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The Combination of Fashion and Technology: Past, Present and Future

Introduction

Budding trend setters will know that fashion moves in cycles. What is trending one season may well be deemed outdated the next. As there are only a finite number of trends out there, the aim of the fashion world is to continually improve on what already exists. It could be argued that technology and its development is similar. An idea springs to mind and developers take that idea and experiment with it to create an end product, which then over time becomes new and improved. You only have to consider the cell phone to realize that, like fashion, technology experts are constantly seeking ways to make the devices we already own, better, and to improve on existing knowledge.

In fact, upon further consideration, it seems plausible to conclude that there is a distinct correlation between fashion and technology. Taking the example of the cell phone once more, it is currently the trend to own the latest smartphone, capable of far more than your average Nokia 3310 (remember those?). But is it technology that dictates what is fashionable, or is it the other way around? Let’s take a closer look at the combination of technology and fashion, in the past, the present day and what is in store for the future; you’ll notice that there is a complete transition, starting with technology’s influence over fashion, moving to a fusion of the two, followed by technology being controlled by fashion, and finishing once again with technology providing us with the means to access fashion.

PAST - Technology Determining Fashion

The Boom Box

Introduced in the late 1970s, the boom box, also known as ghetto blaster, jam box and radio cassette recorder, allowed the user to take their favorite tunes on the move. The personal stereo experience led to the emergence and popularity of break dancing and hip hop music. One of the reasons for its popularity among the masses was due to the sheer amount of sound power emitted from this portable music device. What’s more, the two cassette decks enabled users to share music. It was possible to play a tape on one deck while recording the music onto another tape using the second deck.

In fact, boom boxes were so popular that they were even written into various movie storylines, including “Say Anything” in which John Cusack holds up a boom box at the end, and “Flashdance”, the popular 80s dancing movie. Those that owned a boom box were considered hip and trendy.

Boom box image

"Despite the growing popularity of the boom box however, technology experts made the decision to further develop this into a more personal experience. This led to the production of the Walkman during the 1990s and a decade later, the iPod. As you can see, our impression of what is fashionable has changed in line with the new technology"

RECENT PAST AND PRESENT – Technology Shaping Fashion

Ways in which technology has recently shaped fashion

As stated above, our impression and ideas about technology and indeed fashionable technology are constantly changing. These changes are generally in line with the rate at which technology is being developed. It’s in our nature to want the newest, most improved technological device. In recent years we have witnessed a somewhat rapid expansion in technology and the ways in which we use it. Here are five ways in which technology has recently (and still is) shaped fashion.


  • Fashion blogs
  • There has been a surge in the number of fashion bloggers in recent years. However, while you may not think their opinion is worth much, many fashion bloggers have become known as the authority on the go-to places for the best buys or the latest must-have trends, and as such, have the power to send a little-known brand new designer straight to the top of the hotshot list. How do they make sure these blogs reach the right people? They use smartphones and tablets to ensure that they can blog on the move, giving them the ability to update their sites instantly.
  • Live streamed fashion shows
  • In the past, you would only have access to a fashion show if you were rich, part of the industry, or a media spokesperson. Nowadays however, they are streamed live to each location. And perhaps even better for us, it’s possible to buy the catwalk designs at the touch of your smartphone button, thanks to the Runway to Reality app from Burberry.
  • Digital fitting rooms
  • It no longer matters if you can’t get to a store before closing time as you can access your favorite stores online. What’s more, the worry about not being able to try something on has evaporated due to the emergence of digital fitting rooms. Take the example of trying on a ring – simply print the digitally coded photo, cut out the image and place it on your finger. By holding your hand in front of the webcam, the programme’s in-built software will show you what your hand would look like with the real ring. Moreover, hair dressing salons can now show you a 3D image of a particular hairstyle before you brave the chop, so you need never worry about salon disasters again.
  • QR codes
  • A QR code contains an in-built link to the company website of the product. By scanning the code on a garment with your smartphone, you will be directed to the web page where you can find out further details and styling suggestions for the item in question – great if you’re short of time.
  • High-tech clothing
  • The development of fabric batteries, placed within clothing items, means that you can power a computer through your coat or your jacket. More advanced forms of this technology enable you to recharge your MP3 device or smartphone with your jacket. There has also been research into textile batteries, capable of heating clothing – think how useful that would be in the winter.

PRESENT – Fusion of Technology and Fashion

Fashionable Technology

There is currently a trend that sees the fusion of both fashion and technology. Indeed, fashion designers are starting to embrace the possibilities that technology can offer, in order to create innovative new designs and to raise the bar in terms of functional design.

Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht has been earmarked for her intriguing and forward-thinking designs in the fashionable technology industry. In an interview about how her work embodies this new industry, she said

"[technology is] like a playground, a place of experiment, and as you dive deeper and deeper into the technology and systems it rewards you with endless possibilities."

Ms Wipprecht undertook a project for cocktailmaking robot festival, RoboExotica and won an award for ‘communication/ best interaction’ her ‘cocktailmaking dress’, which she called DareDroid. It works by offering the user a cup of juice while sensing them via the IR-sensor collar. The user must complete a game of truth or dare and the dress uses your results to provide you with your favorite alcohol, mixed with the juice. Who knows, it may even be faster than ordering in a bar.

Ladies fashion.

Since winning that award, the fashion designer has gone on to conceive Pseudomorphs (self-painting dresses), allowing the wearer to self-customize her dress using in-built technology and use this form of self-expression to create a statement outfit.

Wearable technology

Let’s consider the concept of technology as a fashion statement. We use our technological devices to make a subconscious fashion statement on a day-to-day basis. But we also use technology to reveal more about our identities and our personal preferences. Whether you prefer Android or Apple will determine which smartphone you buy, and whether you listen to music on your iPod or via your MP3 player. Similarly, what we wear can be seen as a public show of our personalities. The true style setters will never be seen in the same outfit twice, and will always be on the look-out for the next best thing in the fashion world.

So what if we were to combine the two and make a personal statement to the world through wearable computing?

Take a look at the dresses below. They were designed and created in the Textiles Nanotechnology laboratory of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The brown and blue shades were not produced using pigment or dye however; instead, the experts coated natural cotton fibers with nanoparticles and the individual colors developed as a result of the interaction between matter and light between the nanoparticles.


Dresses designed and created in the Textiles Nanotechnology laboratory of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The more innovative among the fashion designers and engineers working together on such projects have begun to incorporate “smart textiles” into their designs, resulting in clothing items that do not simply contain devices, but which actually embody the devices.

The way we think of clothing in our everyday lives is changing. The continual improvement of technologies and their incorporation into fashionable clothes not only signifies a true merging of both fashion and technology, but poses the question as to what could possibly be thought up next. The sky is indeed the limit where fashionable technology is concerned.

Role reversal - Is technology relying on fashion to become popular?

Whereas in the past, it was the new technologies that determined the fashion trends, there has recently been a role reversal, with technology coming to rely on fashion to become popularized. Take for instance, the development of Google Glass. Many people may not necessarily want to put on a pair of technical glasses as it can be seen to distort their actual image – and we all know that glasses have had stigma attached to them in the past, only recently becoming known as ‘fashionable’.

While this piece of technology is certainly impressive, and as such, the most sought-after piece of equipment among technology geeks, it seems as though the initial reaction from the rest of the population has been somewhat hesitant and resistant. After all, why would you want to be seen wearing glasses if you don’t currently wear them? And what implications does it have for those who already wear glasses?

This is one area where technology looks to the world of fashion for help. Top fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg’s models were photographed wearing Google Glass on the catwalk, in a bid to popularize Google’s new technology among the masses. It is widely believed that, as fashion shows have the power to influence what people wear, so can they encourage people to get on board the new ‘technological craze’ from Google. It is interesting to note therefore, that the more innovative technology becomes, the more heavily it seems to rely on the fashion world for exposure and normalization.

NEAR-FUTURE – Technology Needs Fashion to Survive

3D Printed Dresses

Dita Von Teese was chosen to model the first 3D printed dress.

Although we are currently only in the primary stages as far as wearable technology is concerned, Credit Suisse has predicted that the industry will have “a significant and pervasive impact on the economy [with the trend estimated to be] worth up to $50 billion over the next three to five years”. For that to become a reality however, it is imperative that the world of technology joins forces with the fashion industry. Failing to do so could well result in wearable technology remaining unpopular among the majority and thus relatively unaffordable. In the image of Dita Von Teese, the decision to choose someone of high influence in the world of fashion will have been made in order to persuade the public that technology is indeed wearable.

Let’s take a look at some of the companies and initiatives currently looking towards fashion to popularize their technology.

  • Cutecircuit.com
  • The founders of cutecircuit.com decided to market the idea of wearable technology and incorporate a combination of technological elements with high fashion in order to create garments for self-expression purposes. Katy Perry bought a custom-made dress that flashes to the beat of her songs, while Nicole Scherzinger modelled the Twitter dress at the launch of mobile company EE – the dress featured real-time tweets illuminated around her body.
  • Rosella, founder of the company, made it clear that technology developers should avoid the geeky look. She uses Google Glass as a supporting example, stating “the idea is great, but I would have done something cooler for the interface. Maybe a bracelet that projects onto the walls. At least you won’t look dorky”.
  • IC Tomorrow
  • Technology Strategy Board Programme IC Tomorrow has announced an $185,000 (£120,000) competition which encourages competitors to create their own prototypes from scratch – the stipulation is that it has to be a fusion of fashion and digital technology.
  • Material ConneXion
  • In an interview with wired.co.uk about the merging of technology and fashion, the company said: “All technologies that permit customisation of the final product are the technologies of the future”.
  • Fashion Digital Studio
  • Although our knowledge of technology is expanding, and more and more people are becoming aware of the various possibilities offered by technology, it seems as though the main trend from now on will err towards subtle. Senior research fellow of the Fashion Digital Studio, Simon Thorogood, believes that fashion can teach technology about expressiveness and self-expression. He stresses that we have already witnessed a decline in the public’s extraversion. Thanks to social networking sites, it has become the norm to display all personal information to the world. However, rather than wholeheartedly accepting this, Thorogood maintains that the general public are beginning to lean the other way, with companies such as Facebook reportedly losing users in their millions each month. This “retractive trend” he says, has emerged, with people wishing to create a sense of mystery.
Nicole Scherzinger. Photo credit: cutecircuit.com

Photo credit: cutecircuit.com

Going into the future then, is a trend for technology to be both open and closed. Recent media start-up companies such as Path and Diaspora highlight this new trend, with Path users only permitted a total of 150 connections, while Diaspora enables a user to create their own social network.

FUTURE – Fashion Influences Technology

Fashion Makes Technology Accessible

Taking the premise that technology is now relying on fashion, it seems as though in the future, it will be fashion influencing technology. You may wonder what the reason is for this sudden turnaround. One possibility stems from the fact the fashion itself is not copyrighted. This is why it is so easy for the more affordable fashion chains to sell near-replicas of the haute couture collections seen on the catwalks. In doing so, fashion is made more accessible to a wider audience very quickly. There is an argument therefore that technology needs the help of fashion in order to be able to reach a wider public.

Bionic fashion

As our reliance upon technology continues to increase, it is likely that in the future, our need for wearable technology will become imperative. Experts in the field of wearable technology have begun to develop fashionable machines to allow us to go about our everyday lives more easily. Here are just some examples of what the future has in store:

Swedish helmet
  • The Hövding (Swedish bicycle helmet)
  • Nobody likes to have to wear a bike helmet – if nothing else, it is considered to be the height of unfashionable. However, it is important that we wear such things for our safety when cycling. This Swedish cycle helmet however, is to be worn as a collar, eliminating the inevitability of being tormented for looking dorky, and removing all possibility of “helmet hair”. In the event of an accident, the collar inflates into a protective airbag-like helmet.
  • The Smoke Dress
  • If you’ve ever been approached unwittingly by a stranger in a club, then the smoke dress may well be the garment for you. The work of Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht, the smoke dress emits a cloud of smoke when it senses an approaching person, thus totally hiding the wearer from view.
Smoke Dress
  • The NFC Ring
  • Perhaps modelled on the notion developed by JRR Tolkien, this ring really does have the power to control everything. It can be used to unlock doors, share links on social networks, unlock phones, share pictures, and more, without the need for charging.
NFC-Ring

Technology needs to meet user demand

Additionally, there are reasons to predict that in the future, there will be a greater demand for ethically produced, environmentally-friendly clothing. As our knowledge of science and technology increases, people are taking more of a stand when it comes to preserving and protecting the environment. By using nanotechnology, as with the blue and brown dress that was discussed above, technology experts will be able to create colorful clothing with no need for pigment dyes, thus limiting our overall carbon and water footprint.

Our lives are set to become even more fast-paced, and as such, we are likely to rely even more heavily on technology than we already do, to improve our knowledge and to manage our everyday chores more efficiently. Computer-aided design can help by speeding up the process of clothes manufacturing. All of this points to a world in which technology is there to aid people. This idea can be expanded further to suggest that in the future, technology will combine with fashion to meet a user demand.

Eco-friendly fashion

If you’re intrigued by the combination of fashion and technology, the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to wait for the designers to come up with all of the ideas, as the recipe for making biodegradable clothing has been uncovered. What are the magic ingredients? A mixture of green tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast is all it takes.

Suzanne Lee is a fashion designer who has come up with a failsafe way to grow her own clothes. And the best thing is that over time and with increased wear, the garments will start to naturally erode away, so you’ll no longer have a cluttered up closet and you won’t have to throw any old clothes in the garbage or take them down to charity to recycle them. What’s more, the production of such garments will dramatically lessen our carbon footprint over time, helping to preserve the environment for future generations. The next task is to find a way to prolong the “life” of these biodegradable clothes.

Forum For The Future

A charity has emerged in the UK whose work focuses on creating fashion to provide us with a sustainable future. Forum for the future envisages four possible scenarios for fashionable technology that could form our everyday lives in the year 2025:

  • Slow is beautiful
  • Slow and sustainable trading measures will be considered fashionable. With low consumption of carbon, there will be greater emphasis on sustainable lifestyles with customers willing to pay extra for high-quality, sustainable clothing items. All clothes will be made using organic natural fibers and will be washed at lower temperatures to save the planet. When we no longer wish to use the clothes, we will return them to the store where we bought them and they will be remanufactured.
  • Community couture
  • High tech systems provide global shoppers with speedy access to fashion. Clothes will be made at home or in local recycling centers and once we no longer have use for them, we will sell them back to the manufacturer to reuse and to give our income a much-needed boost. Nothing will be trashed and everything must be re-used due to shortage of resources. There will be a large emphasis on the community working together.
  • Techno-chic
  • We become more focused on local communities and lessen our resource consumption. Everyone is wealthy due to a decrease in materialism. Fashions move quickly and are cheap to buy. We will try on clothes using 3D body scanners with virtual mirrors and interactive screens. Technology will ensure we are given sustainable solutions for fashion.
  • Patchwork planet
  • There will be fast consumption within a spectrum of global cultures. Asia will be the richest area with the most cultural power. Regional trends will influence fashion and clothes will be purchased online via cell phones – customers will have the opportunity to customize their clothes before they buy. Each global culture will guard its secrets to sustainability and the world will be unable to cope with environmental constraints.

The conclusions that the charity have come to is that although fashion can play a large role in influencing people to become more environmentally friendly, unless the industry alters its ways, it is unlikely to be sustainable in the future. The charity thus argues that the world of fashionable technology can learn what must be done in order to avoid the patchwork planet scenario from occurring. By becoming an industry that puts effort into production using low-carbon methods and fair-trading measures, it argues that fashion can hopefully shape our future for the better.

Technology for prevention as well as protection

Projects are currently already underway to create fashion (fused with technological elements) that fights off the development of Malaria. Until now, the only prevention methods against malaria have been to use mosquito nets and repellent sprays. However, Matilda Ceesay has taken this one step further and designed clothing that can prevent malaria using smart fabrics that are pre-infused with insecticide crystals. Research has shown that this method is more durable and in fact far safer than the use of insect repellent spray.

Upon consideration, it is impressive just what is possible when technology and fashion merge. The future could see us owning special garments to prevent us from getting sick, or clothes that change color according to our personal preferences, such as favorite soccer teams. There is an upcoming trend it would seem, for wearable technology to aid us in our self-expression.

Full Circle – Technology Making it Easier to Shop

  • WhoWhatWear
  • This style blog offers users concise editorial content about the latest trends and fashions worn by top celebrities, giving users the ability to steal the style of their favorite star.

Apps That Provide Access to Fashion

The final part of this study sees fashion and technology coming full circle, with technology providing the user with easier access to fashion. The following apps are currently available to assist users when it comes to shopping for clothes.

Wish - Shopping Made Fun App

Wish

Over 10 million people use Wish to enhance their shopping experience. Create a Wishlist and receive special offers and gift cards direct from the merchants for your list of desired items. The app now also features a new update allowing users to sell their own clothing items or to shop for products being sold by other users.

ShopStyle App

Shop Style

This app is really useful for budget-conscious shoppers, as it compiles items from over 100 online retailers to ensure you get the lowest price on your purchases.

Upper Street Shoe Designer App

Upper Street

Offering a portable shoe studio, users of this app are able to personally design their own footwear, which is available to purchase afterwards. Try it today and have fun mixing different styles, colors and heel heights to create your perfect shoe.

Live From the Red Carpet App

Live From The Red Carpet

Want to know instantly which look your favorite star has rocked up to the awards ceremonies in? Check out the awards video coverage and live streams straight from the red carpet with this nifty app.

Shazam App

Shazam

Earlier this year there were rumors abound that the brains behind music identifying app, Shazam, are currently working on new technology which will provide users with instant details of where strangers’ clothing comes from. The company is also planning to create another version which will be compatible with TV. Disappointingly, Shazam’s makers have come out and denied its existence. Don’t be too disappointed though – a group of brainy college kids of Cortexica, a company based at Imperial College in the UK, have used similar technology to create the Find Similar service, reported to do the same job as the rumored Shazam app. So the next time you envy someone’s clothes, you’ll be able to use the app to find out more about the outfit.

Summary

So there you have it; we have witnessed the collision of both the technological and fashion worlds. Having begun with the dominance of technology, we’ve noticed a complete role-reversal with fashion seeming to have more power, before coming full circle once again with technology helping us to access fashion.
Who knows exactly what the future holds? We may well see the firm implementation of wearable technology.