The primary purpose of clothing is functional, as a protection from the elements. Clothes also enhance safety during hazardous activities such as hiking and cooking, by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Further, clothes provide a hygienic barrier, keeping toxins away from the body and limiting the transmission of germs.
Clothing performs a range of social and cultural functions, such as individual, occupational and sexual differentiation, and social status. A uniform, for example, may identify civil authority figures, such as police and military personnel, or it may identify team, group or political affiliations. In many societies, norms about clothing reflect standards of modesty, religion, gender, and social status. Clothing may also function as a form of adornment and an expression of personal taste or style.
Throughout history, many materials have been used for clothes. Materials have ranged from leather and furs, to woven materials, to elaborate and exotic natural and synthetic fabrics. Recent scientific research estimates that humans have been wearing clothing for as long as 650,000 years. Others claim that clothing probably did not originate until the Neolithic Age (the “New Stone Age”).
It can be said that there are five primary factors in clothing comfort, “identifiable as the ‘4 Fs of Comfort’ (1) fashion; (2) feel; (3) fit; and (4) function.  One of the primary purposes of clothing is to keep the wearer comfortable. In hot climates, clothing provides protection from sunburn or wind damage, while in cold climates its thermal insulation properties are generally more important. Shelter usually reduces the functional need for clothing. For example, coats, hats, gloves, shoes, socks, and other superficial layers are normally removed when entering a warm home, particularly if one is residing or sleeping there. Similarly, clothing has seasonal and regional aspects, so that thinner materials and fewer layers of clothing are generally worn in warmer seasons and regions than in colder ones.
Clothing protects people against many things that might injure the uncovered human body. Clothes act as protection from the elements, including rain, snow and wind and other weather conditions, as well as from the sun. Clothes also reduce the level of risk during activity, such as work or sport. Clothing at times is worn as protection from specific environmental hazards, such as insects, noxious chemicals, weapons, and contact with abrasive substances. Conversely, clothing may protect the environment from the clothing wearer, as with doctors wearing medical scrubs.
Humans have shown extreme inventiveness in devising clothing solutions to environmental hazards. Some examples include: space suits, air conditioned clothing, armor, diving suits, swimsuits, bee-keeper gear, motorcycle leathers, high-visibility clothing, and other pieces of protective clothing. Meanwhile, the distinction between clothing and protective equipment is not always clear-cut, since clothes designed to be fashionable often have protective value and clothes designed for function often consider fashion in their design.