To say that styles and senses of fashion changes a lot over time is… Putting it mildly. You would be hard pressed to prove to someone who had never seen an American before that both of these groups of people’s clothes were produced by the same culture:
We hear the powdered wig look is IN this year.
Of course, we’re talking about a separation of over two centuries here. Surely it’s not as dramatic a change over a shorter period of time…
Well, clearly one’s sartorial sensibilities changes incredibly quickly over the years, even year-to-year! Some fashionistas pride themselves on guessing what the popular trends will be “next winter,” usually saying something as groundbreaking as, “blacks will be in.” But what about the winter after that? Or 10 winters from now? Or 100? There’s only one place where guessing the fashions of the future comes into play, and that’s in the world of science fiction.
Futuristic fashion is no new subject. While the Pre-Industrial world was fairly static, the incredible pace of change the Industrial Revolution brought with it made it painfully obvious that nothing was sacred any longer. Futurism suddenly became a very popular subject, and speculation started to run rampant. And it was obvious that what was once considered impossible or improbable or just downright offensive would be perfectly common and acceptable very soon…
A women's swimsuit from the '20s, which would have likely elicited astonished, scandalized shrieks from lookers-on just ten years earlier.
Fashion was clearly going to be a part of this.
The earliest attempts at guessing the sartorial looks of the future were a bit… Whimsical.
Vanity Fair in 1939, predicting fashions of the 21st Century. ...What? You don't have one of these in your wardrobe?
The world was changing so much and so quickly that it was assumed that we would completely reinvent the fashion wheel every few decades. However, an examination of fashions of the past show a simple fact: while the aesthetics change a lot, the basic ideas behind the styles do not change quickly at all. The modern suit has changed in very minor ways over the past 150 years, mostly in the fine details. We didn’t suddenly stop wearing blazers and put on lamé jumpsuits. Futurists have a nasty habit of dressing their denizens of the world of tomorrow in one of two ways: absurdly outlandishly or just like they dress now (but with more zippers, for some reason).
Science fiction’s Golden Age (1930s to the 1950s) stuck to the same outlandishness when it came to fashion in the future. Silver spacesuits and giant shoulder pads were the norm.
"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" really knew how to wear a... Um, suit?
The ’60s and ’70s went the other direction, for obvious reasons. People were regularly dressing like they were from another planet in real life, so not much effort was required to make people in the future look unusual…
Quick, which of these is from "Star Trek," and which is from an actual '60s fashion show?
But a funny thing started to happen to science fiction around this time: people began to take it seriously. Even while “Star Trek” was dressing alien girls in gogo boots, it was exploring the human condition in ways traditional television had never tried before. Films like “2001” came out, and treated the future with dead seriousness, actually trying to accurately predict what the future would look like. Some films, like “Logan’s Run,” remained outlandish, but that was usually a deliberate choice, not a misguided effort to guess the future. The shift has since resulted in a plethora of films and television shows that offer intriguing visions of things we might actually wear in the future.
1982’s “Blade Runner” presented a dark, polluted and overpopulated vision of the near-future, where some Noir sensibilities had creeped back into fashion over the decades.
1986’s sequel to “Alien,” “Aliens,” borrowed from the nefarious Wall Street yuppie of the time to create the smug, besuited company men of the all-controlling Weyland-Yutani Corporation, while otherwise using a stark, cold, colorless and boring style for civilian and military costumes, reflecting a clearly Spartan, technocratic culture.
The ’90s television series “Babylon 5” very cleverly hinted at what was happening to its future version of Earth with sharply-lined, stand-offish, even Fascistic clothing designs, which makes perfect sense when the show’s human government degenerates into a Fascist dictatorship halfway through the series.
One of the more interesting recent examples is “The Fifth Element,” whose entire wardrobe was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. It takes place in 2263, and Gaultier designed an ENTIRE cultural fashion sense for this future version of humanity, which seems to portray a decidedly more sexually liberated culture that has become very fond of color over the centuries.
Really, we could go on forever. Will any of these particular visions come to pass? Unlikely. But we’re looking forward to seeing whatever the sartorial future might hold.
We’ll leave you with just one more example, that will be relevant very soon. The 2015 sequence in “Back to the Future, Part II.” Anyone think we’ll be dressing like this in just three short years?