Spending on wearable technology is expected to reach $53 billion worldwide by 2019, according to Juniper Research. Sound a bit surprising? Rightly so. At the moment, the wearable tech on the market is seemingly designed for gadget geeks or fitness fanatics, and not much else. Even the Apple Watch leaves little to be desired in the fashion department. So where's all the good-looking stuff we actually want to, you know, wear?
Fortunately we've seen the future, and we can tell you it's not all going to be about smartwatches, pieces of jewelry that flash when our phone rings or virtual reality goggles. The launch of Ralph Lauren's PoloTech T-shirt in August is evidence of the kind of appealing connected technology that is slowly moving into the apparel realm. This one might still be geared towards the athletic market first and foremost – it allows the wearer to capture biometric information including heart rate, breathing rate, steps taken and more – but it's a good move forward.
Fortunately, there's lots of other work being done in science and technology that will change the way we dress. Whether it’s about controlling devices through the cuff of a sleeve, or quickly shortening the length of our skirts for a night out, here's some of the clothing-related technologies you can look forward to in the future.
Clothes that change color
This one is a no-brainer. Why wouldn't we want our white T-shirts to change to a darker grey if we spill something on them, or a polka dot dress to shift to stripes when we spot someone else wearing the same one? In the future, being able to change the color of your look will be easy. The Unseen, a London-based science and design firm, is already experimenting in this space, creating clothes that can change color via app.
Jeans that communicate
Walk into a tech conference, and you'll see lots of people speaking into the Apple Watches on their wrists, a la Inspector Gadget. But interactions with the items on our bodies are about to get even weirder. Next year, Google will launch Project Jacquard with Levi's, weaving conductive yarn into jeans to allow touch interactivity on the fabric itself. The idea is to provide simple functionalities that will free us from using our mobile phones all of the time — like being able to request an Uber, silence our phones, take a selfie or even turn a lightbulb on or off. It might sound wacky now, but more seamless interactions are the way of the future.
Clothes that charge your other devices
Phone-charging jackets and accessories have been out in the market for awhile. Last year, Tommy Hilfiger launched a jacket with a small portable battery and solar panels attached to the back, while Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen has a great looking T-shirt that does the same job. In the future, designers will harness energy from our bodies for a charge.
Jackets with body temperature controls
In everyday clothes, you're often hot one minute and cold the next. Wearable tech's future will be about being able to control your body temperature through your coat. Ever sat in one of those cars with heated seats? Imagine something like that, but far more stylish. And there's no reason why you couldn't then connect your body temperature information from your outerwear with your thermostat at home so your apartment is just the right temperature once you walk in, too.
Styles that shift in shape
Shape-shifting styles are a bit further away in the future, but they're not a complete pipe dream. A video released by Lacoste in 2012 set the tone (see above), showing clothes that shift color, sleeves that lengthen and silhouettes that grow slimmer. This kind of technology is based on complicated fiber science — i.e. changing the molecular structures of textiles — but it's something that researchers at the likes of OMsignal, the technology company behind that PoloTech shirt from Ralph Lauren, are working on. Pauline van Dongen is also exploring how 3D printing can be used to achieve such changes, adapting structural flexibilities so items can be more tightly woven at one point, and more open at another.
It's not impossible to imagine a future where a single dress could change color, sleeve and hem length depending on the occasion; maintain the right temperature in response to the environment; and be used to charge a dying phone battery or send a message to a loved one, too. In the future, we'll be surprised just how little our clothes once did for us.