For a while, the word "wearable" was the exclusive domain of compulsive exercise fiends who didn't think LiveStrong bands made enough of a statement. But a new breed of wearable - in the form of technology-integrated-clothing - is now threatening to invade our wardrobes.
Time will tell whether it's the dawning of a mere trend, or a freaky facet of the future we all need to accept. If it's the former, we might look back on this period with the same level of disdain we now apply to bellbottom jeans.
However, smart-clothing may have too many positives to ignore (even if we end up with future generations of The Six Million Dollar Man. Though it's tempting to think it's all about enabling easier options for basic smartphone interaction, wearable tech can yield invaluable insights into our health.
Functional fad or future of fashion, 2016 seems to be the year where it all begins.
Your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle
New concepts in wearable clothing technology are being formulated by the least likely sources. EasyJet recently threw their bright orange hat in the ring with 'Sneakairs': a pair of trainers which connect to Google Maps, guiding you to your destination by making the relevant shoe vibrate.
You can even use a smartbelt to keep your trousers up and find out how long you've spent on your ass. In the last few months alone, companies have extolled the virtues of smartphone-integrated rings, a bluetooth-integrated tampon and a smart motorcycle helmet.
Digital denim: smart or casual?
Ever since James Dean donned a pair in Rebel Without a Cause, selvedge denim jeans have become the stuff of slavish obsession for denim aficionados. Unlike regular denim, raw selvedge gains its unique "vintage" aesthetic through the rough-and-tumble of everyday life. It's a huge aspect of its appeal.
But for the denimheads of tomorrow, the only 'perfect fades' to be associated with denim will be the ones that occur when synced with a music player. For this, we can thank the union of digital behemoths Google and denim behemoths Levi's. Together, they're unleashing the hybrid breed of digi-denim upon the world - one which finally makes the musty old jean jacket relevant to millennials.
The Levi's Commuter x Jacquard is a denim jacket with in-built sensors, which link the wearer's motions to different smartphone functions. Swiping across your cuff accepts or declines calls, stroking the sleeve controls the volume of music, and turning up the collar makes you look like you're trying too hard.
Effectively, the jacket is a mute, but harder-wearing version of Siri. With buttons and cuffs. But what's the real purpose of a digital denim jacket? Is it really necessary, or just the result of an unlikely collaboration between two talented entities, pushing their obsessions to the illogical extreme, like Lou Reed and Metallica, or Chas and Dave?
The logical next step?
Despite wearable technology's more outlandish applications, it's easy to forget that wearable electronics have existed for a long time (and without pun names) - think hearing aids.
The medical use of wearables, particularly in America, depends primarily on approval from governing bodies like the FDA. However, developments like these as-yet nameless "stretchy circuits", which adhere to a patient's skin, could become 5G wireless replacements for ECG wires. Google have also patented contact lenses with a built-in sensor for your body's glucose levels; early reports have suggested that this data will be read either via a smartphone, jewelry or even smart clothing. Perhaps the digital denim will find its true use in medicine, of all fields.
Likewise, Project Underskin - so ominously-named, you almost wish they had gone with a pun - can be implanted in two parts of the hand, and monitor "key health metrics like glucose levels," while also allowing you to share data with other users. Fortunately, the project's founder Gadi Amit (the evil genius who introduced the world to the Fitbit) says this technology is "about five years from being real," but the prospect of 2021 being the year we all become pseudo-robots doesn't make the future look any less freaky.
Bearing this in mind, the incorporation of wearable technology into a traditional item of clothing isn't actually that weird. It's just a convenient way to enhance the accessibility of extremely useful tech.
Rocking the Robocop look will be mainly optional, not mandatory for those interested in fusing technology with clothing.
With innovative smart-clothing designs aiming to become more integrated with traditional fashion, they'll become harder to detect as the life-enhancing gadgets they promise to be. So smart-clothing probably won't make us look ridiculous after all, and its usefulness looks to be assured (most of the time) - further proof that this industry is growing progressively out of sight in more ways than one.
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