They say you should dress for the job you want, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what exactly those job options will be in the future. Recently, the MIT Technology Review published a table of every study they could find on what automation will do to future jobs, and the predictions range from 2 billion jobs destroyed worldwide by 2030, to 890 million jobs created.
So while even the experts disagree about what the future of work entails, what you wear to work in the future will still depend on what kind of job you have, with wearable tech options ranging from high-tech business suits and to super-powered exo-suits.
The January 2018 Market Research Report on Workwear trends by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., stands at 418 pages, profiles 119 companies, and costs $5,000 to read. That's a small price to pay for a five-year historic analysis of general workwear, corporate workwear, and uniforms, as well as annual estimates and forecasts for 2016 through 2024.
But looking at the abstract and contents is free, and allows us to glean such insights as "Functional and Durable Clothing Offering a Safe Niche in an Otherwise Troubled Apparel Industry" and "Women: A Major Consumer Category." Who knew?
The "Noteworthy design and color trends in workwear" section includes subchapters on both "grey shades" (at least 50 of them, hopefully) and "neutrals and bright colors," which really narrows it down. "Embellished Aprons" also have their own entire subchapter, so fashionistas please take note, this is your style inspo for S/S 2024:
There are much more futuristic-sounding trends listed as well in the chapter entitled "Innovations & Advancements," including nanotechnology, emergence of "E-Textiles," and an encouragingly vague material called "Flex 2000" which personally I can't wait to apply to my body. Until MONTAG has the budget to acquire a $5,000.00 market research report for fun, or (more likely) this tech hits the high-performance apparel industries and trickles down to consumer goods, we'll have to wait to find out.
According to the same market research report (which again, it has to be noted, we haven't actually read), millennials are driving growth in demand for casual workwear by blurring the lines between work, home, rest, and travel clothes. At least in the tech and startup industries, this is undoubtedly true: you can add office dress code staples like pressed pants, button-ups, collared shirts and pantyhose to the list of things millennials are killing. And like anything that millennials do just because it's easy or feels good, there is an accompanying outsized moral panic with headlines like "What's the problem with millennials in the workplace?", "The End Of The Office Dress Code", "Sorry, Clothing Retailers: Millennials Would Rather Save For Travel", and "Is Casual Dress Killing Your Productivity At Work?"
Of course this isn't true in every industry, and the higher on the corporate ladder you climb the more likely it is you'll have to shape up and suit up, but Silicon Valley has been leading the way for some of the richest people on earth to dress like they're beat poets on top, dad jeans on the bottom (Steve Jobs' famous uniform), still rolling out of a dorm room single bed (a la Zuck), or about to go hiking in a sleeveless vest (a signature look from the Bezos collection).
Even businesses that emphasize the business side of business casual are getting comfortable (but on the DL). Companies like Carbon38 and Dai are creating chic separates for the skirt suit set out of the same materials as yoga pants and running gear. San Francisco's crowdfunded clothing company Betabrand even has an entire line of pants that are secretly as good for downward dog as presenting PowerPoints. Joanna Dai of the eponymous fashion brand explained her inspiration and reflects on her experiences in banking for Fast Company, "Having worked in an industry where the dress code is still alive and well, I know there’s still a demand for suits and shift dresses. Women in law, politics, and finance aren’t wearing sneakers to the office just yet."
Just as athleisure shows no signs of stopping or even slowing down as a trend for casual fashion, activewear is slowly but surely making its way into an office near you.
Suits and Exo-Suits
For those who don't work in an office, the future is going to be a lot cooler than secret yoga pants. Although the auto industry is one of the places hit hardest by automation, Ford is one of the first companies to robotically support its human workers by providing exoskeleton vests to its manufacturing plants in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
These vests are a product by Ekso Bionics, a company that makes robotic assistance technologies for medical as well as manufacturing applications. They received the first FDA clearance for technology to assist in stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and had a trial period with Ford last year at two of its factories in Michigan which saw an 83% decrease in the number of incidents resulting in worker injury, and a 90% decrease in ergonomic stress injuries like overextension.
The EksoVests deployed in the Ford plants are worn on workers' backs, and provide 5 to 15 pounds of additional support per arm for overhead movements and lifting heavy items, and there are other models like the EksoZeroG that ease the physical burden on construction and electrical workers by supporting different muscles. A member of the Reno Carpenters Union testifies on the EksoWorks site: "Before, carpenters could get between 50 and 100 holes in a day by switching guys out, because it is just brutal… Now with Peggy Sue [EksoZeroG], on a good day, I can do 300 to 330 holes—one guy by himself."
Super strength and endurance isn't even the limit of exoskeleton technology: couldn't you sometimes use an extra pair of hands? A prototype called Fusion, developed by Yamen Saraji, an assistant professor at Tokyo's Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, is a lightweight, VR-controlled set of robot arms that you can wear on your back.
The first project by the same team, MetaLimbs, had a similar design but the extra arms were controlled by the wearer's feet:
The arms of Fusion are controlled by someone else wearing a VR headset, which sees the view from a camera mounted right over the wearer's shoulder. While it's not quite ready for mass production, weighing in at 21 pounds and with only 1.5 hours of battery life, Saraji's team has pitched it to a Tokyo startup accelerator, and you can imagine all of its potential applications in an industrial context. MIT research scientist Hermano Igo Krebs was quoted speculating that it could be used by astronauts or paramedics, particularly if they need help with unfamiliar procedures; having an expert control a second set of hands in a medical emergency would be invaluable.
And who knows, although the Google Glass crashed and burned on its first attempt to break through the wearable tech ceiling, wearable personal robotics could become the norm. Who couldn't use an extra pair of arms for housework like cooking or cleaning? And forget about constantly picking up and putting down your cell phone: although we joked about it in MONTAG'S Komfort Future Technologies, there's already a gadget for that too (automatical scrolling, swiping, and liking features not included):
Whether you're working in an office, on an assembly line, or out on the asteroid mines, the future of workwear will be high tech. Just hope you won't have to put on a robot costume to get into a job.