Wearing tech: Where fashion meets technology

Wearing tech: Where fashion meets technology

Professor Lucy Dunne recently started teaching wearable technology and apparel design at the University of Minnesota's School of Design. "The wonderful thing about the position is that it's actually titled a 'wearable technology position.' That might be the first time I've ever seen that, so it's definitely new and definitely an exciting development," Dunne says.

Although it may seem so, wearable technologies are not new. In the 1880s, the first hearing aids were developed. A wearable computer was tested in 1961 at a Las Vegas casino, by Edward O. Thorp and Claude E. Shannon, who created a pocket-sized analog computer used for predicting roulette wheels." CuteCircuit made headlines in 2006 with its "Hug Shirt", in which sensors, set off by the heat of skin, touch and your heartbeat, "give a hug" to another person. And don't forget the pocket watch, which debuted in the 1500s, though wristwatches hit the mainstream when British soldiers wore them at the front in World War I.

"Expression is arguably the most important function of clothing today -and arguably one of the key reasons we wear clothes at all, historically speaking- and it seems natural that technology will eventually influence the ways in which we express ourselves and communicate through clothing," Dunne says.

It's hard to isolate the exact tipping point that's caused this recent uptick in interest in the field, but wearable technology, or "wearables," as insiders refer to the field, have caught the attention of many designers from the textile and engineering industries. Designer Moritz Waldemeyer suggests that designer Hussein Chalayan's collections shown in Paris during the past two years has something to do with it. Chalayan, one of the few internationally renowned fashion designers to incorporate technology into his creations-dresses that mechanically morph (one with a motorized rising and falling hemline), and and more recently, a few garments that emit light using lasers-has shown the fashion industry the different aesthetic technology can bring to designs.

When textile designer Kerri Wallace discusses what she sees as a growing trend in the use of technologies in the fashion world, she uses words that evoke change and embedded intelligence. Wallace says that the tipping point occurred with, "the excitement of items and products being intelligent and moving this intelligence away from conventional predominately 'hard' products, with the possibility and potential to become 'soft,' 'flexible' and 'invisible.'"

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