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Monkey See, Monkey Do - Primates Have Fashion Too

Katy Perry
It is said, “Fashion follows function.” In fact, it often does not.

The utilitarian origins of apparel and accessories are fairly obvious. For centuries belts have held up pants, shoes protect the feet, clothes warm and protect the body, and bags carry stuff.
Some origins are less obvious. Egyptians created blue eye makeup to place copper near the eye; small quantities carbonate of copper prevents eye infection. High heels were first worn by men to keep their shoes in horse stirrups and by women to keep their fine shoes above waste in the streets.
Fashion is often a signifier of affiliation, conformity, status or affluence. In 18th century Europe pale skin indicated that you did not have to work outdoors, ergo white makeup was often used. In modern America tanned skin represents that you don’t have to work at a desk all day. Red lips are a sign of good blood circulation and fertility; think lipstick. Saffron colored robes are worn by Buddhists Monks in the city, whereas ochre or brown robes are for forrest monks.
Collegiate caps, gowns, tassels, hoods, stripes each indicate school affiliation, degrees attained, subjects of specialty. And military uniforms denote rank, service, and more which yields military-inspired civilian street wear. The saggy pants of rappers and their fans is said to derive from belts being removed when one enters prison.
I wear a Yankees cap.
I can afford this handbag.
The soles of my shoes are red.
I wear a graphic tee and haircut similar to those of my co-workers and friends.
From pink spiked hair to gluing a “grill” to your teeth some fashion trends defy simple explanation: nonetheless they are authentic social trends and statements.
Know first who you are: and then adorn yourself accordingly. - Epictetus
The sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
When in doubt, wear red - Bill Blass
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. - Mark Twain
So it is not surprising that adorning yourself by dangling a long blade of grass from inside your ear has become popular amongst fashionistas in central Africa. What is interesting is that this fad is being practiced by chimpanzees.
In volume 17, issue #6, November 2014, of the journal “Animal Cognition”, Edwin van Leeuwen of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, writes of his observations of a female chimpanzee named Julie. Julie is a trend setter. She walked around with a long blade of grass in her ear. No adaptive or useful value for this behavior could be determined.
According to the report 80% of Julie’s group began “selecting stiff, straw-like blades of grass, inserting the grass into one of their own ears, adjusting the position, and then leaving it in their ear during subsequent activities.” The trend did not spread to neighboring groups, it was isolated to Julie’s social network.
This fashion statement has legs, in fact the GIEB (grass in ear behavior) continued not only for the next several years of Julie’s life, it continued for two years after her death.
Julie's jewelry may be coming to New York Fashion Week. I may sign the master license before the GIEB trend goes viral.
Time for a short disclaimer: I am in the fashion business. I take fashion and trend very seriously. I appreciate, stimulate, assimilate and monetize great design, trends and fashions that are identified and created by extraordinary talent; talented people with an eye for product and an awareness for trends I can't even imagine. I do not judge; I observe. I am also a student of social psychology. It is my nature to attempt to explain patterns of behavior. Some behaviors are difficult to explain. Fashion is an art and a science. In the words of the US Supreme Court. "I know it when I see it." 
As always, your feedback is welcome.
(c) David J. Katz, New York City
The Journal - "Animal Cognition"
November 2014, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1421-1425 
"A group-specific arbitrary tradition in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)"
Edwin J. C. van LeeuwenKatherine A. CroninDaniel B. M. Haun
This article by David Katz first appeared on LinkedIn


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