What Will Apparel Be Like in 100 Years?

One hundred years! Well if I get this article wrong, I probably don’t have to worry about the consequences. It is valuable to look ahead. Looking to the future helps us to write the next chapter. When EPCOT Center opened in Walt Disney World in the early 1980s, it was filled with projections of what is coming in the future across communication, transportation, energy production, food production and more. Many fail to realize that most of the innovations that were projected are the normal life of today.


The pattern in the original EPCOT Center was to look back to about 80-100 years ago. Then we laugh at the imaginings of the distant future that were held during past decades. Depictions of Jules Verne’s space exploration, jet packs, flying cars and video conferencing float by during the rides. Then finally the most realistic, nearly-here technology is demonstrated as something just around the corner.


So that is what we will do, but there is one additional detail when we consider 100 full years away. The thing we can’t forget is that change is accelerating.


Change has never happened this fast before,
and it will never be this slow again.

Graeme Wood Social Principal #9, Geek Media, Sept 29, 2009


The Past

Fashion is quite different today than it was 100 years ago. Between 1910 and 1920 was the tail end of Edwardian fashion and the entry of the Jazz age made famous by the flappers. If you’ve seen the old-style public domain images used in the someecards designs, then you have a clue. This is the style in movies like Pollyanna and Mary Poppins. These styles are quite different from today, but it wasn’t one leap. There were many equally different stops along the path to today.

Watch Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith Mad Men, Brady Bunch, That 70s Show, Family Ties and Friends if you want to take a journey through fashion of the 20th Century. There are many other great examples, but these provide adequate reference.

Predictions From the Past

It is fun to see what fashion designers predicted we’d be wearing in the year 2000. This page and the video on it list several exciting innovations.

  • Clothing that converts for various functions
  • Transparent mesh fabrics
  • Use of materials like glass and aluminum
  • Batman-like utility belts for keeping tools, coins, candy, etc.
  • Temperature-regulating belts

Obviously there are many things that the past got wrong about our present day. If you think about it, there are a few ideas that look very different but actually relate to a prediction or two. We have and have had clothing that converts for functions. Did any of you have a coat with sleeves that unzipped to become a vest, or had a removable layer for slightly cold and very cold weather?

The utility belt, shares some relation to jackets with cell phone pockets and the less fashionable hip packs. Also, in athletic wear there are many innovations in heat retention, moisture wicking, breathable fabric.

So we haven’t been completely wrong in the past. We just usually get the style off a little. It is difficult to project how style and technology will combine.

The Future We See From Here

Current trends in tech and fashion point to a few new directions. Tree huggers predict many things, the main central ideas relating to their ideology are bio-degradable materials made from agricultural products like food production. How novel to take the traditional question asked by flight attendants, “coffee, tea or milk?” and turn those beverage sources into wearable fabrics. There are also many uses for reconstituting recyclable plastic items into synthetic materials.

That same article also points to non-material innovations. The idea that you can be measured with greater precision to experience greater confidence in selecting sizes in online shopping. Your account will hold your measurements, so once recorded, you will easily be able to find items that will fit you. If you’re shopping for someone else who has recorded their size-measurements, you will be able to shop with confidence that this cute little number will look perfect on them!

There are other technological ideas that we’re trying out on clothing concepts. The daily beast points out several novel applications of tech that we are beginning to use today.

Wearable tech is a reasonable direction. Smart clothes that use data to some advantage will likely become useful and practical. Maybe it is recording your movement like a Fitbit, or analyzing your entire golf swing in multiple axes of motion. Or if it is offering information to you as you wear it, like haptic feedback that vibrates to give you prompts to move in a certain direction.

3D Printing, like Virtual Reality, is in that tip of the iceberg phase where we can see only a few of the potential benefits at this point. With detailed 3D measurements of our bodies stored as customer profile data, we will likely be able to order clothing perfectly adjusted to look amazing on us. This isn’t just ordering the right size, but a return to bespoke, tailored solutions that would not have to cost a fortune.

Fabric innovations at the microscopic level are helping to resist moisture and now germs. There may be a time when you won’t need to launder, iron or repair an article of clothing. On the flip side, maybe clothes would be designed to be single-use and biodegrade after one use. Then it is replaced by a new piece delivered the next day by your subscription.

The Leap to 100 Years

We’ve looked at several of the new ideas that we see coming. With the acceleration of change, many of these options will likely be active in the next 20 years. What could possibly be in place at a date five times that far off in the future? Here are some provocative questions to help you think about where we may be when that day arrives:

  • We have people applying permanent makeup to their eye lids using tattoo technology, might there someday be a way to have clothing applied as some form of body modification? Could there be a day when humans can be both naked and dressed for the right need without ever thinking about it? (It is how many animals operate with fur, scales or color-changing skins.)
  • People dress differently all the time for different needs. From business professional, business casual, or a casual day at the amusement park, to your pajama bottoms and flip-flops for your next trip to Walmart, there is not one way to dress like we see in Star Trek’s depiction of uniform future clothing. Will clothing variation grow more diverse or more standard in 100 years?
  • Along the lines of eCommerce and subscriptions, might we in the future plan our wardrobe by calendar? No need for storage or laundering, we would just load our activities into our schedule and clothing will arrive taking the weather forecast into consideration. These items could also fit our interests in terms of our social “likes” with affiliation and marketing messages worked in to help offset some of the cost.
  • Social interaction might also be woven into our clothing. Can you imagine posting to your network that you had a rough day and need a hug, only to be followed by the sensation of your friends giving you that hug, even when they are hundreds of miles away?

All of these things are possible. Even as they are written, I can’t help feel that they are still shy of the one hundred years of change that will transpire by the time we get there. Since so many trends are cyclical, who knows, maybe by that time we will be wearing skins of animals and fig leafs will be all the rage.


Photo credit: Victor Camilo / CC ND 2.0

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