Becoming the Screen

For my September columns in the Globe Style Advisor, I like to take on a big idea that I think will be relevant in the year to come. In September 2015, I explored the challenge of reconciling screen aesthetics with clothing. Since then, my thoughts have evolved. Later on in May 2016 I pursued these ideas further in another article.


The future of fashion is Tumblr-ing towards us at ever increasing speeds. The popular online platform is an archive of seemingly every image imaginable. Beyond the content, the way it’s delivered is an aesthetic of its own in the form of compressed and decayed Youtube videos, animated GIFs, glitchy art, over-filtered selfies and rampant emoji usage. The resulting style, dubbed “the new aesthetic” by U.K. artist James Bridle, is a result of the limitations of digital tools. Rather than the flawless, clinical look predicted by 20th century “space age” futurists, the rough-and-tumbl right now is lo-fi. It’s about how digital tries to approximate reality, but falls short.

The new aesthetic’s effect on fashion manifests because screen technology moves faster than its textile counterparts. While avant garde designers like Christopher Kane and Nicolas Ghesquière are attempting to evoke the backlit, animated multivision we’ve become accustomed to on our mobile screens, they’re using special effects to mimic technological innovation. Textiles aren’t yet able to be an actual screen, so simulacra – think holographic finishes, fluorescence, laser cutting and clunky wearables still in their awkward infancy – will have to do for now.

This ctrl-X and paste almost-aesthetic will be ascendant until the convergence of the idea – wearing a screen – and the technical means to achieve it happen. It may be sooner than you think. A company called CuteCircuit is developing interactive LED fashion, Google is partnering with Levi’s to develop cloth with touchscreen capabilities and display makers are inventing screens and solar power technology that’s thinner and more flexible. Once clothing that is also a screen is easily available, fashion will face this century’s defining aesthetic revolution, hyperreality: the conflation of the real and the virtual.

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