Fashioning the Future

What do our clothes tell us about technology?

James Gilray, “Following the Fashion.” Source: Library of Congress

For centuries, clothes have inspired trade and technology. The silk road gave us Marco Polo and the Age of Exploration; the Industrial Revolution gave us spinning mills in England and New England; Intense, basic black fabrics in the early 20th century stimulated the chemical industry; synthetic fibers like rayon and nylon made wrinkle-free clothes possible and built the DuPont company.

Everyone’s excited by smart watches and FitBits, but clothes are the original wearable tech. Whether it’s sweats or jeans or khakis, our clothes now combine natural, synthetic, and micro-fibers to make them more comfortable, cheaper, and better looking. But we don’t think of high fashion as high-tech.

But tech and textiles have been interwoven ever since the Athena was considered the goddess of both wisdom and weaving. Textiles illustrate a general point about technology: the more we use something, the more we take it for granted. We love (and hate) our phones, but flat screen TVs are ho-hum.

In the future, we should expect more interaction between our garb and our gear: shirts that have cellular antenna fabric woven through them, or clothes that use our own motion to generate electricity, where the material becomes a wearable textile circuit.

Shakespeare once noted, “The apparel proclaims the man.” Today we might say, “Our fashion is our future.”

Douglas Tengdin, CFA

Charter Trust Company

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