If there was one thing that sci-fi writers of the past were sure about it was that spandex cat suits, gold or silver, would be de rigueur when it came to clothing in the 21st century. Sadly, none of them seem to have predicted a global obesity crisis, which, if it continues to escalate, may well prevent this particular mode du jour from catching on.
High cut, low cut, flared, tapered, hip hugging or high waisted. There are only so many ways you can cut a pair of trousers and yet we use our clothes to express our individuality, our allegiance to tribes or for the most part, just to blend in.
As technology empowers individual choices in more and more aspects of our lives, what will be the impact on clothing and fashion 25 years from now?
1. New materials and fashion tech
As with all industries in the future, sustainability is at the heart of the manufacturing process. In addition to 3D printing, which became mainstream about 10 years ago, there are a number of material innovations at play. Animal skin or ‘leather’ as it used to be known has been replaced by fabrics made from thick fruit skins such as pineapple and melon. As part of humanity’s wider adoption of plant-based living, fabrics made from tea, palm leaves and coffee beans have also proven a versatile alternative to cotton and polymers for everyday wear.
We already have fabrics that keep us warm or protect us from UV, so the main advancement in 2044 is fabrics that actually respond to outside stimulus. For example, lightweight garments made from materials that harden upon impact to protect the wearer will be widely used by those people whose jobs put them at high risk of personal injury, such as police officers.
2. Always tailored
No more lying in the bath in a pair of Shrink To Fits (this was actually a thing; look it up if you are not convinced). By 2044 it is likely that our clothing will be adaptable and updateable on any particular day. Most of us will have a 3D printer at home and a range of materials at hand to cover everyday clothing necessities. Tech-embedded materials allow us to change their colour to suit our mood and the occasion via our smart devices. In addition, our vital statistics, styles and preferences will be stored and monitored, so when it comes to buying something a little bit more high-end your walk-in store will be able to manufacture something specific to you while you wait. The label won’t have a size, it will just have your name. This data will have major benefits for designers and manufacturers looking to widen their customer base beyond the owners of a small number of physically unattainable body types.
3. Utility redefined
Utility wear has moved on from strong-grip soles and support tights. Clothing in the future will literally allow you to generate your own power supply. You are not about to plug in your trousers and cook a lasagne but thermoelectric generators embedded in the fabric will convert your body’s heat energy to electricity to power small devices such as a smart phone or heart monitor.
In addition, nanotechnology will allow manufacturers to embed function into articles of clothing that will act as a digital skin. This type of body ‘OS’ will connect to the wider internet so that your clothing can act as both an activator (think signalling to your home that you have arrived), as a reporter (letting your healthcare provider know you are experiencing high blood pressure) and even as an administrator (drug-dispensing underwear).
4. Old socks never die
Which is going to be bad news for charity shops in the future. As 3D printing becomes a staple function in the manufacturing process and sustainability one of its pillars, old clothes are hardly ever going to be thrown away. Fast fashion will still be desired, but its environmental impact will be minimised through the recycling of materials at both individual and industrial levels.
Like so many facets of our lives, clothing and fashion are merely a reflection, a response if you will, to the wider world around us. So, for example, as our working practices have become more flexible and not always tied to a desk, the nature of what’s appropriate work wear has changed. My dad had eight suits. I have one. For special occasions.
The paradox is that it is in the nature of human beings to express individuality while being part of a group. Clothing and fashion in the future will continue to be a part of that expression, only helping us do it better through technology and materials innovation.
Though as the saying goes, ‘Fashion is what you buy. Style is what you do with it.’