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Wearing Light

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Last night, talk show host Conan O'Brien revealed his holiday decorations (which includes Godzilla, King Kong, and the Christmas UFO) while wearing a Santa Claus beard composed of tree lights. He also sported a fiber optic topknot on his lighted hat.

The costume was over the top, but it wasn't exactly a breakthrough in illuminated clothing. Strings of Christmas tree lights have adorned tacky sweaters for years. More and more, designers are working with advanced technology like knitted and woven fiber optics, LEDs, and chemicals to make wearing light simpler.

This Illuminated Wedding Dress by Enlighted features 300 LEDs scattered along the skirt that flicker randomly. The effect differs according to the ambient lighting: the skirt is subtle in a well-lit room and dramatic when the room lights are turned down. The lights are turned on by remote control.

The Galaxy Dress from Cute Circuit is embedded with 24,000 LEDs embroidered onto the surface of the fabric. The LEDs are just two millimeters wide, and are powered by several iPod batteries distributed around the dress.

The Italian company Luminex developed a way of weaving fiber optic thread into more familiar fabrics. The result is a flexible fabric that glows evenly with the power of a cell phone battery. The Luminex dress you see here can glow in five different colors.

The Luminex formal gown is impressive. The company also makes casual clothing, as well as furniture fabric, linens, and industrial products.

The Twirkle line from Cute Circuit offers dresses and men and women's t-shirts in several patterns. The patterns contains LEDs that run on small coin batteries and are controlled by your movements!

Mary Huang designed a line of LED dresses called Rhyme and Reason. Her focus was to hide the LEDS in the fabric in order to create a glow without the appearance of individual lights. Each dress is made to order.

Erogear offers wearable LED displays on a jacket, which comes with an 8-bit processor, software, and a built-in USB port so you can program your own video display! The size, shape, and specifications of the display are customized for the buyer. The video features 256 levels of grayscale and runs at 30 frames per second.

LEDWear offers heavy-duty lighted clothing specifically for the night time safety of workers, pedestrians, and bike riders. LEDs are embedded in a jacket, backpack, and bike helmet.

From Charlie Bucket of Casual Profanity ("a series of ridiculous clothing experiments"), here's a dress illuminated with liquid. It was knitted by machine from 600 feet of plastic tubing, which was then pumped full of luminescent chemicals. The project was a hit a Maker Faire and won an award from Vimeo, but there are no plans to mass market it -since the attached pump makes wearing it a bit problematical.

If you'd like to wear light but are a bit shy about going whole hog, you can start with illuminated shoelaces by Laser Laces. These combine LEDs and fiber optics to add light to any shoes that use laces. Be warned that they will highlight your dance steps, for better or worse.

The new movie Tron: Legacy has inspired a new generation of light fashions. Syuzi Pakhchyan made this awesome Quorra costume from the movie for Halloween, using EL (electro luminescent) strips and imitation leather.

Tron-inspired shoes from designer Edmundo Castillo use LEDs for illumination. I wonder why they were photographed with the power plug showing. Surely there is room for batteries in those heels! Any way, these will be available at Sak's Fifth Avenue in February.

The secret to making your own Tron-inspired clothing and accessories is EL wire, which can be used by anyone who can wield a sewing machine and a soldering iron. Ladyada and Becky Stern used the wire to make a Tron-flavored messenger bag. Once you get the technique down, you can use electro luminescent wire to spice up any clothing or fabric items. Complete instructions and a video will show you how.

OK, now you know how to really stand out from the crowd at the News Years Eve party!

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Target
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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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Target

For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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iStock

Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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