Fashion is one industry that has been at the core of our civilisation for thousands of years. It is too often seen as a vain and frivolous industry filled with an empty vision, where many people fail to appreciate just how important and fundamental it actually is.
Fashion matters. It is a distinct method and channel of communication that has been shaped by our history, societal changes and major world events. If we go back in time, we see that Egyptians took great pride in their appearance and style, wearing clothing that showed status, wealth and occupation. From 500 BC, at the beginning of the Roman era, the men’s togas represented a mark of their home ties; Roman citizenship. In the western world, fashion has been distinct across all of history, from the Dark Ages to WWI, where after the war elaborate styles of dressing gave way to more darker, monochromatic and practical clothes as people were forced to reduce spending and the need for dressing for social parties diminished. And in this century, where the economic and domestic roles of men and women are more interchangeable than ever before, this applies equally to fashion.
So, if fashion is so integral to and shaped by our society, why do the futurists always get it wrong?
I mean, this is what people from the 1930s believed fashion would look like in the year 2000
Historical depictions of the future of fashion paint a dismal and doomed scene of dull uniforms and similar fabrics and patterns that are repetitive across a whole civilisation. People try to create this sci-fi picture where everyone looks the same and wears the same outfit every day. And even if they don’t show consistent black lycra body suits, depictions of everyday clothes still come across as too mechanical and electronic.
These futurists are forgetting one fundamental thing. They don’t really understand the structure of the industry. Fashion isn’t important just because clothes are vital to our comfort and basic needs of warmth and protection but rather it’s quite simple; human nature doesn’t change. People use fashion as a form of expression, a way to show who they are and what they believe. The reality is that as humans we love to express ourselves. Our society is growing more and more diverse, it is no longer ‘cool’ to just conform, people crave to be true to their individual selves and communities. It is becoming increasingly acceptable to wear what makes you feel good; whether that’s a dress from the 50s or a Star Trek suit.
And as we move into the 2050s, the 2100s, this core human tendency will remain the same. Sure, the fashion will change from where it is now. Wearables and fashion electronics will become more popular, but not in the gimmicky way we see today, it will be purely functional. The original fibres can be interlaced and embedded seamlessly with photovoltaics, piezoelectric nanowire, claytronics and will provide us with hyper personalised health monitoring. Material science will be exponentially more advanced and could in fact bio-mechanically incorporate new technologies into our clothing. Designs will allow for high durability, thermal insulation, material reduction and most importantly, hold strong emphasis towards total comfort.
These fields of material science and nanotechnology will increasingly become more important innovations for the fashion industry. In the future, especially during a type 1 civilisation era 100 years from now, humans will interact with the world around them in distinctly different ways. Not only will our physical environment on Earth here change, with rising sea levels potentially wreaking havoc around the world and over 80% of the Amazon rainforest being lost by 2100, but also our behaviours as humans will alter. Human intelligence will be vastly amplified by AI and an average person will work less than 20 hours per week. The growth of personal 3D printers and nanofabricators will mean that production is more decentralised and spending on necessities like food, utilities will be rapidly declining. The culture of our society will shift towards self expression and creative pursuits rather than working for a pure material gain.
Humans will be space-faring societies. Terraforming of Mars will be underway and large-scale civilian settlement of the Moon will be inevitable, with dozens of moon colonies established and habitats being constructed within a matter of hours through nanotechnology self assemblers. Our habitats on Earth will also emerge from traditional cities to large scale arcologies that condense an entire city into one massive structure, kilometres high and wide, that is immune to natural forces and destruction.
Our fashion during this time will be created to reflect these interactions and new behaviours. New technological advancements along the way will shape the industry.
In 2100, the future of fashion will evolve in two seemingly different but also co-existing directions, fitting our society of the future;
Human fashion will be hyper personalised and self assembling through nanobots (Small nano-sized robots, invisible to the naked eye) that will allow for thousands of small individual fibres to start forming and materialising around a person’s body in seconds. This basic initial structure can then be flexibly morphed and transformed into different geometries, colours, shapes, sizes, the individual textile molecule structures will change. Our fashion will be highly connected with every part of our lives where these programmable garments will act like a second skin that will ultimately equip us with ‘superpowers’, as the overlay skin can be adapted to any environment or any function. This will allow us almost complete protection from the world around us and also constant optimal health maintenance through these advanced material properties. The innovation in practicalities of femtotechnology by 2110 (Engineering at the femto scale — atomic nuclei scale and a million-billionth of a metre) will bring significant breakthroughs in discovering and engineering more exotic materials that can be characterised by frictionless surfaces and extremely lightweight structures, making human ability even more broad and powerful.
Humans will live parallel lives; the reality and the virtual. We will interact with a natively digital economy and its other digital inhabitants. By 2140, perfect simulations with extravagant detail and spatial extent will be in full effect. These hyper realistic universes will be indistinguishable from the reality we live in today, and so people will start interacting with these worlds more and more and when they do they will start paying attention to the details and the fundamental things. And what this means is that when you see a game or a screen that is more realistic and people are able to represent themselves or have a digital version of themselves they will start paying attention to how they look and how they are represented. People will desire a natively digital fashion wardrobe that can allow them to express themselves; whether that is wearing a nice dress to dinner or perhaps suiting up for a virtual battle tournament. Whatever the use, everything we see in our ‘real’ world will also be completely digitised and available for simulation. All of this technology and hardware innovation will lead to more realistic looking virtual realities and games and when this happens fashion will be one of these key industries.
Fashion will remain part of our lives forever. It is here to stay. It is a chameleonic industry that will adapt and restyle with our lives, our society, our beliefs and keep constant with our existence. Science and technology will make us more creative, more functional and allow us to individually express ourselves through our clothing in unique ways that aren’t available or even necessary today. So, although some parts of fashion may come across as frivolous, ultimately, this industry is absolutely vital to who we are as humans today and where we are going in the future. This is an undeniable and first principle truth.