Huggy Shirts

In the future, your handbag will yell at you if you leave the house without your wallet. Your umbrella will nag you to bring a scarf. Your shirt will hug you, on its own, and you will have deep, meaningful, existentialist text-message conversations with your jacket. All your clothes, most likely, will glow in the dark. But only if you ask them to.Seriously.The clothes were designed at the MIT Media Lab and were on the catwalk at SIGGRAPH’s summer CyberFashion show, where it was all about “smart fashion.” Which is to say, fashion that has some kind of technology built into it. Take for example the aforementioned Hug Shirt made by the CuteCircuit company. A girl wearing a Hug Shirt in, say, L.A. can send a long-distance hug to a guy wearing a Hug Shirt in Fiji. Sensors embedded in one shirt measure the strength of touch, skin warmth and heart­beat of one wearer and send the physical sensation of a hug to actuators in the shirt of another wearer. In person, the shirt is white, with long sleeves, and orange circles the size of bologna slices stitched on here and there. “Hugs could be exchanged between people running the Hug Software in their mobile phones,” said the fashion show host, a woman named Psymbiote. Psymbiote frequently referred to herself in the third person and called herself a cyborg. “You may have noticed my new cybercollar,” she said. Her voice echoed in the large, boxlike hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “It’s responding to my voice. I enjoy wearing my body signals on the outside. Like my heart rate on my sleeves. Yes, that’s my actual heart rate you’re seeing flash.” Eventually, she wants to have tiny magnets implanted beneath the pads of her fingertips. Why? Just because.On the runway, skinny girls with tiny blinged-out television screens around their necks modeled the Medulla Intimata video-jewelry collection. The images on screen, we were told, change depending on the tone of your voice. Next came the Emotional Ties, neckties and sashes with little sensors that read your body language, and can detect if you think someone is cute, or hot, or sexy. If the male adjusts his tie or a female smooths the fabric around her waist, a melody and LED animation play on the other’s garment.LED lights were everywhere. Literally everywhere, like on the antennae affixed to the models’ heads, and pulsing on the heels of tennis shoes, and embedded into corsets, and twinkling in the audience on phones and digital cameras. Instead of Madonna in the front row, or Gwyneth, or Paris, it was computer graphics geeks and programmers. Midway through the show, Psymbiote’s teleprompter headgear malfunctioned and she had to resort to a copy of the script written on paper. “Paper,” she sneered.I should also mention that in the future we will be very, very paranoid. Dr. Lizbeth Goodman of SMARTLab Centre modeled her own designs, a glove and corset with hidden triggers that let the wearer signal for help discreetly. She had beautiful, long blond hair that flowed in a tantalizing way as she walked. She, I thought, might want to invest in a pair of the Plexiglas sandals with integrated electric stun gun. Because where fashion’s concerned, you can never have too many basics. Following the doctor was a young girl in a Victorian pinafore with built-in location tracker and biomonitor, and another girl wearing a wristband (camouflaged as a stuffed puppy head) that was actually a GPS device. “Cinderella is no longer without defenses,” said our host, “she can go out and enjoy the world without fear, without losing her innocence.” Beside me, a man who worked in network security cooed over a trench coat — in bright coral pink — that had dots on the arms, back and sides that were actually 10 tiny video cameras. You accessorize the coat with a head-mounted display that lets you see what the cameras see. “Now, that,” he said, “is cool. But is it machine washable?”There were rings that were actually speakers, and insect brooches that were actually fragrance dispensers. Toward the end, designers rolled out the conceptual stuff: hoop skirts that expand and contract depending on your proximity to another person; Virtual Reality goggles that let you see the world in psychedelic colors; stainless-steel exoskeletons; charm bracelets that scroll personalized messages.Fashion has always seemed a little strange to me. A little random. In the future, clothes will be able to justify their own raisons d’être. I will worry that hackers are infiltrating my necklace. My skirt will be networked to my sweater, which will be networked to my socks. And when my outfit crashes, a systems administrator will have to do the makeover. Oh my God, he will say, your outfit is so 00110010001100000011000000110101! (Translation: 2005.) Whatever.


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