Dressed to Kill : A review of formal wear

Formal wear has always perplexed me! The idea that wearing unpractical and uncomfortable shoes that have no real specific function is quite a bizarre practice when you really think about it.

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Very swish, but good for ……………..?

I understand the prestige that dressing extravagantly/formally brings to a wedding but everyone attending it has their mobility restricted – if the zombie apocalypse hits when you’re at a wedding you are kinda fucked.

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(Zombie weddings are a legit thing now I hear)

As a Scottish native, I am a proud owner of a kilt in my clan colours (Kilt is what you get if you call it a skirt) but  I always thought that this heavy and cumbersome garment would be a nightmare to wear while hunting and fighting in the highlands of Scotland.

I did some research on this, and it turns out that the real highland kilt was very different to the modern representation of it, it covered your whole body and was waterproofed with wax – the original tartan even worked as a primitive camouflage! but nowadays its more like a ceremonial robe than a practical garment.

Another example worth mentioning is the tie, it apparently started off in the Victorian era as a prize/trophy awarded to the winner of a sporting achievement and was worn as a status symbol to impress people  (apparently the arrow like shape is supposed to highlight your genitals to the opposite sex). But like the kilt, the function of this item has gone through a metamorphosis, and it is now enforced upon people as a symbol of conformity rather than a status symbol.

When it comes to formal wear and uniforms putting aesthetics over practicality is done all over the world in many different cultures, here are a few reasons as to how this practice may have started and if there is an equivalent elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

Authority/status symbol

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Alpha papa

Kings crowns, Native American headdresses and top hats are all examples of elaborate head garments that are used to signify and represent authority. These accessories help cement the hierarchal power of the individual wearing it and communicate their status to other people. It should be noted that these are not necessarily particularly unpractical and could be worn in battle/worksites without significant limitation.

An example of this in nature can be found in gorillas as once a male gorilla rises to the top of the social hierarchy he develops silver hair on his back (a silverback gorilla is not a distinct species but an alpha individual) this lets other gorillas not to mess.


Distancing from manual labour

Senior figures directing workers at a building site may have sought to don particularly impractical clothing such as dress shoes to ensure they weren’t asked to ‘help out’ with labouring tasks they viewed to be beneath them.

Can’t really think of an equivalent in nature here.

A tool for oppression

I mentioned before I believe ties fall into this category but there are much more extreme examples of this.

Binding woman’s feet so they can barely walk or enforcing them to wear rings to stretch their necks to unnatural proportions severely limiting their mobility is a cultural tool for oppressing genders.

I can’t see any equivalent in the animal kingdom.

Enforcing tribalism

Uniforms are employed by the armed forces, industry and schools for many of the reasons I have already gone through, an additional reason that is covered specifically by uniform’s though is to fuse the uniform to the individual’s identity. It is very common for a police officer or soldier to have a strong connection to their uniform and this bond strengthens their commitment to endeavour to please their masters who are further up the social hierarchy. Again this seems to be unique to humans.

Sexual selection

Very obvious dynamic in play here, although it definitely is not unique to formal wear as Gene Simmons has proven.

This dynamic is at play frequently in nature with peacocks being the  one of the most well known, females peahens prefer males with bigger and longer display feathers. However, there is a trade-off as if the tail becomes too big and cumbersome it inhibits its ability to fly and escape from predators, and it gets munched.

And yes peacocks can fly – not very far but they do look boss as hell while doing it.


Overall I ain’t the biggest fan of formal attire, but I admit it seems to have great value to cultures and societies around the globe and some elements have it have direct parallels in the natural world, although predation stops things from getting a bit too extravagant like this gangster pictured below.


King of bling