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With reference to at least one garment from the 1960s and one from the twenty-first century explore how the application of technology evokes a futuristic fashion body.


Key terms

  • Futurism – a movement concerned with prediction for the future.
  • Technology – application for scientific knowledge for practical solutions.
  • Minimalism – art that features pared-down designs.

Overcoming obsolescence is the essential goal of fashion. Thus, futurism is a natural complement to style. Designers are always looking to initiate future trends though futuristic design. Technology consistently aids this design paradigm by providing the means and inspiration to create for the future. It is important to note, however, that even futuristic fashion routinely derives inspiration from past designs. Thus, futuristic fashion is often a blend of the future and the past combined using innovative or inventive technology. Futuristic designers therefore communicate society’s nostalgia, hopes and dreams. This paper will illustrate how technology promotes futurism by allowing designers to engineer fashion for an envisioned future.

From its beginnings, futurism was centered on expressing the values of speed, technology and industry. Technology plays a major role in shaping futurism, indeed, people’s ideas for the future are often premised on how new innovations may affect life. By designing for the future, futurists differentiate themselves from the past only invoking it when required by nostalgia. While their ideas are premised on developing or anticipated technology, some expressions of futurism imagine technology that is yet to materialize. Futurism however, is not speculative. Its assumptions about future are informed by reality. Unlike preceding art movements, such as impressionism and pointillism, futurists did not distinguish themselves as a distinct movement. The movement’s initial ideas were adapted from post-impressionism. These manifested themselves in the form of divisionism and symbolism. Until the early 20th century futurism was still considered a by-product of cubism. These influences gave way to a distinct style based on anticipations for the future. 

The father of futurism is considered to be Giacomo Balla. By experimenting with materials and objects, he created clothing that went against fashion tradition. This anti-neutral fashion paradigm viewed the human form as an assemblage of parts. Designing for this assembly required designers to provide allowance for free movement. Thus, technology was used to create fabric whose density and volume allowed free animation. At the same time, clothes were to retain simplicity of form. Thus, segmenting fabric required use of smooth lines and fabric. The requirements were fulfilled by employing precise fabric craft enabled by the industrial age’s new fabrication techniques.  Giacomo’s imagined the future of fashion as one which closed the gap between clothing and the wearer. Ideas about how people interact with clothes have been a recurring fascination of the futurist movement. Thus, futuristic designs often accentuate, rather than conceal natural forms. Today, futurists use 3d modeling to create clothes that complement the human body by drawing attention to otherwise minute details. Designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier embody this concept by designing clothes as the “second skin”. To achieve comfort for this design, material has to mimic natural skin function. Textiles created using conventional methods are reengineered to allow greater flexibility and conductance. Technology provides the technical support for these futuristic concepts.

Futurisms has consistently strived to represent the modern experience though a combination of multiple senses. While conventional fashion relies on visual representation of ideas, futurists aim to evoke multiple sensations. Clothing therefore has to communicate with its wearer in unconventional ways. For instance, futuristic accessories may tap their wearer to roved alerts. These possibilities are virtually impossible without technological invitation

From the beginning of the 20th century, designers have used technology to evoke futuristic appeal in clothing. During this period, deign trends showed a desire to escape from the past and move into the future. Futurists aimed to redefine the universe through innovative design of objects. Thor apparel challenged tradition, prompting debate on subjects such as gender roles, social stratification and individualism. Using technology, futurists shifted focus from expensive, elitist fashion to clothes that promoted health and comfort. Thus, sleek lines replaced frivolous detail. Clothes now took on basic shapes that allowed the free comfortable movement necessitated by life in the industrial age. To achieve some of these designs. Fashion designers used industrial materials such as plastics, rubber and metal. Technological advancements allowed use of these materials for applications that traditionally required natural fabric. This mirrored mechanization of industry. Futurists’ influence on the fashion industry diminished during the wars as their movement became associated with fascism.

The end of the war heralded a new technology age. Futurists found new inspiration in cold-war era innovation. In particular, the space age inspired techno-centric designs. Shortage of natural Fabric during The Second World War had prompted designers to innovate with synthetic materials. As the space race created a new frontier for material science, designers now gained access to an even greater range of synthetic materials. Because of space exploration, material scientists got acquainted with designing for an extra-terrestrial environment. Outer space required material that could protect its wearer from hazards not present on earth.  Materials such as aluminum, polyvinyl chloride, Lucite, acrylic and polystyrene now found application in the fashion industry. With cold war tensions rising, futuristic visions of a dystopic earth encouraged designers to create spacesuit-like suits. The space suit’s singular design inspired designers to abandon conventional designs in favor of radical experimentation with accessories. Andre Courreges’s space look illustrates this theme. His 1964 collection featured googles, white boots, and trouser suits that incorporated shiny fabrics. Pierre Cardin and Pao Rabbane also used space technology as inspiration for their collections. As space exploration grew became the focus of cold war rivalry, designers harnessed the resultant technology to create futuristic fashion. These designs still embodied the philosophy of the earlier futurism movement. They showed a break from the past by incorporating unconventional accessories such as helmets and googles while using industrial materials to create a futuristic theme. This style culminated in Jane Fonda’s space babe, Barbarella. This collection featured costumes jointly deigned with Paco Rabanne.

Figure 1: Andre Courreges’s space look

Figure 2: Metallic finishes are a recurring theme in futurism

The 1960s were also a youth-dominated era. While previous designers focused on creating a feel of maturity in clothing, designers now sough a youthful, even child-like look (Pailes-Friedman, 2016). The most prominent of these trends was the miniskirt. The new dress code represented the new role of the woman as an active participant in urban hassles. Their minimalistic designs were enabled by synthetic materials which allowed minimal detail. At the same time, the hippie movement adopted unisex, fashion. The movement’ preference simplistic, comfortable clothing conformed to futurism’s utilitarian philosophy. Futurism’s idea of a future free from limitations of the past endeared it to youths who were looking to revolutionize prevailing mindsets. In addition to relying on technology to meet design goals, futurism became a means of technological expression.

The information age has enhanced globalization of fashion trends. Online shopping also makes fashion accessible to more people. Thus, regional differences in style have become increasingly irrelevant. Fashion designers now have access to a wealth of information from markets, fellow designers and technologists. The digital age has therefore allowed individual designers to make a contribution to fashion. Crowdsourcing, enabled by digital communication networks, are now a viable means of fashion design. The digital age has also increased futurists’ responsiveness to evolving trends (Seymour, 2009). It has created fast fashion movement whereby designs are made for the short term. Fast fashion is also enabled by globalized mass production.

Developments in material science mean that clothing can be produced for short term use. This development has promoted new concerns about fashion’s impact on the environment. Indeed, futuristic fast fashion has emerged as a leading cause of carbon emissions. Biodegradable fabric, enabled by green technology is now viewed as a viable alternative to conventional fabrics (Pailes-Friedman, 2016). Enabled by green technology, sustainability has become a focal point of futuristic fashion. Thus, designers are now looking back to organically produced natural fabric to ensure sustainability. This futurism movement aims to defuse the conflict between nature and fashion.

In the 21st century, internet enabled diffusion of information has prompted new discussion about fashion plagiarism. Concerns about copyright infringement have led to analysts predicting the end of patented fashion. Futurists, however, see the infroamtion age as enabling new possibilities. In addition to giving designers deeper insight into markets, the information age is now increasing frequency of fashion cycles (Quinn, 2012). Technologies such as live streaming allow greater access to catwalks and fashion, eliminating the need to depend on catwalk reviewers. Social media also permits increased engagement with clients. Thus, futurists have a clearer understating of market trends. This illustrates why the digital age is an asset to the futurism movement in fashion.

As a result of technology developments, futurists’ influence on the fashion industry now transcends regional boundaries. Unlike in the 1920s, futurism today is not created to express nationalistic ideals or regional art. Rather, futurists can use technology to assemble heterogeneous elements of style (Pailes-Friedman, 2016). Aided by information and communication technology, the expression of futurism is now transforming into a universal visual language. Designers from around the world are therefore able to make unique contributions to the futurism movement. In addition, fashion markets from around the world become receptive to futurism’s products. Thus, globalized design is critical to the growth of the futurism movement.

Figure 3: 21st century futurism by Gareth Pugh, Alexander McQueen and Giles Deacon

Despite its pronounced use of synthetic fabric, futuristic fashion still uses natural material to achieve versatile clothing. The use of materials such as wool and leather, has caused conflict between the fashion industry and animal rights activists. A solution to this problem has been envisioned by futurists who predict use of lab-grown materials (Flanagan, 2013). Ethical either and wool, grown in the lab, would enable “ethical” fashion. This technology is still in its formative stages but shows the capacity of technology to solve ethical dilemmas commonly encountered by designers. It is also going to solve enhance the sustainability of future fashion by providing a constant stream of raw material at minimal environmental cost (Moisander & Personen, 2002). Concerns about labor practices in the fashion industry an also be addressed though technology. Advances in manufacturing eliminate the need to extensively engage human labor (Aage & Belussi, 2008). A future in which the design and manufacture process is fully automated is therefore plausible.

Recent developments in technology have blurred the distinction between the natural and artificial body. Wearables are considered as an interface between the wearer and the environment. With technology enabling miniaturization of wearable accessories, futurism is looking to a future where these gadgets are indistinguishable from the body (Genova & Moriwaki, 2016). Current technologies allow designers to add intelligent gadgets to everyday accessories. Gadgets such as watches, for example, watches can now interact with the wearer’s pulse to give feedback on health indicators. This gives credence to futurists’ idea of interactive clothing. Wearable gadgets can communicate with one another in an internet of things network that gives wears an increased adaptability to the environment. Lundi demonstrated a smart boot that changes internal temperatures in response to weather changes (Mihm, 2010). Another example, solepower enables users to charge devices using kinetic energy. Programmable material also offer new opportunities for futuristic clothing. In line with futurism’s utilitarian ideals, scientists have created materials that is capable of instantly changing shape to accommodate environmental changes. Thus, futuristic fashion will require designers to collaborate with technologists for automated clothing aesthetics.

Futurism can create dreams for the future in the context of current and past events. Thus, futuristic fashion can provide an impetus for development of enabling technology. Wearable technology, for example, has prompted research on autonomous, wearable robots. Technology enables futurism in fashion by providing clothing that serves its purpose in changing conditions without requiring constant human mediation.



Aage, T. & Belussi, F. (2008). From Fashion to Design: Creative Networks in Industrial Districts. Industry and Innovation, 15(5), 475.

Flanagan, P. (2013). 2029 Fashion Futurism, User Experience, 13 (2), np.

Genova, A. & Moriwaki, K. (2016). Fashion and Technology: A Guide to Materials and Applications. New York, NY: Fairchild Books.

Mihm, B. (2010). “Fast Fashion in a Flat World: Global Sourcing Strategies.” International Business and Economics Research Journal, 9(6), 55–63.

Moisander, J. & Personen, S. (2002). “Narratives of Sustainable Ways of Living: Constructing the Self and Others as a Green Consumer.” Management Decision 40(4): 329–42.

Pailes-Friedman, R. (2016). Smart Textiles for Designers: Inventing the Future of Fabrics. New York, NY: Laurence King Publishing.

Quinn, B. (2012). Fashion Futures. London, UK: Merrell Publishers.

Seymour, S. (2009). Fashionable Technology: The Intersection of Design, Fashion, Science and Technology. Vienna: Springer Vienna Architecture.








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