Fashion vs. Function (Part 1)

Are you ready for evolutionary cultural anthropology? Here’s my attempt. Briefly reviewing the theory of evolution – there are two parts (I’m not making this up).

  1. Survival of the fittest – natural selection: those characteristics that enable survival long enough for the animal to reproduce
  2. Survival of the prettiest – sexual selection: those characteristics that increase the success of successful reproduction for those that live to get the chance.

Note – these are not the same thing. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they are in direct conflict. (Guess which case is most interesting for me – conflict, of course)

The most famous example is that of the peacock. Some nuance is lost in the brevity of this example, but essentially the large plumed tail helps the male peacock attract a mate, but actually makes the animal less “fit” in its ability to survive. The tail is resource intensive, bulky and serves no other real purpose than to impress mates.

The question I have for female peacocks is – why would you find something so attractive if it actually makes your mate less likely to survive? All the peahens say – “well, if my man can carry around all that extra feather and still have enough energy to strut his stuff for me he must really be strong”. Great, we’re not evolving towards efficiency, we’re evolving towards extravagance because the ladies like flashy feathers. Ladies, please accept responsibility for your part in the evolution of our species.

Let’s take an example from the modern world along the same lines. Waste, and conspicuous consumption is a way of flaunting resources: “I have so much, I can throw it away”. Think of the Hummer, or perhaps all of high fashion and luxury goods.

And for the ladies – I hear you. We think those high heals may you look great, but they actually kill your feet and make it treacherous to walk on uneven surfaces and impossible to walk like a normal person (Ignore for the moment whether you’re actually trying to impress guys or just scare away rival females).

By now you may see what I’m getting at – we have a divergence of fashion and function. Those things which actually are useful (like shoes) become less useful in many cases in the process of trying to impress the opposite sex. Both sides are to blame. How can we get ourselves out of this mess? There is hope.

I brought up the Hummer on purpose because it has in the past few years fallen out of fashion. There is a change in at least the automotive world where the urban assault vehicle, once a status symbol, now represents what it really is- a waste. Today the prius or the tesla roadster garner status, not just because they cost more, but because they have improved function. They are more efficient in their use of resources. We might have a case for the overlap of fashion and function – or at least a small hint towards convergence.

So – what would it take for guys to start looking at high heels like the ridiculous torture traps that they are? (I’m all for it. I like a girl in sweatpants and sneakers). What would it take for us to start appreciating clothes, on ourselves and on others, that made it easier to move, that were more comfortable and could also be considered fashionable?

I’m on a mission to find the answers.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
This entry was posted in cultural practice, how we buy, pseudo-evo-neuro and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s