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The Strand Magazine // Joshua Moore

13 Bold Fashion Predictions from 1893

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The Strand Magazine // Joshua Moore

In 1893, The Strand magazine published a story written and illustrated by W. Cade Gall called "The Future Dictates of Fashion," in which an older gentleman discovers in his library a book that appears to come from 1993 ... 100 years in the future. The tome, Past Dictates of Fashion; by Cromwell Q. Snyder, Vestamentorum Doctor, was "oblong in shape, was bound in mauve morocco," Gall writes, and looks back at a century of fashionable clothes. The readers of The Strand, of course, would be looking forward in time at those fashions.

In the readers' present day, fashion was "thought a whim, a sort of shuttlecock for the weak-minded of both sexes to make rise and fall, bound and rebound with the battledore called—social influence." The clothes in 1893 (shown below) are included in the book, and Gall notes that they "are familiar enough, although we note with surprise that the gentleman's coat-tails seem to have a crinoline cast, and if the turned-up bottoms of his trousers are a little mortifying, it is atoned for by a triumphant attitude which disarms hypercriticism." By 1940, fashion had become a respectable science "governed by immutable laws."

Were these illustrations meant to be true predictions or just satire? We'll never know—but at least we can enjoy them. Here are a few fashions of the future, as imagined by a man in 1893.

1. 1905

Gall first calls this outfit "subdued," then notes that "the ladies may well regard this plate as astounding. There is even a suggestion of 'bloomer' about its nether portion, and if the hat is not without precedent in history, the waist is little short of revolutionary." Here's a good example of what ladies ended up wearing in 1905.

2. 1911

Fashion at this point, Gall predicted, would be about the bows. "Silk bows have been worn about the neck for nearly, if not quite, a century, but never in the body of the attire," Gall writes. "It is true the gentleman as early as 1910 adorns his nether garments with a plain silk band, but in the elderly party of 1911 he has assumed gay ribbons for his shoes as well as at his knees and throat." Sadly, men's outfits in 1911 were without bows.

3. 1912

In 1912, Gall imagined that young men would use shepherd's crooks as accessories and adorn their outfits with ever-bigger bows (which Gall called "wing-shaped objects projecting from his person"). The lady—whose outfit is strangely medieval—"is doing her utmost to look pleasant under the most trying conditions," Gall wrote, but her outfit, despite its "novelty and perplexity ... must still be called plain. One might be forgiven for surmising that the kerchief-shaped article covering a portion of the lady's bust is formed of riveted steel, for surely nothing else could support the intolerable load she is so blandly carrying off." In reality, fashions of this time for both sexes were much more subdued

4. 1929

In 1922, Gall predicted that skirts would expose the ankles, "short enough to alarm prim contemporary dames"—a shocking thing in his own time. But in the plate from 1929, which depicts "what is presumably a husband and wife on their way to church or perchance upon a shopping excursion ... The prudes ... seemed to have gained their point, for the skirt is considerably less scanty in the region of the ankles." Gall went on to comment that "the lady is evidently looking archly back to see if anybody is observing what a consummate guy her spouse is making of himself, for with all her sartorial shortcomings she has certainly the best of the bargain." Of course, real fashion from the 1920s was decidedly sleeker—and showed much more ankle.

5. 1936

Gall called this poor "middle-aged" guy—who, let's not forget, was of Gall's own imagination—"the greatest donkey in the entire collection. ... [He is] gadding about in inflated trunks and with a fan in his hand. If it were not for the gloves and polka-dot neck-wear we should assume that this costume was a particularly fantastic bathing-suit." Thankfully for the men of 1930s, popular clothes looked nothing like what Gall imagined.

6. 1938

"This skirt seems to have been rather a weak point with our posterity of the female persuasion, for ... we find it rising and falling with the habitual incorrigibility of a shilling barometer," Gall wrote. "The Oriental influence is easily traced in the fashions from 1938 to 1945, but it cannot but make the judicious grieve to note that trousers seem to have been adopted by the women at the same time that they were discarded by the men." No word on why Gall believed the ladies of 1938 would be so inspired by watermelons and Little Bo Peep, or why they'd wear what appeared to be plates on their feet; at any rate, women's fashions didn't look like this at all.

7. 1946

Gall apparently believed that the fashions in 1946—which he imagined would be constructed of patterned materials and rife with ruffles—would be rather ugly, and that women would wear their hair in gravity-defying 'dos. "There is very little beauty about the lady's costume for 1946," he wrote, "or in that of the child in the plate." Real fashion of the era was less frump, more glam.

8. 1950

In 1950, according to Gall's story, fashion would begin to be studied as a science at the University of Dublin. But what Gall imagined is a far cry from the demure party dress and the poodle skirt. "[The costume] for 1950 is a great improvement," Gall wrote, in part because "the exaggerated chignon has disappeared."

9. 1955 - 56

According to Gall, future fashion would go a bit off the rails in the mid-'50s—especially the hats. "To accord praise to either's hideous style of head-dress would be to abandon permanently all reputation for taste," he wrote. Hats worn in the mid-'50s were nowhere near as wacky.

10. 1960

In Gall's mind, not even civil servants would escape fashion's fickle grip in the future. Take this policeman's outfit. "[He] seems to have a very easy time of it," Gall said, "for no man's person can be considered in danger from the mob who habitually offers so many points à saisir as this policeman's head displays." Dealing with the police have definitely been more amusing if they had dressed like this.

11. 1965

Gall imagined that the military, too, would wear new outfits in the future. "It is not customary in the present day for army officers to affect umbrellas, but seventy years hence it may be found necessary to protect one's head-dress," he wrote.

12. 1984

Gall wrote that, according to Past Dictates of Fashion, ladies fashion finally came into its own in the mid-'80s. The guys, though, would not be so lucky. "[The design] of 1984 appears to us to exhibit the contour of the lady's figure most generously, and to have certain agreeable and distinctive traits of its own which are ... lacking in the gentleman's apparel," Gall wrote. The writer couldn't have imagined which way fashion would actually go in the '80s, which was arguably more bizarre. 

13. 1993

In the 1990s, Gall predicted, dudes would dress like ladies. This look is probably better on men than a babydoll dress, at least.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.