Back to the Future of Fashion

Photos by Jane Bruce
Photos by Jane Bruce

Before Glass was a glimmer in Google’s eye, there was Clueless. In the movie, the pager was a quintessential status symbol, one that could sexily hook onto the pocket of a pair of light-wash, high-rise jeans. It was a tip off not just of affluence, but also popularity; anyone who needed to be that accessible had to be liked. And as is the case for most 8th grade girls, that was my main objective—being liked by as many people as possible. I wanted everyone to think there was a chance I had a boyfriend like Murray who would demand to know “why don’t you be answering any of my pages?”

So, my first experience with “wearable technology,” came when I begged my dad to get me a pager at Radio Shack in the 90s. The one I wanted was tiny and teal, made of that popular 90s see-through plastic, the kind that reveals the microchips and wires and batteries inside. I didn’t want to actually use the pager, I explained. I just had to have it as a fashion accessory. It would simply be my watch, one that would ensure my social standing for the rest of the year. And it worked: when we “played” Clueless at recess, that pager meant I always got first pick of character. (Cher, duh).

At the time, pagers weren’t the only must-have of this technological variety. I’d hook Tamagotchis onto my belt loop and secretly try to keep the virtual pets alive during class. I coveted glow-in-the-dark nail polish, light-up sneakers, calculator watches and mood rings. These items, unlike traditional accessories, had a dual function. They didn’t just look cool; in theory, they also had some kind of “practical” function, and that made them even cooler. 

But there were certain scenarios in which these objects were straight up necessary. What if the lights went out and you had no flashlight? Thank god for Neon Nailz. What if you needed to be identified while running a marathon? Throw on some LA GEARs. What if you had to do some complex mathematics on line at the deli? Casio, baby. And I grew up in California, so checking in with myself emotionally at least five times a day with a mood ring was required.


These accessories may seem kitschy and vintage now, but at the tender age of 12, they were formative to my sense of style. They taught me that a big part of being considered fashionable is convincing people you are cutting edge. And the only thing better than being a fashionista is being an innovator. Being both is almost too hot to handle [cc: Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck]. You want your appearance to say not just “I look good” but also “I have money” and “I’m into sick gadgets.”

In 2016, achieving this vibe has never been easier. There’s the foundation I put on my face that magically morphs to match my skin color, a ring made from a 3D printer, a hypoallergenic perfume made of the synthetic Cetalox. There is infinite room for “iteration,” and our options at the intersection of fashion and technology only multiply with each passing year. We as a culture create more complex problems, so we can invent even more complex technology to solve them. It’s fun!

Sartorial innovation in the time category has been going down since pocket watches, but recently it’s been taken to a whole other level. “Yes, it’s a watch,” reads the Apple Watch marketing copy. “But unlike any you’ve ever imagined.” Lo and behold, this one vibrates when someone sexts you! There’s a woman living inside who will give you directions! You can use it to pay when you “want to buy a bottle of water while you’re out for a run”!

But in the Apple Watch we have reached a tipping point, in which the need to wear your gadget on your sleeve is no longer casual. Sure, it’s a symbol of status, but is that one you actually want? The Apple Watch has so many functions that it’s primary one—telling time—feels irrelevant. And in being so overly useful, and so goddamn expensive, it loses all of the chill that my little teal pager once had. And that is the opposite of fashionable. 


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