Though one could look back to 1980 as the true beginning of the “wearable tech” trend, when the calculator watch paved the way for just how much enthusiasm could be derived from turning bleeding-edge technology into a fashion statement, it takes a lot more than a few pushable buttons to get today’s style-minded technology enthusiasts excited.
From smart bras to virtual reality headgear, today’s most technologically advanced gadgets aren’t just the kind you hold in your hand, but the sort that are designed to fit snugly onto your body. Which means that simply designing a product that works spectacularly is no longer the only consideration for today’s technology developers. For many of the world’s top tech companies, function and fashion now go hand-in-hand.
Back in January, wearable technology was the buzz phrase at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and the main focus of the conference’s keynote address. Among the many new products on display were an onslaught of smart watches, fitness bands, and smart glasses from both crowdfunded startups like Pebble and major players like Microsoft, which showed off its impressive HoloLens, its augmented reality glasses that turn the world into a series of holograms, thus changing the way the wearer views the world—and acts creatively within it. There were also plenty of quirkier items on display, like a wellness-minded belt that loosens and tightens depending on your position, and will happily give you a nudge if it’s been a while since you’ve taken a stretch; a LED-fitted jacket for added visibility when biking and jogging; socks that can tell you whether you’re running correctly; a wearable sports band that detects and helps to alleviate chronic pain; a convertible tote bag that lets you answer your phone with one quick click; a temperature-taking pacifier; pint-sized biometric shirts to track your kids’ daily activities; and even a smart band for keeping track of your dog’s daily doings.
While many of the newest wearable pieces have a decidedly “tech” look to them, several companies have taken a cue from the “wearable” definition and begun to create technologies with a much more fashionable slant. At this year’s CES event alone, up-and-coming outfit Misfit debuted its line of Swarovski-bedazzled activity trackers while Stellé Audio kept its trend toward techy couture rolling. And it’s this exact intersection, the point where innovation meets style, that seems to be the crux of wearable technology’s future.
No longer content to look like a character out of Blade Runner, wearable tech devotees are pushing for a stronger emphasis on the sartorial side of their favorite gadgets. And major fashion labels are responding. This opens up the door for a number of new partnerships between fashion and technology brands, like the one that’s been brewing between Intel and Opening Ceremony’s MICA (“My Intelligent Communication Accessory”) brand of $495 bangle bracelets, which just so happen to dabble in text deliveries, Gmail notifications, and Facebook alerts—all while looking completely stylish.
This new kind of crossover will also see major technology brands attempting to infiltrate the fashion market and vice versa. At the most recent edition of New York Fashion Week, Rebecca Minkoff unveiled a Bluetooth-enabled chain link bracelet as well as one that doubled as a USB cable, while Ralph Lauren’s biometric Polo Tech shirts made their debut at the 2014 U.S. Open.
All of which seems to indicate that the future of wearable technology might be more accurately describe as “technology that you want to wear.”