Fashion changes faster than ever today - but what if you could
change your style at the speed of light? That's what MIT researchers
envision if they can link clothing design to the Internet. In their
scenario, consumers won't have to wait for new designs to be
fabricated and distributed before they can be bought and worn.
Instead, consumers will have instant access to new designs and the
ability to display them on the clothes and accessories they already
own at the push of a button or the click of a mouse.
"People are moving information around much more quickly now on
the Web," says Judith Donath, director of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Media Lab's Sociable Media Group in
Cambridge, Mass. The MySpace generation's tendency to express their
opinions, interests, and preferences online, plus its instant access
to news and culture blogs, means that what's hip changes rapidly.
"In music, for example, how long a song is a hit is changing very
rapidly now," Professor Donath says. When anyone can find out what
her friends are listening to and download the latest hit in seconds,
music trendsetters have to move fast to stay on the cutting edge.
Donath and her colleagues recently unveiled a new project called
"urbanhermes" designed to apply this lightning-fast exchange of
information to the fashion world. To these scholars, fashion is just
another medium for communicating information, a way to show your
place in the social hierarchy. "What you're trying to convey to
others is some form of status," Donath says, "but the form of the
signal changes. The dress you had to wear in the '90s to be
fashionable is very different from what you'd wear today."
At the moment, fashion as a medium for communicating taste cannot
change as quickly as electronic media do. You can only wear one
outfit a day, and most of us have a finite supply of clothes.
Clothing and accessories that can change their "look," however,
could make physical fashion as dynamic as Web culture.
The urbanhermes team has demonstrated its concept with a
messenger bag that includes a sewn-in electronic display. But the
project is not about technology or accessory design. It's about
creating a model for how we might integrate technology into our
"Other people are developing the underlying technology," Donath
says. "So we're asking, what would I want to do with things that are
worn? What would be the social mechanism behind it?"
Imagine subscribing to a daily - hourly! - feed of T-shirt
designs. Or admiring a friend's plaid slacks and then turning your
own trousers into instant tartan twins. Perhaps clothiers will sell
designs without their customers ever having to step inside a store.
Maybe advertisers will pay you to wear their brand on your sleeve.
These are the sorts of ideas bandied about in Donath's group.
Even though it's still on the drawing board, "e-fashion" has
already drawn criticism. …