How Smart Is Smart? T-shirts, Wellness, and the Way People Feel about “Medical” Textiles

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The twenty-first century’s first decade of smart fibers has been characterized by a great deal of blue sky thinking and theorizing, and growing collaboration across a number of fields—medicine, textile technology, materials science, information and communication technology, engineering, and clothing design—to the point where all things seem to be possible, but very few of them are happening on a commercial scale. “Smart fashion” and “techno-chic” and have been talked up as the next big thing since the late 1990s, with the Millennium providing an impetus for futuristic design collections and style predictions. Ten years later, despite this vision of a brave new textile world and impressive advances in fiber technology, the much-heralded street-smart fashion revolution has failed to materialize, and specialist applications have also been slow to develop. Why, and what is the alternative? To date, responses to the question have been design-led (Ariyatum et al. 2005), suggesting that the answer to the problem lies in a better matching of product to lifestyle, without looking deeply into the meaning of either. Why not ask the anthropologists? This anthropological study uses the material culture of the ubiquitous T-shirt to explore the proposition that, by focusing on technology and design to the exclusion of culture and what people feel about textiles, smart fibers may have become too smart for their own good.

Keywords: Dupont; Lycra; T-shirts; baby boomers; smart fibers; wellness

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2010

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  • Textile brings together research in textile studies in an innovative and distinctive academic forum for all those who share a multifaceted view of textiles within an expanded field. Peer-reviewed and in full-color throughout, it represents a dynamic and wide-ranging set of critical practices. It provides a platform for points of departure between art and craft; gender and identity; cloth, body and architecture; labor and technology; techno-design and practice— all situated within the broader contexts of material and visual culture.
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