Considering how drastic our clothing has changed over time, how might a distant (let's say 50 years) society dress? I know that our tastes in clothing have changed, but that is much harder to predict. Instead, how has/will humanity's developments in technology influenced our dress wear?

Overtime, religious beliefs have changed (resulting in more liberal clothing), our ability to keep warm has improved (thinner clothes), and our access to global trade has increased (resulting in a different quality of fabrics). For this near-future, how might technology like 3d-printing, wearables, and nanotechnology shape fashion?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm strongly tempted to close this as opinion-based, since everyone has different tastes when it comes to style and there's no real way to know how those tastes will change over the next five years, let alone a hundred. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jun 13 '15 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not interested in the "styles", but rather the technology that would affect our clothes. $\endgroup$ Jun 13 '15 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ That's not what your question is asking. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jun 13 '15 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, sorry if it was misleading, I'll try to reword it. $\endgroup$ Jun 13 '15 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ Now it's both too broad and idea generation. Can you narrow it down? $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Jun 13 '15 at 5:31

Clothing does three things, 1. Indicates and forms identity (class/social status/'tribe'/gender 2. Sexual and status signaling 3. Increases comfort

Sometimes, these things are at odds with each other. For example, opulent ball gowns, some cos-play costumes, fetish wear fulfill the first two but are not comfortable. As social identity continues to fragment, trying to indicate belonging becomes more important. Fabric technology will begin catering to these sub cultures, helping them make their identity part of their everyday life.

Developments in health and nutrition will eventually determine the ideal body type for different ethnicities and maybe go further, able to determine the platonic body shape for each individual. In the past, clothing (at least for women) were designed to emphasize What society considered ideal. In the future too, clothing will be made to emphasize this ideal. It could also have tech to help people realize this ideal - like ability to limit food intake and correct back posture...

Disabilities are increasingly being portrayed as a unique ability. It is here that the largest change in fashion tech will be noticed. Artificial limbs have become over the past few decades from clunky things of embarrassment to beautiful, practical, things that have the possibility of enchancing individual performance.

Ultimately it would be limited by the fact that we are human and need to see, eat, pee and go about performing some sort of work or leisure activity. The only exception to this is when wearing clothes to peacock (look at me, I'm so wealthy I can afford this ridiculous dress that prevents me from being a functional human being). Even as clothing becomes more practical, we could see tech that would create the completely impractical... A one time wearable dress that is printed on the person, maybe?


I think that "business suits" are fading after a good long run: not too long ago men wore suits to any office job, and before that (if old movies and TV is accurate) just about always, if not a different work uniform.

Now "business casual" is taken hold.

Some ideas for you, which may not be right but are plausible for your story:

Men's clothing will become more varied.

"Nice" attire will be much less formal looking to our eyes, but will be (e.g.) not torn or distressed, not have logos or slogans, and be more complex than strictly comfortable clothes. Being "formal" will seem like arbitrary decisions on which colors, styles, or other attributes are more or less formal. Probably not bright colors for "formality".

Clothing will be "smart", with wearable electronics. Clothes can be reactive and adaptive, such as changing color or warmth.

There have already been some products that uses nanotechnology to make cloth seem like plastic sheeting when liquid is spilled on them. I expect that will be perfected, or so cheap that you don't care if it can't survive being washed. Maybe cleaning will involve re-initializing the repellent technology. And with all the difficulty in washing something that repels water and oil, you also have it not needing to be washed because it doesn't get dirty. Maybe have an "air" treatment that blows out adsorbed odors and trapped molecules, without getting it wet.

New materials like carbon fiber. Not sure what good carbon fiber is for normal clothes, but aerogel fabric is already available for insulating. Just like arcticware was revolutionized already with modern 20th century materials, that can have another round: the warmest coat anyone can ever need would be as thick as a moderate winter coat today, and normal winterware looks like today's light jackets.

T-shirts will light up and have active displays, not just static printed art.

How about new forms of fasteners? We've seen the invention of the zipper, more recently shoelaces give way to velcro, and velcro cuffs for gloves and such. Maybe stretchy elastic that doesn't bunch up but looks neat across a large range of length stretch. But could some new form of fastener catch on? What about magnets? Something as strong as a rare-earth magnet but flat embedded into the cloth could replace some buttons and snaps, especially in "formal" clothes where you like the clean unbroken appearance.

For adding to the story, think about specific fashion trends. Hats have come and gone, and could come again. Perhaps neckties will be replaced with cravats that are comfortably loose, with style in different ways of tying it.

Here's a thought on form-follows-function. I notice how a vest (wastecoat) has little pockets meant to hold a watch. That was a practical design originally, now frozen as style. Today just about everyone needs to wear displayed ID, often using a lanyard. Could that evolve into a functional element of business attire? A clear pocket to hold the ID card, perhaps?

  • $\begingroup$ Madnets that are strong enough not to come apart easily are going to be really hard to pull apart be some people. So I think electromagnets would be more likely. Though magnets can screw up alot of electronic devices, so it may not be the best idea. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Jun 13 '15 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ The main issue I've seen with magnetic clothing is that it sticks to the inside of the washer. It also collects ferromagnetic dirt and won't drop it. Electromagnetic clasps would waste too much energy. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Jun 13 '15 at 16:24

Tech that changes clothing will involve several different (and competing) agendas, outside of signalling status, membership of a group or sexual attractiveness:

  1. Speed of manufacture. Most people will want to be able to access fashion trends as part of status/signalling behaviour, so when something comes into fashion, the vendors need to be able to access it right away. Waiting for a container ship to arrive from Bangladesh, clear customs, get trucked across country etc. takes a lot of time and ties up money and resources in a notoriously cut throat and low margin industry. Robotics, automated manufacture and even potentially using 3D printing technology to rapidly assemble clothing made from downloadable patterns in plants close to (or possibly even inside) the store will become common.

  2. Higher tech fabrics. Materials that can wick away sweat, or are water repellent on one side are common today (think of "Underarmor" T-shirts and underwear, or Gore-Tex jackets). In 50 years, fabrics will probably become "active" materials which can change their properties according to various rule sets built into them. This will be relatively limited (one example might be "warm" and "cold" setting where fabric fibres change spacing for insulation value) and powered by body heat or something similar so people don't have to consciously adjust their clothing. Think of this as "passive high tech".

  3. Integration with active high tech. Clothes will be close to your skin, so can have sensors and electronics to monitor your health woven into the fabric. The clothes will have enough on board processing power to do monitoring and notifications to yourself or your health care provider. With enough circuitry built in, the shirt you wear might replace a lot of the current electronics we carry, like smart phones, ID cards and so on. Displays will be fed into a pair of glasses or a monocle, inputs will most likely be subvocalizing or speaking, the tie might survive as a handy place for the subvocal microphone (concealed in the knot). Since the clothes will be performing the work, there is less need to carry items like keys, watches or smartphones, so pockets will become smaller and fewer in number (maybe a pair of pants only has one pocket).

Finally, although clothes will become more "functional" in the sense they perform multiple functions, these functions will still have to be integrated with fashion (for status, display and sexual signalling) as well as basic human needs like the ability to use the bathroom (Zippers may be replaced by some magical fastener, but pants will still have a fly)


Obviously no one can tell how styles are likely to change or what tech might find its way into clothing. However, we can guess at what tech is available for inclusion into clothing.

@Thucydides has several good ideas. To his I would add the following:

Remember that all of these things depend upon bringing the cost of manufacturing the goods into the price range of the consumers. So although some of the ideas available below we can do now, we can't do it and make the clothing cheap enough for it to be regularly seen.

These capabilities will be inherent properties of the clothing / fabric and not require any sort of extra energy, electricity, or active control (by person or computer) to make happen.

  • Fabrics with the ability to repel most (any?) stains.
  • The above capability extends to repelling water so the clothing is waterproof to rain, etc.
  • But it'll also possess the ability to wick sweat away from your body and transport it outside the clothing.
  • It'll perhaps include the ability to adjust its absorptivity to radiation depending upon temperature (warms you when it's cold, cool you when it's hot).
  • Glasses with the ability to provide full color vision to people with color deficiency (a condition in which the person possess 3 color receptors but a mutation changes the frequency of one of them making it more difficult to distinguish color).
  • Tougher materials (e.g. carbon nanotubes) make embedding bullet proofing into clothing easier and less conspicuous.
  • Color changing clothing depending upon body temperature, air temperature, sunlight or other unspecified environmental factors.

These are capabilities that require active control by a computer or the wearer or electrical or wireless connections.

  • Color or pattern changing clothing depending upon prespecified logic or the user's whim.
  • Embedded clothing sensors which monitor body temperature, heart rate, respiration, blood oxygenation, etc. Especially look for this as a medical device which diffuses into the general population (e.g. starting with performance athletes, moving into the general athletes, and from there into the general population).
  • Clothing able to provide some first aid depending upon programmed contigencies (e.g. detected blood loss leads to the clothing constricting around the wound to suppress the bleeding). This might start with the military or astronaut core and leak into the general population.
  • Wearable wireless connections for our hand devices which lead to wearable wireless for our implanted devices which lead to wireless direct brain connection to the internet.
  • Wearable or implanted devices like Google Glasses that allow recording and HUD type information display instant information about every object around you - probably controlled by an AI that you program so it provides the type of information that you most often want to know (e.g. what WOW classes do they play and what is the level of their highest character or information about their professional experience during a job interview).
  • Wearable sensor net that extends and enhances certain sense (probably sight will be last because our sight is already better than what most hand devices can do).

As additional background you may want to read the books / stories by Charles Stross Accelerando (featuring Manfred Macx) and Vernor Vinge Rainbow's End.

Smart (HUD type) contact lens
Smart (HUD type) contact lens

What that HUD might show What that HUD might show

How it might appear

Camouflage / Chameleon suit
It uses sensors on one side of the suit to detect the the background appearance and make the suite take on that appearance in a given direction. Useful for the military and other very special situations.

enter image description here

Desert Survival suit
Uses passive nanomaterials to condense water out of the air as well as allow sweat to evaporate keeping the body cool. Also uses passive color changing to reflect heat back into the environment during the day. Uses passive color changing to warm the body during the night. Uses nanomaterials to keep a static charge facing out to keep sand and dirt off / away from the suit wearer.

Uses material elastic properties to maintain positive pressure on the body. Wicking ability allows the wearer's sweat to carry heat away from the body. Passive color control helps reflect the heat from direct sunlight away from the wearer. Built in electronics provide sensor suit and radio / data reception to the suit wearer.

Space skinsuit
Space skinsuit

Combat suit
Uses some of the previous features (e.g. chameleon features) as well as encrypted communications and sending & receiving $C^3I$ information. Helmet with HUD allows the wearer to know where his enemies are even when he can't see them. The $C^3I$ suite identifies objectives and specific targets and prioritizes them. Suit notifies nearby friendlies using FFI (friend or foe identification). Suit sensor readings shareable with other soldiers and command. Built in carbon nanotube fibers provide inherent bullet stopping protection. Optional exoskeleton with power assist increases soldier strength and stamina.


Once again, comment becomes an answer just so I can make paragraphs :-(

First, you need to think about just who the "us" is in your question. Lots of different societies in history and the world today, and fashions worn by different groups in society.

As for how things might change in (a mere!) 50 years, not much at all, judging by how they've mostly not changed in the past 50 years. Of course there are changes in fashion: bell bottoms and tie-dye are out, I think. Artificially 'distressed' fabrics are in, or were last I bothered to look. Some groups wear baggy pants with belts below the hips and reversed baseball caps, others don't.

But that's just fashion: what exactly has changed technically in those 50 years? Not much, as far as I can see. Polyester is pretty much out, hemp fabrics are available. There are some better snaps and buckles, mostly on outdoor gear. Otherwise, the only thing I can think of that's changed in a way apparent to the casual eye is the running shoe.


Over the last two centuries men's clothing has become less elaborate. The tailcoat was replaced by the tuxedo in less formal uses, then in formal uses. The tux lost the waistcoat. The lounge suit replaced the tuxedo in many uses and now sporting clothes are replacing the lounge suit in some situations.

I wonder how much of that is due to fashion and how much is due to the decline in the availability of butlers and valets. Today few people have domestic help, so they need clothing they can manage for themselves.

Would improved robotics reverse this trend?

On another note, some professional women's clothing has come closer to men's clothing in recent decades. This trend might continue if workplace equality gets better or backtrack if it fails.

  • $\begingroup$ But the tailcoats, tuxedos, &c were not general men's wear, but only worn on a regular basis by members of the prosperous middle to upper classes - and not all of them, all the time. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 13 '15 at 17:54

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