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I don't think "sheep" is a collective noun. The singular and the plural just happen to be homonyms, but they're still singular and plural.
I think a better example is "people". You don't usually say "peoples" unless you mean it in the sense of "nations" or "races".
But I think you're correct about "gli abbigliamenti".
They're pretty much synonymous but "clothes" tends to refer to a specific set of recogniseable clothes (e.g. "I have a lot of clothes in my wardrobe" or "I like shopping for clothes") whereas "clothing" is a more general term for any body covering (e.g. "cavemen didn't wear clothing" or "most clothing is made from fabric"). It's very subtle though, and as a native speaker it's hard for me to clearly explain the difference!
The difference may vary by region, but for me (native speaker of American English), clothing refers to the concept and clothes to specific items. I have clothes in my closet, but the industry responsible for creating them is the clothing industry. It would sound weird to compliment (or insult) my outfit by calling it my “clothing”; I would probably assume anyone who did that was a non-native speaker. It’s subtle - you could refer to my taste in clothing.
I think of it as similar to one of the the differences between “sport(s)” and “game”. You don’t say “I’m going to the sport on Saturday.”
Because it's technically "Lo abbiglamento". A masculine noun that begins with a vowel always takes the article "lo". But it gets shortened. Lo animale --> L'animale Lo orologio --> L'orologio Lo uomo --> L'uomo And "lo" becomes "gli" for plural. Gli animali Gli orologi Gli uomini
How is it plural?
In English, "clothing" is an uncountable noun; you can't have "a clothing" or "two clothings", just "some clothing". Semantically, it's neither singular nor plural, but syntactically, it is singular: you say "the clothing is", not *"the clothing are". The same is true of Italian `abbigliamento'.
In English we can also say "clothes", which is also uncountable: you can't have "a clothe" or "two clothes", just "some clothes". This word is semantically neither singular nor plural, but unlike clothing, it's syntactically plural: "the clothing is" vs "the clothes are". Italian "i vestiti" works much the same way; the difference is that "vestiti" is also the regular plural of "il vestito", the dress.
It’s masculine. Words starting with a vowel always get «l’,» regardless of gender. (For masculine nouns it’s short for «lo», which also shows up unabbreviated in front of masculine words starting with a consonant cluster. There’s more to masculine singular than just «il »!)