The verdict is in: the main function of the future generation of fashion will be interactivity. And what we mean by that is control on a level that would have been right at home in a science-fiction novel just a few decades ago. Soon, clothes will be able to obtain and process information, and upon receiving a signal, will start a response mechanism. Bear with me here…
Incoming signals that fashions receive could conceivably come from either outside or inside. The outside signals would be a responsive reaction to environmental factors such as heat, cold, rain, ultraviolet radiation, and mechanical or chemical effects. The inside signals would come from a person, his or her body, or their wishes. Clothes would react differently, either physically or visually, depending on changes in signal or desires. This is a long way off from how technology originally debuted in the world of fashion. It first came onto the field back in 1883, when a ballerina appeared on the stage in an outfit with electric bulbs attached to it; this was an attempt at amplifying the visual effect of the costume. For almost a century afterwards, there was nothing new introduced into the design of a human costume. The traditional materials were utilized, and the covering served the same functions. It only changed styles to follow fashion trends.
But in 1968, the Body Covering exhibit was held in New York City. This exhibit showed new perspectives and technologies in clothes design. The main developments were applied to military and space industries, which is why we had suits for walking in space, fireproof outfits, and fabrics that could protect humans from poison and radiation. After the invention of computers, the clothing industry started its rapid development. Medicine and sports became the leading trends for technological integration. A special vest with built-in sensors called the “Life Shirt System” was developed; the Puma company created running sneakers that could be connected to a personal computer to determine the distance of a run and the amount of burnt calories. However, clothing with built-in batteries and sensors looked cumbersome. It was also difficult to clean such clothes, and therefore it didn’t become mainstream, but was instead used as specialty medical and sports equipment.
The invention of wireless technology opened new horizons for “smart clothing.” A startup company called Sensatex was the first success on the scene when it created a Smart Shirt in 2006. This t-shirt transmitted data on heart rates and breathing to a mobile phone (without being bulky and cumbersome, like its predecessors). In the following years, electronic companies started to create various joint ventures with garment manufacturers. Among the most successful was a jacket designed by Levi Strauss & Co., which was electronically equipped by the Philips company. The jacket was equipped with an MP3 player, cell phone, and remote control.
At the present time, military clothing with electronic support is more in-demand. The military sees enormous potential for military outfits containing a monitoring system for a soldier’s vital signs. Clothing equipped with an electronic locomotion control system (the so-called “exoskeleton”) is becoming more popular. The high-fashion industry has not responded to these opportunities yet, unless you count an outfit capable of changing its color and brightness as such. The next step in the development of smart clothing would be the creation of fabrics that could act as sensors and energy generators. For example, the American company Outlast Technologies has already produced a fabric made of nylon with embedded paraffin capsules. Anything made from this fabric would warm up to the temperature of 20 C and, once introduced into a much colder environment (-20C), would slowly give off the accumulated heat over the course of a few hours. The paraffin capsules turn into liquid in warmer temperatures, and then revert to a solid state (the process of which produces heat for a while) when in cooler surroundings.
One of the most promising directions for these futuristic fabrics is the creation of materials with microcapsules that contain medicinal substances, moisturizing components and herbal extracts. Outfits made of such fabrics could possess healing properties, capable of doing things like disinfecting and healing wounds. Another direction for the manufacturers to go in is to create fabrics capable of storing electric energy that could be later used for charging a phone. In context with these other modern marvels, the creation of a new material capable of rebuilding its own structure doesn’t sound all that impressive, but it could still prove incredibly convenient. Such materials have been created in the United States. Now, a dress made of inexpensive polyurethane material could would fix itself; to start the process, all one needs to do is direct an ultraviolet light-beam to the damaged area.
Once clothing with useful functions starts to become mass-produced, there will be a need for designers capable of creating unique compositions to make such clothing more desirable to the public. This opens up various possibilities for the entire garment industry – chiefly, either to go with the traditional type of clothes design (utilizing materials exhibiting extra useful functions) or to forge ahead with completely different styles, using contemporary, high-tech fabrics to create new forms, shapes, and colors. And perhaps, not just colors, but the incorporation of still photography and video as well. This would bring individuality to the arena and elevate the concepts of clothes design to a new level of creativity, where each individual would be able to invent any desired form or color palette in accordance with his or her current mood and whims.
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