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Flashback Fashion Tech

This charming flower is not costume jewelry but actually a hearing aid device made in—1802!

If you think that integrating useful technology into clothing and accessories is something new, think again. Without fail, we can always look to the past for seeds innovation to stimulate our own creation. Below I've put together a number of fun inventions from the bygone days and compared them to some of their modern day counterparts.


1972: Panasonic Toot-A-Loop Radio R-72

This bright-colored AM radio can be worn like a bracelet or carried like a purse. You twist it open to see and adjust the tuning dial inside. Looking at the MP3 watches that we have today, I think Panasonic got it right 37 years ago. A case in point: Skullcandy MacGyver MP3 Watch(below).

1969: Olivetti Valentine Portable Typewriter

Before the coming of personal computer, the typewriter was the ubiquitous computing device used by the masses. Typically a utilitarian machine, the typewriter design was elevated to a artistic height by Ettore Sottsass with his undisputed classic, the Olivetti Valentine. It may remind you of HP's Vivienne Tam laptop (image below). Yes, it is gorgeous, but by only putting on a beautiful skin HP missed a great opportunity. Valentine’s design innovation, extended to how the typewriter is used, transported and stored, and is regarded as one of the quintessential and iconic design pieces of the 20th century.

1932: "Electronic Jewelry" (top) for Milady 1879: French Electronic Bird Broach (bottom)

The broach from 1879 has a chattering skull and rabbit playing the drums. Later in 1932 we see lighted jewelry as in this glowing earring. Compared to the Crystal Cube Firejewel Necklace today, these technological antiques must have been really cumbersome to wear. Could you even begin to imagine the weight of these things?!

1802: Aurolese Phone

One of the oldest technological devices that people have been trying to conceal with design and beauty is the hearing aid. This headpiece from 1802 is a far cry from the modern technology of today, however, there's certain charm and elegance to it. Currently we have much more advanced hearing devices, and many of them are well-designed others still fall a little short. Take the diamond-encrusted 24k gold Widex – not exactly a shinning example of modern technology.

I hope you enjoyed this walk down history lane. As you can see, a few of these old designs are actually superior to what some manufacturers are pushing today. It shows that you and I – the vanguards of fashionable tech Wink – still have lots of work to do.

(Image source: Washington University, Panasonic, Skullcandy, we make money not art, HPModern Mechanix,   book: "When Old Technologies Were New" (French Broach),   Think Geek, and News From Gadgets' World)


Co-written with Fang-yu Lin.