Our Fibers, Our Selves

What do our clothes say about us?

Illustration from “The Penny Magazine,” 1843, Source: Wikimedia

For millenia, clothes have inspired new technology. Cotton has been spun, woven, and dyed since prehistoric times. Marco Polo pioneered the Silk Road and the Age of Exploration. Spinning mills in England and New England were at the center of the Industrial Revolution. Demand for “Basic Black” fashions stimulated the chemical industry in the 20th century.

Everyone’s excited by the latest smart watch or FitBit, 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.

Apple watch. Photo: Igor Ovsyannykov. Source: Pixabay.

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 smart-phones, but flat screen TVs are ho-hum.

In the future, we should expect more interaction between our garb and our gear: shirts with biometric sensors built in, or clothes that use our own motion to generate electricity, where the material becomes a wearable textile circuit. These new technologies will arrive because we want them. And they don’t need a massive government program to become reality.

A century ago, a young Oliver Hardy was in a silent film entitled, “The Clothes Make the Man.” Today we might say, “Fashion is the future.”

Douglas Tengdin, CFA

Charter Trust Company

[category Global Market Update]

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