The chances are that most young people in cities have seen electric clothing within some situation or another. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to develop an overview of electric clothing.
The research paper will have four main parts.
- The first part will make the point that in general, the term electric clothing tends to have two different meanings; the essay will describe each of these meanings.
- The second part will then describe the applications of the first of the meanings in greater depth
- The third part will do the same with the second of the meanings.
- Finally, the fourth part will reflect on the potential future of electric clothing and its contribution to society and culture.
What is electric clothing?
If one simply looks up the term “electric clothing” on the Internet, some of the main hits that are produced pertain to companies that actually produce clothing that have lighting technology built into them. The company Lumigram is one good example of this: the company’s website advertises a
“light up clothing line” that is “made within luminous fabric” which “emits a colored light along the full length of the fibers, producing a stunning luminous effect” (paragraph 1).
It would seem that this kind of clothing is clearly not meant for use within the context of everyday life within normal society. Rather, the clothing is clearly meant for informal special occasions or parties, such a rave-like events or music festivals. The clothing is purposefully extravagant, and it is meant primarily to produce an aesthetic effect on the person who is looking at the clothing. The clothing does not necessarily have any pragmatic value, in the narrow sense of helping one function more effectively within the context of mainstream society.
A second main meaning of electric clothing that has emerged in recent times, though, pertains not just to clothing that integrates electronic components within it for aesthetic purposes, but rather clothing that is actually capable of itself producing electric energy. As Ornes wrote in March 2015:
“You’ll get a charge out of the clothes of the future. Scientists in South Korea have developed a flexible, foldable and wearable fabric that generates electricity as it bends and flexes” (paragraph 1).
This is a quite innovative technology that has only emerged quite recently, which may explain why it is really not what the average person may think of when he hears the term electric clothing. Electric clothing in this sense does not in any sense visually appear to contain electric components.
Rather, the point here is that the nature of the fabric in this clothing is such that the fabric itself is able to generate electricity by capturing the energy expended by a body in motion and transforming it into a usable source of power. Whereas clothing that has electric components consumes power in order to emit light, clothing that is electric in this second sense of the word produces power rather than consuming it.
There are, then, two rather different concepts of electric clothing that are used in these times. These concepts can be called the fashion application on the one hand, and the practical application on the other. The present essay will now discuss each of these applications in somewhat greater depth. Over coming times, though, it is quite possible that the term electric clothing will increasingly come to refer to the technology of clothing that actually generates electricity.
The present essay will now dwell a little further on the fashion application of electric clothing; but after this, it will shift to the practical application. Attention will then also be dedicated to the ways in which electric clothing can be expected to develop and proliferate over the coming times. Technologically, the practical application is quite sophisticated and can potentially meet pragmatic needs within the context of modern life.
Fashion application of electric clothing
The fashion application of electric clothing essentially addresses aesthetic needs: that is, when people wear this kind of clothing, they do so primarily in order to look attractive to and/or get attention from others. In a way, this could be understood as a kind of body language, or the ways in which men and women try to send non-verbally communication social cues to each other.
If one wears electric clothing for fashion purposes, then is trying (either consciously or unconsciously) to convey a certain impression of oneself within a given social situation. It could, for example, demonstrate a disregard for the fashion norms of ordinary society; it could be meant to call attention to certain aspects of one’s own features; and so on.
In this sense, electric clothing used for fashion surely is purposeful; but this is the case in the broad sense that all human action can be called implicitly purposeful in some sense. More narrowly considered, the purpose falls somewhere between the aesthetic, the erotic, and the recreational. The purpose is not pragmatic in the narrow sense of helping one meet the basic needs of living within modern society.
Moreover, there is even a sense in which electric clothing could be considered unpragmatic from the perspective of health, survival, and functioning. Many articles of electric clothing make use of the technology of LED lighting in order to produce their effect of illumination. As Scheer and Moss have written, though:
“LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially dangerous substances” (paragraph 2).
This clearly makes it somewhat problematic for people to actually wear LEDs on their bodies. Of course, the social occasions during which electric clothing is appropriate for fashion purposes are likely few and far between, which significantly minimizes the actual practical risk at which the lights put people for health abnormalities. The issue may be considerably more serious when it comes to LEDs that are used for the purpose of actually lighting up rooms; but this matter would be beyond the scope of the present essay’s discussion.
Practical application of electric Ccothing
The practical application of electric clothing hinges on developments in nanotechnology. Writing about a specific development called Power Felt, for example, NANO has reported that
“comprised of tiny carbon nanotubes locked up in flexible plastic fibres and made to feel like fabric, Power Felt uses temperature differences—room temperature versus body temperature, for instance—to create a charge” (paragraph 1).
This technology could potentially allow one to (for example) charge one’s cell phone simply by channeling the energy produced by the fabric directly into the device, without needing to actually plug the device into the wall in order to recharge its battery (DuFault).
Thus far, this application has not become widespread, due to the fact that it would be too expensive for general consumer use: that is, the benefit of producing the energy would be outweighed by the cost of doing so. This can, however, be expected to change over time as the technology continues to develop and evolve.
In addition, another way that electric clothing can generate power is through the harnessing the energy latent in static. As Ornes has written:
“Friction is the resistance encountered when one material moves over or through another material. . . . The material includes tiny zinc-oxide rods only billionths of a meter long. Those spiky nanoparticles help convert motion into electricity” (paragraph 6).
Ordinarily, the static that is produced by the contact between one’s body and one’s clothing is simply dissipated into the air in the form of heat. Some kinds of electric clothing, though, are now able to capture this energy and use it to power electronic devices, such as phones and screens. Someday, such clothing may even be washable and generally just like ordinary clothing in every way, including texture, weight, appearance, and feel.
Yet another form of electric clothing attempts to harness the power of sunlight itself in order to produce energy. Writing of a textile called Solar Fiber, for example, DuFault has written:
“The idea behind Solar Fiber is a flexible photovoltaic fibre that converts sunlight energy into electrical energy via a yarn that can be worked into all sorts of fabric” (paragraph 4).
This capture of light energy is similar to other kinds of electric clothing that attempt to capture either heat energy or static energy and direct them toward other purposes (Hicks). The specific ways in which the energy will actually be stored is still somewhat under development. The energy could, for example, be contained within the fabric itself; it could be transferred from the fabric to batteries or energy pods.
It could also be directly channeled to a device that can then be powered by the captured energy. The main idea in all cases, though, is that the energy that would otherwise simply be released into the atmosphere can be harnessed by electric clothing and then used for productive purposes.
Reflection on the future
Conceptually, the practical application of electric clothing can be understood as one small part of the broader emerging societal focus on developing forms of renewable energy. This concern is based on a growing awareness of the finite nature of fossil fuel, the empirical reality of the phenomenon of global warming, and so on. There is also the fact that people are increasingly reliant on their technological devices.
For example, from pulling up maps to hailing a cab, people today are in need of their smartphones at almost all times. This unprecedented use of portable technologies, coupled with an awareness of the unsustainability of traditional forms of energy, have given rise to the general zeitgeist of renewable, or green, energy. To at least some extent, electric clothing falls under the umbrella of this broader trend.
In principle, electric clothing—and electric textiles more generally—can change the way that people think about and relate themselves to sources of energy. As Carroll (qtd. in Ferris) has stated:
“The revolution it presents is more power—a power density greater than what we have today. So laptops last longer, electronics last longer, things like that. You use power differently; you expect to collect power from your surroundings. You recognize that power can be soaked up and placed into your electronics, like a sponge would soak up water” (paragraph 12).
This is a basic paradigm shift that can be expected to have significant implications for the future of energy, many of which may still remain unforeseen at the present time. Electric clothing per se refers, of course, to materials that people wear on their bodies. More broadly, though, electric clothing is made of electric textile, and electric textile can potentially be wrapped around any electronic device in order to charge it up. For example, the day may come when one would not need to plug one’s smartphone to recharge its battery; it may suffice to wrap the device in electric textile, and then simply leave the device laying out in the sunlight.
In summary, this essay has consisted of an overview of electric clothing. The essay began by pointing out that the term electric clothing itself has two somewhat different meanings; and after discussing the fashion application of the term, the essay turned attention to the practical application of the term. An important conclusion that has emerged here is that electric clothing can potentially change the way that people think about energy, and that this could have significant lifestyle implications within the modern world. This would be part of the broader social and cultural movement toward sustainable and renewable energies.
DuFault, Amy. “Fashion Meets Renewable Energy—Clothes that Charge Your Smartphone.” Guardian. 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. smartphone>.
Ferris, Robert. “This Magical Electricity-Creating Fabric Will Soon Be Everywhere.” Business Insider. 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. carroll-on-thermoelectric-fabrics-2013-4>.
Hicks, Jennifer. “New Fabric Generates Electricity via Your Body Heat.” Forbes. 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. .
LumiGram. “Clothing Line.” 2015. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. .
Ornes, Stephen. “‘Smart’ Clothes Generate Electricity.” Student Science, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. electricity>.
NANO. “Electricity-Generating Nanotextile.” Author, 2015. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. .
Scheer, Roddy, and Doug Moss. “The Dark Side of LED Lightbulbs.” Scientific American. 15 Sep. 2012. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. .