The clothing of the future

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and they chose an excellent photo to go with it.  Excerpt:

A lot of current clothing innovations focus on gimmicks. There is a “Social Escape Dress,” which can “emit a cloud of fog when the wearer is feeling stressed.” Maybe that is fun, but what economic problem does it solve? And won’t it stress the wearer more? I suspect that the more durable clothing innovations will be more practical.

The first major practical problem is that clothes have to be cleaned, a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process. To remedy this problem, imagine a futuristic closet with cleaning and dry-cleaning functions (the materials of the clothes themselves could evolve to make this easier and less dangerous). A wardrobe system that cleans itself would be a big plus for many people. While I don’t see this technological advance as imminent, neither do I see it as unreachable.

A second major problem with clothes is that they have to be stored. Urban space is currently quite scarce and expensive, a reality unlikely to change anytime soon. Easily foldable and contractible clothes and shoes will therefore be at a premium, but of course the question is how to get them back into proper shape with a minimum amount of effort. That again suggests a home device — far more efficient than the iron — to get clothes into proper shape, which in turn will allow for more clothes to be rolled up and put away. Cleaning your clothes and storing your clothes are closely related problems, and in my optimistic vision they will be solved together.

Another source of big welfare gains could be quite prosaic:

At the upper end of the market, it is possible to make exclusive fashion more affordable, while still looking great. In a given fashion season the number of “in” styles could continue to expand, through the use of social media such as Instagram. That makes the market more competitive. Indeed it is already a trend that you can look “cool” and sophisticated without having to buy the most expensive dress from Milan or Paris. More market niches allow for the production of more reputation and glamour.

There is much more at the link.


I really wish I could read all of his posts, bu Bloomy wants 40 dollars a month.

they can go suck an egg!

You don't need to buy Michael Bloomberg another house, just use anonymous mode of your browser.

Their RSS feed pumps out all the content into my RSS reader

I haven't dry cleaned anything for 30 years. I haven't ironed anything for 40 + years. Everything I own is wash and wear (even if it isn't).

"Open new private window" in your browser, works like a charm.

This is weaker than Toffler's paper clothes prediction.

I'm Big On See-Thru Women's Apparel, except Hillary.

Gabbard, Ocasio-Cortez, and Ivanka are all kind of hot. Ivanka is slowly losing it though. A few kids plus daddy's antics aren't going to age her well.


I've worn the same style clothes since I was 12. It's the style that never goes out of style. Peewee Herman style suits are not for me (or anybody else other than Peewee). It amazes me that people wear them. Women's styles are a different kettle of fish. Changing styles of (mostly unattractive) clothing must have been the inspiration for Rene Girard: there's no explanation other than imitation. Of course, my (same) style clothing was at first based on imitation. A young man in my small town opened a men's clothing store in around 1963, and the store has sold the same style clothing since. Alas, he is dead, but imitation of his favorite style lives on.

When I was 12, my parents made me wear corduroy instead of denim to school, etc, instead of the denim I preferred then and now. But innovation might have changed that: denim dyed black and brown instead of Levi blue.

Peter Thiel wants tech to seek progress, on the scale of the space program, not the latest social media web site or smart phone app. Cowen wants tech to transform our closets. That's a low bar. I get it: clothes are a big part of our lives. As are all those apps on our smart phones. One small step for clothes, one giant leap for mankind.

Cowen is not one for economic predictions. Does anybody know his prediction for economic growth for the second half of this year, for next year, for the next five years? I didn't think so. Which works for me: why do economist believe they can predict the future. Humans are future oriented, so it's not surprising that humans are obsessed with predictions of the future (humans rewrite the past, predict the future). Apocalyptic predictions of the future are popular; the most popular religion is based on the coming apocalypse. Popular only because we know who will be part of the elect and who won't. I admire Cowen for many reasons, his modesty for sure. I look forward to better closets, but I'm not changing my style.

It's pretty damn silly to think that if you can't (or won't) make guesses about quarterly GDP growth you're "not one for economic predictions".

'but what economic problem does it solve'

Clothing is supposed to solve an economic problem? Really? Assuming one is not referencing Veblen, of course.

'imagine a futuristic closet with cleaning and dry-cleaning functions '

Cue the Jetsons, with a number of domestic efficiency ideas that are probably not 'unreachable' -

It's interesting that in the Jetsons they had all this futuristic technology yet still commuted to work. Telecommuting would solve many of these problems, but it seems as far away as ever. Robin Hanson thinks it's because it's harder to do office politics over the phone.

It is easy to allow telecommuting when a workers productivity can be objectively measured.

If productivity cannot be measured, time spent at the desk is the next best thing.

It'd be pretty easy to just track how long people spend on the computer and what they do there.

Yep. It may not be a good measure but it works at least as well as Time At One's Desk.

Clothes that create their own micro-climate. You're welcome.

Not so original idea ;)

Who do you think gave 'em that idea?

If you wear a kilt you don't even need to buy and store knickers.

I'm anxious to sell my latest clothing line to Tyler!

The clothing is extremely light weight, placing zero pressure on the wearer, with zero mass.

The clothing can be folded up to be stored in a thimble.

The clothing is awe inspiring for an icon like Tyler, and all his followers will praise his choice.

And best of all, the cost of production is zero, so outside of sales and marketing costs, the annual sales will be pure profit equally the price Tyler pays.

And a good salesman will deliver this clothing to Tyler instantly over the Internet as soon as Tyler authorizes payment.

Just do not allow children into any public event where Tyler appears.

Given we're imagining distant-future-tech, we can go harder on one of the core problems clothes solve for, i.e. warmth. Get your energy storage small enough and you could stroll across Antarctica in a snug bodysuit.

I don’t know. There are a couple practical things here but also a lot that reads more like futurists jet pack and flying car type of stuff.

In particular the storage/cleaning element seems less than tenable. Not that it can’t be done, but it would seem to involve a lot of moving parts and may not be superior to what we can do now.

Also, while chips could be standard in shirts and thereby replace your Fitbit watch or similar device, I’m not sure how much value you get by converting a whole wardrobe verses just having a single device - either using a watch like many do now or a well placed convenient pocket (which Tyler has acknowledged pockets can improve)

Correct on the availability of different fashions though. Score one for Tyler’s love of “matching”

"I’m not sure how much value you get by converting a whole wardrobe verses just having a single device"

When the chips are cheap enough, not having to keep track of a single device (no matter how easy it might be to do so) is the advantage.

Closets will be IoT devices that crowdsource opinions on your outfits, which will be fed into an AI that selects your optimal outfit based on your google calendar, the weather forecast, and the opinions of strangers.

There will be no clothing of the future. Women's waist, hem, and necklines will go up and down and up and down yet again. Men's styles will change little. Some advances in high tech fabrics may happen as well as more automation in cutting and sewing. But nothing very exciting will happen. Sorry.

My impression is that there have been some advances in "easy care" fabric recently, particularly in terms of comfort. I have a couple of shirts that never need ironing (if dried outside on a coathanger) and which are nonetheless very soft and comfortable.

"Urban space is currently quite scarce and expensive"

Is it though? That's not been my experience of places like San Diego, Los Angeles, Jacksonville, etc.

Sure, *some* urban areas are tight - the core of New York, Tokyo, most of the big cities in the Asian countries really and I suppose since most of the world's population lives in those countries this could be true from a global perspective.

But from a non-Eastern one? (or even a non-North-Eastern one)

In the West most of the crowding in urban areas comes from rent-control and greenbelt policies. So which is more likely to happen - that a portion of our population's adaption to living in shoeboxes will engender a revolution in clothing design across the culture or that the pressures for *more space* will break the greenbelts?

Sorry. You don't get it. All of our choices will be orchestrated by the one percent mandarin class who live in the crowded core of four US cities. No cars, tiny apartments, an odd, nearly theistic obsession with restaurant eating, and status signaling around power hierarchies. Nothing else matters.

Of the "six paths in six places," which two don't count? (New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco)

You could have a washer and dryer in your closet, which would need a pipe to take away the humid air from the dryer. The washer would be the storage place for dirty clothes, the dryer would be the storage space for clean clothes. Back when I lived in an apartment with its own laundry room, I used to just leave my clean clothes in the dryer.

As for an alternative to ironing, we already have clothes that don't need to be ironed. Yet people still buy clothes that need to be ironed, because of signalling, which would do in many of these ideas.

As I mentioned above, it seems to me (as someone who just got a "needing workwear" sort of job and thus is buying a lot of workwear) that there have been significant advances in easycare clothing that looks like something that would need ironing, but doesn't actually need ironing.

Your washer/dryer idea is brilliant, by the way.

This makes me think about Patagonia's approach to clothing, their idea of a good sweater is one that needs minimal care and cleaning, you only need one and it is built to last/endure . They design clothes that do not need to be dry cleaned and do not need to be ironed, rather concentrating on sustainable textiles that do not hold odours and can be spot cleaned and hang dried. They are longterm pieces that last years and defy fast fashion. The life cycle of a garment and its impact on the environment is tied to how much it needs to be cleaned and replaced. I think we'll see more movement towards the clothes themselves solving these problems, rather than innovations in home appliances.

Cargo shorts for men have taken over leisure wear for males, and the sphere of "leisure" has expanded, so the number of places where these can be worn appropriately is expanding. They are my least favorite garment for men, but cargo shorts solve the large iPhone storage problem, not to mention eliminating the "Will you carry this for me?" request made to purse-carrying wives and girlfriends.

Women's career clothing, including notch-collar dress jackets, increasingly come in machine-washable versions--constructed of woven, not knitted fashion fabric and fully lined--but you can machine wash them.

There's something to your first paragraph. Male cloths have become increasingly less formal as time goes on. What we consider formal attire today was semi-formal or even informal in the past; what we consider normal, everyday wear would have been a scandal in the past. I remember a scene in MASH where Colonal Potter asks a nurse to turn around when she enters his tent while he's wearing a t-shirt. No one would think twice about that now, but for his generation it was Simply Not Done--it was like a man walking into a woman's room while she was wearing just a bra!

I've been noticing a weird trend toward guys, even middle aged ones, wearing shorts in winter. Granted our winters in Maryland aren't usually brutal but my shorts don't usually see the light of day unless temps are over 60.

Cargo shorts are, if not passé then rather disapproved of nowadays. Though I suspect the critics of being snooty gay guys who want to ogle men's butts in tight shorts instead and answer "man purses" as to the storage issue.

I've recently gotten into lightweight backpacking and the technical aspect of clothing is more obvious and relevant.. Perhaps also telling that down and wool are still unsurpassed; we still have much room for innovation in such basic features as waterproofing, insulation, lightness and durability.

What I'm seeing is that the mid-upper end of the market is overtaken by trendy technical clothing. Just float through kickstarter to see oversubscribed things like 'wear this underwear for 10 years without washing!'.

The other end is the 'fast fashion' stuff that shows up at H&M

Yea right. There are a ton of these companies that show dudes - sorry ladies its mostly dudes - biking with polyester suits.

How about we start with allowing people to wear what they want, i.e., banning school uniforms at all public and private schools?

Clothing is always a question of fashion, not tech. And looking at the millenials' clothing, we may return to a bit of a retro age. They are rediscovering things like bow ties, beard pomade or waistcoat - so the clothing of the future may very well look like the 1950s. The ugly cargo shorts and Birkenstocks of the Gen Xers may be gone. That doesn't means tech won't be involved - but only at the material level. More waterproof coating, more vibrant colors, one-piece fits all temperature thinking and so forth.

And look for codpieces to make a comeback as well

Well, leggings are back in style and with all the gender-bending these days, why not? Soon there will be men wearing tights unironically, and they're going to need something to hide their junk. Or at least we will want them to.

"They are rediscovering things like bow ties, beard pomade or waistcoat - so the clothing of the future may very well look like the 1950s."

I think this is mostly a subcultural phenomenon, honestly, and one that's already peaked.

"big welfare gains"

Price of everything value of nothing etc.

Perpetuating negative stereotypes here, Tyler

In the future, no one will own clothes. They will be rented instead and delivered daily by drones. Clothes will incorporate foldable display screens and offer advertising monetization opportunities similar to YouTube videos. Pervasive surveillance cameras with eyeball tracking will measure exactly how many views each ad gets. Of course some people will prefer to display political slogans instead, or vacation photos. Body motion itself will generate the power needed by the displays, which will in any case use a form of colored electronic ink similar to e-books.

Short skirts or midriff-baring shirts will be out; catsuits will be in. After all, every square inch of bare skin is an opportunity cost, it's foregone revenue.

Ad blocking will be available in the form of augmented reality goggles or contact lenses that provide realtime filters.

This sounds like a parody of dystopian sci-fi. I like how you think.

Perhaps all clothes will be virtual, a mere projected illusion.

Interesting suggestions, but regarding more affordable haut couture, exclusive fashion is unaffordable precisely to demonstrate that it is exclusive. Did you buy your wife a cubic zirconium ring?

Global Warming means that nobody will need clothes.

That is correctomundo chief. also with advancements in urban defection, in places like san francisco, we can eliminate the need to cut down rainforrests for post defecation wiping

"As it now stands, too often women feel they face a choice between looking elegant or having convenient pockets."

That's why they use bags, Tyler. Elegant bags, with lots of pockets.

"More prosaically, imagine everyone having custom-made and custom-fitted clothing, perhaps with the aid of robot tailors, and readily available 3-D body scanning devices."

Sounds way too expensive. Also body scanning is much too intricate in the world of overweight people. Robots will indeed play a major role in manufacturing and QC, but isn't it easier to buy your favorite piece of cloth that shrinks to your size when washed at the right temperature then the fabric "memorizes" that size after first wash? Using a pre-programmed shrinking software (call it app if you want) provided by the clothing company for your washing machine of course - we are not talking about manually setting up anything.

Clothes that never wrinkle, and/or retain their original creases. Please.
That matters more to me than self-cleaning clothing.

In the future,

Consumers will take ecology and sustainability more seriously than they do today.

After wearing clothes for awhile, and as fashions change,

We will

Eat our clothes.*

*This message sponsored by Incredible Foods and Clothing. Don't Wear What You Can't Eat.

I don't think this will work, usually the ecologically conscious are also the health conscious. So unless the clothing is made from locally grown, minimally processed, organic vegetables, you probably won't find many buyers.

However, biodegradable, compost enhancing clothing, that could be a thing. Tired of wearing it, just throw it in the composter. After a few months, you can use it to fertilize your organic vegetable garden.

Some of my T-shirts look like they just came out of the composter

Hazel (how appropriate a name, given the discussion)

Quick. Patent that idea.

Strawberry Fields blouses.

Coconut Bras.

Pea Pants.

At the upper end of the market, it is possible to make exclusive fashion more affordable.

Umm, isn't the whole point of "exclusive fashion" that it's ... exclusive?
And what makes it so is, it's expensive. It's not that it's necessarily better quality; what's important is that most people can't have it (but you can).

I realize there's a huge market in budget luxury (which is mostly inferior goods sporting prominent brand names), but, BudLux is for those who can't afford the real thing.

Isn't that mutually contradictory? The exclusive goods aren't really any better, but the non-exclusive goods are "inferior" ?

Well, if you can easily clean your clothes at home you really won't need quite so much clothing, so that helps with storage.

>Urban space is currently quite scarce and expensive

So get the hell out of the city.

Oh wait -- I'm sure your automatic clothes-folding machine is a much saner and more practical solution. Just think of all the space it will save. It'll be like having your own 2-acre lot!

We could save a ton of resources if we switched back to clothing like traditional Chinese robes or Roman tunics/togas. Clothes that are not tailored or sized. That if you gain or lose a lot of weight, you can still wear the same clothes. It worked for centuries, so why not bring this back?

Yes, we need clothes that adjust automatically to the changing corpulence of the wearer. This will avoid awkward conversations with one's tailor, such as this bit between Lyndon Johnson and Joe Haggar:

The original Star Trek had it pretty right for guys -- a comfy pullover with a tasteful affiliative logo, and color-coded to indicate if you were an important professional or destined to die in some Deck 5 explosion before the opening credits

Some actual research:

Clothing has improved enormously, but probably not in areas you are looking: outdoor clothing is vastly superior to what was available 50 years ago. It's extremely hi-tech.

I really feel there has been a "Great Stagnation" in fashion.

Clothing is more affordable than ever, and yes outdoor clothing is technologically advanced. But I'm not sure I could tell the difference between an average person on the street in 2020 versus 2000.

I certainly could tell the difference between an average person on the street in 1980 versus 1960, or 1970 versus 1950.

Also, why do I keep hearing Musak from 1970's? That was 50 years ago! I can tell you there was no Musak playing 1920's songs in 1970.

Three innovative clothing companies:

1) Ministry of Supply ( MIT spinoff making moisture-wicking, machine washable (incl. suits) and, in some cases temperature-regulating, clothes. One of their early shirts (Apollo) is supposedly made from the same "phase change" material that NASA used to make temperature-regulating space suits. One of the co-founders also claims to hold the world record for running a marathon in a suit, one of their own suits of course.

2) State & Liberty ( Founded by a couple of University of Michigan hockey players. Similar to Ministry of Supply in that business clothes are moisture wicking and keep you cool. Use a more athletic cut --- that part may not sound like tech, but the stretchable fabric does allow for a slimmer cut that is still comfortable.

3) Outerboro ( Taiwanese version of same.

All three firms make business clothes that is comfortable to wear during summer. I have no financial interest in any of them although, as a customer, I could conceivably benefit from scale economies if their sales volumes grow.

Re: Tyler's wishlist

1) cheap, easy cleaning. Don't have a cleaning closet, but the blazers/suits from Ministry of Supply and Outerboro are machine washable; no need for dry cleaning.

2) "far more efficient than the iron". Don't know about rolling, but shirts from the above firms don't need to be ironed. Hanging after washing is sufficient to avoid wrinkles.

3) Pockets. About 5-10 yrs ago, a lot of cell phone pockets were being built into clothes, typically on the chest or upper arm. Also, as "hidden" cargo pockets on the side of pants. There seem to be fewer of those now. Maybe, they didn't sell well?? I liked them, and look for them on the internet.

4) "clothes that make you feel slightly warmer when the air conditioning is turned up too high". Forget AC, how about protecting you from cold, winter weather? Ministry of Supply makes a "smart" heated jacket [], paired with a phone app.

Also, there is lots of cold-weather exercise wear that keeps you warm in winter while being light-weight and stretchable enough to have freedom of movement while wicking away sweat, e.g., UnderArmour ColdGear and many others.

5) "custom-made and custom-fitted clothing". I think Ministry of Supply makes a 3D-printed sweater-blazer.

A lot of comments here which appear to misunderstand that clothing is, primarily, protection. As soon as 85-95% of us don't move for days at a time, and robots do all our moving for us and we all have teleporters in our homes and virtually never encounter anything that is not climate controlled or requires protection - temperature, weather, sun, inanimate objects, insects, animals, diseases, and people...I won't hold my breath.

For someone like me, who works outside and in/with hazardous chemicals, sure, you may be right. I wear certain clothing because it's designed to take the hit so my soft, squishy, flamible flesh doesn't.

For 99%+ of the population? Clothing has next to nothing to do with protection. It's communication. Status, wealth, sexual availability, age, profession, a whole range of things. In-group status is a major one. That will never change; some animals use colored cells for it, we use clothing. It's no longer legally required, but it's still pretty deeply engrained in humans, one of the few cultural universals.

We still need protection from weather, and even indoors from abrasive surfaces.

In 1929, apparel and shoes accounted for 12.7 % of personal consumption expenditures. In 2018, the figure was 2.6%. The series reached a peak in 1943-1945, at 13.8%, and drifts down ever after. The figures are broken out for apparel for men & boys, girls & women, and shoes, not otherwise classified. Women & girls accounted for the highest share in 1986, when the ratio was 2 (shoulder pads?), then drifted back to 1.6, the long-term average. Shoes accounted for 2% (of PCE) in 1929, and are down to 1% now, so shoes are a smaller fraction of PCE, but a bigger fraction of apparel & shoes.

Two forces are sort of obvious. First, the movement of manufacturing overseas, resulting in simpler and more easily sewn designs, and simpler garments. Another in the same direction -- the rising prestige of people whose productivity is measured easily (whether their code runs), and the total irrelevance of dress in their productivity. This began by 1968, when people who worked at TRW and the aerospace outfits in Los Angeles would go to work in the middle of the night because jobs turned around faster. They wore jeans and sandals and t-shirts. The uniform has changed a bit as the center has shifted from Southern to Northern California, where it is a bit cooler. Others in the economy seek to imitate these productive people by imitating their boring dress. Go out for lunch anywhere in Palo Alto. The only dressed-up people are wearing blue buttoned-down shirts that went to the laundry, in tall sizes.

Wow, what a useful (and rare) comment. Thank you!

There's an old movie on this subject: The Man in the White Suite (1951), starring Alec Guinness and Joan Greenwood.

I think the future is already here. You already have dust and water repellent clothing. Now all one need is some sort of solar heated jackets that not provide you warmth in winters, but also charge your electronic devices in meantime.

FYI, at CES, have seen closets/washing machines that automate cleaning and folding of laundry.

Medical monitoring devices built-in: heart rate, body temperature, respiration, blood pressure, activity...

If I had to guess I'd say there are a couple things going on here:

1.) Clothes are relatively less expensive than they used to be, and absent branding it's hard to tell how much an item cost. This makes really overt status-signalling harder to do unless you're getting into dumbass "hypebeast" fashion.

2. ) Gym memberships have roughly doubled in the last twenty years. Fitness is a much more reliable signal of SOMETHING—leisure time, discipline, maybe money.

I'm sure one factor my be clothing designed to obfuscate identity - Neil Stevenson's latest book has girls wearing sunglasses that prevent face recognition technology. I reckon this would be both popular and controversial!

Materialists can't help but think materially, and so conjure the most trivial visions of the future. Like Google's video for it's AI car: it knew to switch off the offensive rap music when you picked your kid up at school. WOW!!!!!!

Utility it not the main thing in clothing, it's signaling/status/group ID etc that powerfully dominates. Which makes it utterly unpredictable and unreasonable. Economic utility is USED BY fashion, it doesn't determine fashion. The designer selects from among the possibilities based on the most inchoate longings of the soul. Of course this is all a closed book to the technocrat/materialist. What they see clearly, is of no importance. What they miss, is essential.

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