Technology in Fashion

Photograph of performer in a Faraday Cage dress with electricity flowing from her finger tips.

STEMists have done some amazing things with textiles (fabric) and clothing to advance technology in fashion. 

Better Fabrics for Better Living

Today we have clothing that changes color in sunlight, socks with aloe to soothe the feet, and fleece fabric made from recycled plastic bottles–just for starters!  There are fabrics to protect people from water, germs, acid, bullets, and ultraviolet light.   Textile engineers often work with artists and designers to make sure their discoveries can be turned into clothing that looks nice enough for people to wear.

Technology, Science, Art, and Music Together

Photograph of Fergie of The Black-Eyed Peas at the Billboard Music Awards wearing a dress that lit up in rhythm with the music.
Fergie: Kevin Mazur/WireImag

When STEMists team up with fashion designers and musical performers, some really amazing things can be created.  At the Billboard Music Awards in 2011, singer Fergie of The Black-Eyed Peas wore what looked like a little black dress–until the music began!  Philips Lighting designers had worked with fashion stylist and designer B. Akerlund to make a dress with lighting built into the fabric.  The lights on the dress even changed to the rhythm of the music.  Art and engineering worked together.

Faraday Cage Dress

Photograph of the lead singer of Arcattack wearing a Faraday cage dress at a concert.
Cage dress: Kyle Cothern/Anouk Wipprecht

More recently, Anouk Wipprecht, a Dutch fashion designer, worked with the music group Arcattack to build a Faraday cage dress.  A Faraday cage, named for nineteenth-century British physicist Michael Faraday, is a mesh made of material that conducts electricity. People or things inside the cage are protected from static electrical charges because the cage safely channels the electricity.

Faraday cages are used to protect sensitive equipment from lightning strikes and other static electrical discharges.  The Faraday dress was made of metal plates and chain mail, with a helmet that had a mesh face guard.  Anouk Wipprecht demonstrated the dress by wearing it herself as it protected her from a million volts of electricity at a demonstration in 2014 at Maker Faire Bay Area.  This same science is used in the Faraday suits worn by some electrical linemen to protect them from accidental electrocution while they work on high-voltage power lines.

A Special Suit for Movie Production

Another sort of high-tech suit is the motion-capture suit used in movie productions that mix real actors with computer-generated ones.  For example, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is a computer-generated character.  His movements are made to look realistic because a live actor, Andy Serkis, performed the part during the filming of the movie.

Illustration showing how performance capture worked for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  The illustration shows the character in a blue suit with yellow sensors all over crouching on a rock.
Gollum photo credit: Illustration by Heather Jones for Time; Everett (3); Gollum: Warner Bros.

Serkis was wearing a suit with sensors all over it that created a computer record of his movements.  CGI (computer-generated imagery) specialists then took the computer record of Andy’s movements and added Gollum, making Gollum’s movements look lifelike.

 You Can Use Technology in Fashion

STEMists can see that art and science work well together.  Why not create your own technology and fashion mix?  Using LEDs and thread that conducts electricity is one way to make fashion items that light up safely and beautifully.  Maybe you will have a career in the textile industry.  There are still discoveries to made and amazing works of art to be created.

Stitch-A-Circuit” Groovy Lab in a Box

You and your STEMists can learn more about wearable electricity with the educational STEM activities found in the “Stitch-A-Circuit” groovy box. Explore electronic devices, circuits, wearable technology and much, much, more! Investigate water bending, static electricity, build your own groovy flashlight and learn about sewing circuits! Each box contains an Engineering Design Challenge and is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and engineering design process.

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