Google Glass has adapted the concept of wearable technology for the mainstream marketplace: an accessory with a function. But in the arguably more innovative quarters of the fashion world, a tribe of forward-thinking designers has also been exploring “wearables” – as they’re dubbed among those in the know – in the form of dresses that meld fashion with cutting-edge tech to stylish effect. From aesthetic dresses that morph in response to your own heartbeat, to awesome pieces that bio-mechanically serve up cocktails at a party, these beautiful and complex garments show that geek and glamour can mix. We bring you 15 gorgeous wearable tech dresses.
Image: Studio Roosegaarde
15. Studio Roosegaarde’s Intimacy Dress
Some argue that technology is making us more intimacy-phobic. This issue of our times is loosely addressed, and given a stylish solution, by one of the most intriguing dresses on this list. The Intimacy dress was created in 2010-11 by Dutch design team Studio Roosegaarde, in collaboration with fashion designers Maartje Dijkstra (white version) and Anouk Wipprecht (black version). It responds playfully to the wearer’s pulse rate, and thus the presence of certain other people, by becoming see-through. Each dress is carefully crafted from an individual layer of white or black e-foil and secured so as to produce its very particular shape. It may not be ready to wear and may be a little too “intimate” for most of our tastes, but this cool mini is hauntingly enchanting and fabulously futuristic.
Image: Philips Design
14. Philips Design’s Bubelle Blush Dress
The mood ring is a vintage relic in comparison to the Bubelle dress from the Philips Design SKIN program. This garment gives new meaning to wearing our hearts on our sleeves, as one day we may well be wearing our hearts on our skirts. A design exploration for future product development, the Bubelle was created in 2007 and features biometric sensing tech that detects emotions through the inner lining of the dress – and then launches a “blushing” expression through the soft, ethereal exterior layer. It would surely turn any wallflower into the (Bu)belle of the ball.
Image: Rachel Reichert
13. Rachael Reichert’s Fiber Optic Corset Dress
Don’t worry about brushing up on your dance moves before hitting the clubs in this dress; it’s an outfit that will guarantee you a place in the limelight. A piece in designer Rachael Reichert’s 2013 Cybelle Horizon fashion line, this decidedly hip dress is lit up by fiber optic adornments, which flash to the rhythm of the music. The corset was designed using classical as well as contemporary methods. A steel skeleton serves as the foundation, which is then swathed in organic cotton and hemp silk. And as if all of that weren’t enough, the dress gives the wearer a sexy Marilyn Monroe-esque hourglass shape, which is highlighted by the lit-up strips.
Image: Ying Gao
12. Ying Gao’s Playtime Dress
Fashion designer and professor Ying Gao was inspired by the 1967 Jacques Tati comedy Playtime to create a 2013 collection by the same name. You would never guess that just under the graceful fabric of this dress lies a framework of motors, sensors, and specialized software. Gao described the piece’s function to Wired, saying, “When one attempts to capture an image of the dress, using a photo or video camera the garment transforms and fragments, it deconstructs and becomes soft and vague, unfocused.” Although the designer has denied that paparazzi and modern surveillance played roles in the development of the dress – it’s more of a conceptual challenge to the dominance of image in fashion – nevertheless it would seem to come in handy on intrusive occasions.
11. CuteCircuit’s GalaxyDress
CuteCircuit, the company of wunderkinds Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, has managed to make a splash in both the wearables and celebrity worlds. Katy Perry showed up at the 2010 Met Ball in a gown created by the duo and inspired by their GalaxyDress. Complete with 24,000 tiny, paper-thin full-color LEDs, the garment and its wearer lit up the party and the pages of Vogue, Glamour and InStyle. The original GalaxyDress had been displayed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago when it first caught the eye of Perry’s stylist. The dress’ circuits are extremely delicate and malleable, so the LED fabric will flow beautifully, whether it’s draped around a pop superstar or not. Perry explained her choice to sport the glowing gown, saying, “I think sometimes in fashion it can get a little stuffy, so I wanted to lighten up!”
Image: Hussein Chalayan
10. Hussein Chalayan’s Transformer Dresses
Internationally renowned fashion designer Hussein Chalayan succeeded in the ultimate fickle fashion world feat by showcasing multiple looks in an instant. He bowled over the audience in his 2006 Paris fashion show with five “Transformer” dresses. Straddling the line between engineering and high style, each piece is able to transform through three decades of fashion trends. The tech behind the fabulous designs was extensive, encompassing everything from battery packs and controlling chips to tiny geared motors, small pulleys and monofilament wire. Rob Edkins, director of engineering company 2D:3D, worked with Chalayan to devise a mini-motorized system that was carefully hidden underneath the skirts of the outfits. We knew fashion changed quickly, but these garments illustrate this notion with aesthetic ease and innovation.
9. Asta Roseway and Sheridan Martin Small’s Printing Dress
Forget about the printing press; make way for The Printing Dress! This garment was created by Asta Roseway and Sheridan Martin Small in the Microsoft Research lab and picked up the Best in Show and Best Concept awards at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers in 2011. The gown is nearly entirely assembled from rice paper, but it is linked up to a projector, a laptop and circuit boards that fulfill its decidedly modern purpose: to display what the wearer is currently Tweeting. If it’s true, as Roseway playfully puts it, that “you are what you Tweet,” then we’ll start being more mindful of what we put out on the internet.
Image: Jane Tingley
8. The Modern Nomads’ DareDroid
Often at parties the most crowded part of the room is the bar. But what if we told you that a wearable technology garment could draw just as many party goers to you? The robo-sexy DareDroid dress dispenses a White Russian cocktail after a guest completes a round of Truth or Dare. The 2011 creation by Anouk Wipprecht, Jane Tingley and Marius Kintel – who call themselves The Modern Nomads – makes use of open-source hardware and pneumatic tech to do its thing. The cocktail’s ingredients travel through tubes to arrive at their final destination: a glass alluringly placed in a cleavage-adjacent receptacle, which is shaped like a heart. Fembots and mixed drinks: the DareDroid is clearly a man magnet.
Image: Halley Profita
7. Halley Profita’s Flutter Dress
“Functional” isn’t the sexiest word out there, but this frock serves a seriously vital purpose. At first glance, the Flutter dress, created by Halley Profita, Nicholas Farrow and Professor Nikolaus Correll, appears to represent nothing more than cutting-edge fashion. But this cool piece, which picked up Best in Show and Most Inclusive and Usable Design at the 2012 International Symposium on Wearable Computers, also serves as a hearing aid of sorts. Its wing-like adornments hide a web of microphones that communicate with one another to determine – and indicate to the wearer through vibrations – what direction a sound is coming from. Profita’s site describes its creation as, “vibrotactile feedback in the direction of a loud sound or alarm to help those with hearing loss respond more intuitively to their external environment.” Sometimes, there’s more to a pretty thing than meets the eye – or, in this case, ear.
6. CuteCircuit’s M-Dress
The M-Dress by CuteCircuit is not just a super-stylish LBD; it’s also a cell phone. Just insert a standard SIM in the slit beneath the label, and you’re ready for some serious body talk. Before dialing out, phone numbers must first be programmed into the wearable tech garment. CuteCircuit used incredible gesture recognition software in this 2010 design, enabling wearers to make and answer calls simply by raising a hand to their ear. This innovative silk jersey dress ensures that the days of fumbling through your handbag for your cell may be a thing of the past.
Image: Elizabeth Tolson
5. Elizabeth Tolson’s Chastity Dress for the Vessel Series
The concept behind Elizabeth Tolson’s 2012 Chastity Dress seems like something out of a futuristic Mel Brooks or Woody Allen comedy. The dress is fitted with sensors that cause LED lights to illuminate if the dress is hoisted to a certain level – say, when a woman is unsuitably groped. As a social statement, and a conversation piece, the idea fascinates us, but the look kind of resembles something from The Jetsons. We don’t necessarily see ourselves – or Miley Cyrus – bopping around in this number, but we can’t wait to bring it up the next time that guy gets a little too close.
Image: XS Labs
4. XS Labs’ Skorpions’ Skwrath Dress
We’ve all experienced those embarrassing moments when we wish we could just crawl into a hole and hide. XS Labs’ Skwrath bodice dress – part of its Skorpions kinetic electronic clothing line – leaves that daydream in the dust. Its tough leather exterior can curve and clench in accordance with the wearer’s needs. Meanwhile, the leather abdomen plates, triggered by a special electronic board, retract when a threat is sensed, exposing slivers of blood-red silk. We’ve been expecting this cutting-edge look to become trendy since the ‘80s, when we were wowed by the sci-fi costumes in Dune and thought we’d all be in flying cars in the near future. The Skwrath appears to be keeping that dream alive.
3. Electricfoxy’s Move
Are you growing tired of that yoga instructor singling you out and straightening up your posture in front of the group? With the Electricfoxy Move garment you could wow your class with spot-on asanas. Equipped with stretch and bend sensors that alert you in a tactile fashion if your yoga (or exercise) moves are incorrect or potentially injurious, this prototype tunic also connects to a mobile app that tracks your progress. The Move garment is subtle, seamlessly melding light stretchable textiles and electronics. A word of warning, though: this garment may transform you into that token annoying yoga class show-off.
Image: Jenny Tillotson
2. Jenny Tillotson’s Smart Second Skin Dress
Most of the tech dresses on our list are defined by visuals and touch, but this is definitely the first entry that indulges the sense of smell. Jenny Tillotson’s 2003 Smart Second Skin is a fashion line that features jewelry and clothing, including this diaphanous dress. This elegant piece emits scents through a system of tiny tubes modeled on the body’s own veins and arteries, with a micro-pump mimicking the heart. But it’s about more than just blocking out nasty smells on the subway. As Tillotson explains, “Mood-enhancing effects can have an impact on behavior, learning; it’s a hot wire to the brain.” Call it aromatherapy or psychologically healthy fashion; if it means we can leave the cumbersome bottle of perfume on our vanity and be seen in this stunner, we’re in.
Image: Iris van Herpen
1. Iris van Herpen’s Wilderness Embodied Dress
Magnets are an early form of technology, yet they are a central feature in the sophisticated machines of today – everything from computer hard drives to medical equipment – and are likely to impact future tech, too. So when renowned Dutch designer Iris van Herpen called on artist Jolan van der Wiel to work with her on magnetism dresses for her 2013 collection, we knew to expect astounding results. With Björk, Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness among the designer’s admirers, it’s clear that pushing boundaries is van Herpen’s hallmark. The Wilderness Embodied Dress’ use of the fundamental tech is similarly brazen and experimental: magnets are employed to maneuver and manipulate a mix of iron fillings and resin, creating unusual textures. The splendid look of the unique garment is, unsurprisingly, an alluring force we find hard to resist.