If you've ever stood in front of your closet trying to figure out what to wear for an important meeting, a new high-tech wardrobe invention might be just the thing for you.
The "smart wardrobe" keeps track of when you wore an item, where you wore it, and can even tell you when your clothes need to be dry-cleaned.
Developed by Australian researchers, the garment gizmo is being touted as a dress-for-success solution that could give busy people the edge to get ahead.
"The wardrobe can tell you that you have a meeting this morning with Joe Bloggs, that you have worn the same shirt the last three times you met him and that maybe you should wear something else or he will think you only have one shirt," says Prof. Bruce Thomas, director of the wearable computer laboratory at the University of South Australia.
|Photo courtesy of University of South Australia|
|PhD student Aaron Toney, left, and final-year computer systems engineering student Wynand Marais check out the University of South Australia's 'smart wardrobe' system.|
If you're not sure what tie matches your suit, if your skirt is too tame for your new animal print pumps, or whether you should go business casual or dressy for a weekend dinner with the boss, researchers say the smart wardrobe can tell you that, too.
"This technology can help people make the most of accessorizing and mixing their wardrobe," explains PhD student Aaron Toney, who developed an alert function that notifies smart-wardrobe users when garments need to be dry-cleaned and even tracks cleaner pickups and deliveries.
"It can also be connected to an autonomous fashion butler on the Internet, which can suggest clothing choices for casual or formal outings with accessories to match."
The garment-integrated electronic technology works by linking electronic hangers and clothes embedded with tiny electronic panels to an in-closet computer.
The panels, which are sewn into a collar or sleeve where they can't be seen, store data such as the colour, fabric and cleaning instructions for a particular garment.
"When electronic hangers, each with their own ID and metal connection, are placed on the rail, the metal band in the rail detects the hangers and their smart garments," Thomas explains. "The technology enables wireless monitoring, data downloads and many other features."
The fashion features may sound frivolous to some, but business coaches and image consultants disagree.
"Image is pretty important and for some people it's critical," says Diana Kilgour, of Image Consulting Vancouver.
Styling and dressing British Columbia's business elite for over 25 years, Kilgour does image checkups and in-home "wardrobe therapy" to help clients co-ordinate their closets. She says things like bad shoes, dated suits and inappropriate attire can have an impact on your success at work.
"When things get in the way of us and our message - what we have to offer, what we can deliver, what we can do - people won't be as interested in what we have to offer because their mind is engaged by what's wrong with us."
In a business where what you wear can be almost as important as what you say, CTV Edmonton weekend news anchor Joel Gotlib couldn't agree more.
"If you look good, if you look presentable, it's to your benefit," Gotlib says. "You're coming into people's living rooms and they have to like what they see."
A television personality for 15 years, Gotlib says viewers will call in to complain when they don't like what an anchor or reporter is wearing.
"I've heard the calls come into the newsroom and while it's disappointing people are calling about someone's outfit instead of their story, it's evidence of the fact that what you wear is scrutinized."
Fashion faux pas aside, the smart-wardrobe technology can also be adapted to preload news, music and daily schedules into smart garments.
And it gets better. Your clothes will not only be able to alert you to incoming cellphone calls during meetings, but you'll also be able to determine whether a call is important - all by looking at a tiny flashing LED light in the cuff of your jacket.
"It will allow (business people) to keep information with them at all times," Thomas says. "The suit becomes the data repository, letting people have technology in their garments, but still use them in a normal fashion."
The technology may also be a lifesaver - literally. That's because the smart suit doesn't miss a beat. It can monitor your heart rate and other vital statistics. With an aging population, Thomas says future uses could include monitoring outpatient care and whether elderly people are missing meals or falling over.
"Sensors in the garments enable us to monitor people's vital statistics and activity levels - when they get up, walk around, make breakfast and dinner, or sleep," Thomas explains.
"The technology can distinguish between normal and abnormal events, and alert family or emergency services or, for people who live in retirement villages, alert local medical staff if there's a problem."
There's no word yet on how much technology such as this might cost for the average user.
The invention is still a lab prototype and researchers aren't sure when it will be available in Canadian closets, but many professionals are already interested in how it can help them suit up for success.
"It's one less thing you have to worry about in today's busy world," Gotlib says. "You don't have to worry about what you have to wear and whether you'll match. If a computer chip can map that out for you, that's great."
Image consultant Kilgour agrees and thinks that many of her clients would find the technology a huge timesaver. However, she's quick to point out that if you don't have the right items in your closet to begin with, the sensors won't be able to give you style.
"If you have a closet full of clothes that don't work well together, if the items are dated, ill-fitting or don't flatter you, computer chips aren't smarter enough to know that - at least not yet."
(Tess van Straaten can be reached at email@example.com)