothing, and conversely, when temperatures increased people wore fewer layers of clothing. Therefore, you accept hypotheses 1 and 2 but reject hypothesis 3. As a result you have found evidence that supports your theory that people wear clothing due to weather conditions. Other people may subsequently test the theory and find additional support, such as different types of clothes are worn during different weather conditions (e.g., rain, snow, drought) and therefore add to the body of knowledge about weather and clothing.
Models can represent a situation, based on a theoretical framework, and are often represented as a diagram. A model can detail direction, interaction, and choices. Models are based on conceptual or theoretical frameworks. Damhorst (1989, 2005) developed a model that envisions aesthetic perception as a series of embedded elements or networks (see Figure 1.1). At the center of the model are the perceptual elements such as line, shape, form, color, etc. This is encompassed by the condition of the material. The condition of the material is encompassed by the treatment of the materials, and so on. Using this model we understand that the aesthetic elements are situated within concentric series of cultural, social, and personal spheres.
is a system of classification. In the animal kingdom, animals are divided into invertebrate and vertebrate, then further divided within those groups (e.g., vertebrates are further divided into fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals). Pets can be divided into categories (e.g., cats, dogs, birds) and then further within each group (e.g., short hair, long hair; breed; indoors, outdoors). Even your wardrobe can be divided using a taxonomy: casual,
professional, special occasion, etc.; within those categories you can further divide them by color, price, and frequency of wearing. The purpose of a taxonomy is that it helps organize data based on similar qualities or characteristics to find commonalities, differences, and gaps. You may find that your wardrobe taxonomy informs you that you have an overabundance of special occasion clothes but not enough professional clothes. The
Public, Private, and Secret Self is an example of a taxonomy that classifies clothing according to type of dress by level of self-expression and will be further detailed in Chapter 3.
Damhorst’s Contextual Model of Clothing Sign System is used to understand the many influences on clothing. Image courtesy of Mary Lynn Damhorst and Fairchild Books.
Some explanations of phenomena are revised until an adequate theory is found. The theory of gravity was altered over centuries, with additions and revisions from Aristotle in 300 BC, Galileo Galilei during the European Renaissance, Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and Albert Einstein in the last century. Hence, new knowledge and testing are used to refine the theory and this can take a millennium until an adequate and accurate explanation is found.
Some theories compete with each other to explain the same phenomena. In trying to explain why people commit crime, a number of theories have emerged, including phrenology (the measurement of cranial features where dimensions indicate criminal capacity; since abandoned as a legitimate theory); biological causes (e.g., bad genes); social causes (e.g., poverty, education, group affiliation); psychological causes (e.g., childhood abuse); and environmental or ecological causes (e.g., isolated or darkened areas). These competing theories do not necessarily invalidate each other but offer alternative explanations for a phenomenon.
Evidence of dress dates to prehistoric times. In Russia, 30,000-year-old needles made of bone and ivory were found (Hoffecker & Scott, 2002; Dorey, 2013), suggesting they were used to sew animal skins, animal
fur, or fabrics together. Flax fibers found to be from 34,000 BC were found in an ancient cave in the Eurasian country of Georgia and surmised to be evidence of the existence of baskets and clothing (Kvavadze, Bar-Yosef, Belfer-Cohen, Boaretto, Jakeli, Matskevich & Meshveliani, 2009). Some of the oldest clothing items were found in contemporary Denmark and dated to the early Bronze Age (2900–2000 BC) (Boucher, 1987). These items were made of woven cloth and included sewn bodices, tunics, hats, belts, and a skirt.
There are competing theories regarding the original purposes of dress1
. While we know that clothing and personal adornment have existed for many millennia, the reason for their creation is debated. Many theories speculate about their original purpose(s). Ancient Greeks and Chinese believed the original function of clothing was to protect the
body from weather and natural elements while other people (such as psychologists, religious scholars, etc.) argue that clothing developed to provide modesty, for magical purposes, or to be aesthetically pleasing (Boucher, 1987). According to Boucher:
[W]e may at least surmise that when the first men covered their bodies to protect themselves from the climate, they also associated their primitive garments with the idea of some magical identification in the same way that their belief in sympathetic magic spurred them to paint the walls of their caves with representations of successful hunting. After all, some primitive peoples who normally live naked feel the need to clothe themselves on special occasions.
Boucher noted the existence of five general categories of clothing: draped, slip-on, closed sewn, open sewn, and sheath. (In the modern period these types began to become interbred and new composite categories emerged.) Boucher argued that, while clothing can inspire fear or establish authority or project an image of power, because these types existed in different cultures and different discrete civilizations, something other than individuals’ politics, race, or religion had to influence design—most likely, climate and geography.
However, other evidence is interpreted differently and suggests personal adornment, fertility, or health were original purposes for dress. In a cave in Blombos, South Africa, marine snail shells 75,000 years old and ochre were found (d’Errico, Henshilwood, Vanhaeren, & van Niekerk, 2005; Henshilwood, d’Errico, Yates, et al., 2002; Henshilwood, d’Errico, & Watts, 2009; Vanhaeren, d’Errico, van Niekerk, Henshilwood & Erasmus, 2013). The snail shells were pierced as if to tie on a string and ochre was likely used to decorate the body in pre-historic times (Schildkrout, 2001), therefore it is theorized that the items were used for personal adornment. Barber (1999) contends that “prehistoric European clothing developed originally as a means of promoting women’s fertility through ritual and charms” (p. 128). In 1991 the discovery of a frozen body in the Ötztal Alps, nicknamed “Frozen Fritz,” led investigators to surmise a potential health benefit from dress. Fritz dates from 3300 BC and the ice had preserved portions of his clothing and body. At the time of his death he was wearing a coat, belt, belt pouch, leggings, and
shoes made of leather, all of which had been sewn. A cloak constructed from grass woven together was also found on this body. In addition to his apparel, Fritz’s body was marked with tattoos that coincided with acupuncture points for ailments that Fritz experienced. It was therefore
hypothesized that some of the tattoos were used for health purposes. Thus...