A feature of nearly all human societies is the wearing of clothing or clothes, a category encompassing a wide variety of materials that cover the body. The primary purpose of clothing is functional, as a protection from the elements. Clothes enhance safety during activity by providing a barrier between the skin and the environment. Clothing also acts as a hygenic barrier, keeping toxins away from the body and limiting the transmission of bacteria and viruses. Outside of their purely functional purpose, clothes often play an important social and cultural role. Most socieities develop norms about modesty, religious practices, behaviroal appropriateness, social status, and even political affiliations in which clothes play an important role. Finally, clothing functions as a form of adornment and an expression of personal taste or style.
Throughout history clothes have been made of materials ranging from natural grasses and furs to elaborate and exotic synthetic compounds. Some recent scientific research involving lice estimates that humans have been wearing clothing for as long as 650,000 years. In addition to clothing, people also decorate their bodies with makeup or cosmetics, scented perfume, and other ornamentation; they cut, dye, and arrange the hair on their heads, faces, and bodies (see hairstyle), and sometimes also mark their skin (by tattoos, scarifications, and piercings). All of these may contribute to the overall effect and message of clothing, but they do not constitute clothing.
Articles carried rather than worn (such as purses, canes, and umbrellas) are normally considered fashion accessories rather than clothing, but hats and small dress sweaters can be called clothing or accessories. Jewelry and eyeglasses are usually considered as accessories as well,even though in common speech these particular items are described as being worn rather than carried.