Uniforms: From the Military to Corporate Apparel
People are an interesting bunch. We have such an innate need to categorize and specialize when it comes to our vocation, our personal preferences, and how we appear in daily society. But the most interesting to come from it is the idea of a uniform. Countries, corporations, and military personnel, just to name a few, utilize clothing to establish things like status, unity, and the detraction or enhancement of personal identity. So, where did it all start? What got people on the uniform bandwagon, to begin with, and how did it expand to the level of corporate apparel in places like Huntsville, Alabama?
Let’s find out.
To even understand how uniforms work or even got its roots we need to examine and study human behavior. In this case, I am talking about anthropology. Ever since our ancestors have evolved enough to the point of walking upright and grabbing things, our species has learned that our odds of general survival are better when we stick together. If we hunt together, gather together, sleep together, and fight together, our families or ‘tribes’ will be better off. It is our basic biological drive. Of course, there are external and internal threats to our species that puts this to the test.
For instance, there could be a hierarchical dispute inside the tribe. Or there could be a competition with another tribe for resources. There is also the ever-present threat of the intruder. A stranger that can take away resources that were meant for other tribe members. At worst, they could cause serious harm to the tribe.
One of the main solutions to this conundrum is to create a distinction between tribe members and outsiders. Sometimes that included specific behavioral rituals. Other times, it included the creation of distinct markings through things like paint, jewelry, and clothing made of materials.
When tribes stopped mainly hunting and wound up creating their farming civilizations, populations grew. Soon, there were enough people in the civilization to delegate specialized roles. Some citizens were farmers, some were military, and others were religious priests or leaders. Each role had a specific part to play in society. This meant that there needed to be visual distinctions for each caste. Clothing, jewelry, and other accessories became more distinct. They were developed to match the tasks and roles that each citizen of society would play.
This is just the beginning of organized fashion.
Military and Religious Uniform
When civilizations started growing, and roles between them started to expand further, so too did the need for distinct classification within specific organizations. The greatest examples of this included the military and the education system. While there were smatterings of examples of a uniformed infantry in ancient civilizations, the standardized uniform didn’t really kick off until the Roman Empire. When segmented armor started to become a trend in the first century, it made it much more easy to standardize. Plus, if the military were wearing the same colors, at least they could tell each other apart from their enemy.
There were still custom variations. However, there were some standards, such as colors and rank that were put into place. This idea would expand further until the Ottoman Empire further to specifically assign decoration, color, and uniform design to distinguish rank.
Eventually, when the feudal system was put into place in Europe, the idea of uniforms started to appeal more to religious orders. Monasteries were often secluded areas that were filled with people who were often sent there or volunteered for religious practice and purpose. In order to distinguish people from these orders from the rest of the public, their dress would serve as a symbol of their piety and status. The standardization of such a uniform was also intended to add a sense of humility in practice.
This sort of uniformity carried through to the medical and educational fields once there was more secularization past the point of the Dark Ages. The hegemony of the Church soon ended during the Protestant Reformation, splitting religious and government authority. So, when the vocations started to become separate practices, the dress still carried over into those fields.
Uniforms Expanding Further into Ideology
Uniforms also exist for the distinct purpose of shame and dehumanization. Like a “scarlet letter” if you will. One example was the introduction of adding a required “Star of David” for the Jewish population during Germany in WW2. A more modern day example includes our current prison system. The idea behind the uniform was to induce shame, avoidance, and the dehumanization of the individual.
Later, in Eastern Europe and China, some years later, a collectivist ideology started to spread to different forms of government. This movement sparked the use of everyday uniforms for the entire public to show the devotion of a group of people for the betterment of their country.
Any form of acceptable rebellion oftentimes fell into the realm of embracing an added visual flair or redesign. This has encouraged if not spurred on fashion movements that added a sense of identity among the collective, more or less flipping the ideology on its head.
Capitalism, Branding, and Corporate Apparel
Individual fashion was still a common practice throughout the centuries. The price of materials and product availability would accidentally shape a different kind of standardized dress. One that came through economic status. If you could afford fashion, you would be in the upper class, and if you couldn’t you were a serf.
However, when serfdom became disbanded and the increase of the production of goods and services became a thing through financial backing and entrepreneurship, there was an ability to mass produce clothing like never before. Which meant business and company owners could provide clothing to incentivize people to work in their factories, shops, etc. This was an especially popular practice during England and America’s industrial period that expanded to all kinds of vocations today.
Today’s context for the uniform has shifted in American society to a more capitalist vein. The function of corporate uniform today exists to create a sense of career identity, provide a basic level of safety standards, and to serve as a walking talking advertisement.
The needs of the uniform have flexed themselves from a basic way to identify a person to a classification system that almost boggles the mind. We have yet to know how it will pan out in the near future. However, the journey from proof of a hunt to corporate apparel is a fascinating one.