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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December 21, 2010 - 3:42am
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