Notes From A Queer Engineer: “Tech White Tie” And Other Fashion Tech Links

Notes From A Queer Engineer_Rory Midhani_640Header by Rory Midhani


In honor of the Metropolitan Museum’s latest exhibition, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” the dress code for Monday night’s fancypants fundraiser dinner was “tech white tie.” What Anna Wintour actually meant by that theme is anyone’s guess, but the interpretation on the red carpet was largely “shiny,” “silver accents,” and/or “striking silhouette.” Attendees played it pretty safe overall, but I dug it. (In fact I wish they’d played it a little safer last year.)

Kristen Stewart in Chanel. Rita Ora in Vera Wang. Amandla Stenberg. Zoe Kravitz in Valentino. Amber Heard in Ralph Lauren. Willow Smith in Chanel and Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton. Jenna Lyons, Jennifer Konner, and Lena Dunham. Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace. Demi Lovato in Moschino. Images via Vogue.

Met Gala 2016: Kristen Stewart in Chanel. Rita Ora in Vera Wang. Amandla Stenberg. Zoe Kravitz in Valentino. Amber Heard in Ralph Lauren. Willow Smith in Chanel and Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton. Jenna Lyons, Jennifer Konner, and Lena Dunham. Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace. Demi Lovato in Moschino. Images via Vogue.

I’m sure this will surprise no one, but the outfits of the evening that grabbed my attention most were those with very literal, obvious interpretations of “tech.” Check out this fabulous illuminated dress by Zac Posen on Claire Danes:

And this social media reactive “cognitive dress” by Georgina Chapman on Karolina Kurkova:

That one’s actually a Marchesa/IBM collaboration, which I think is just the coolest thing. Even though I’m getting a rather Project Runway arts-and-crafts vibe from those glitter vines. It’s fine. I’m very curious how they wired it and what’s going on with that battery pocket!

Via Shutterstock.

When I was in high school, I loved sewing my own skirts and dresses. The maker movement didn’t exist yet, but it was easy to see the crossover between home sewing and the skills I was being taught in tech lab. Calling myself a “dress engineer,” I designed my own prom gown senior year, using Autodesk Inventor to digitally sketch out the concept. My intent was to use diaphanous layers of yellow, gold, orange and crimson fabric to create a sunset-like effect that flowed down the middle of my dress. I wound up going with a modified shape in two layers of green satin (Jo-Ann Fabrics didn’t have the right materials to carry out my original vision!), but the design exercise was still a decidedly worthwhile one.

I have a lot less time for sewing these days, but I still love reading about and thinking about the intersections between fashion and technology. If that topic interests you, too, here are some links for your enjoyment:

+ People Magazine Slideshow: 13 Times Fashion and Tech Came Together and It Was Surprisingly Cool. Was it cool when Katy Perry shot whip cream out of her boobs? I mean, it definitely made an impression.

Bodyhackers are all around you, they’re called women – This isn’t about fashion specifically, but my mom tweeted it and I love the point the article makes about the gendered dynamics in what’s considered “technology.” There’s a reason we don’t have “dress engineers.”

The physics of bras -“Making  bra is like building a bridge.”

Leah Buechley: Crafting the Lilypad Arduino – First thing I thought of when I saw those light up dresses!

+ Have you ever seen the work that came out of the High-Low Tech research group at MIT? Dr. Buechley worked there, and everything I ever saw from that lab was just fascinating. One example:

+ Related: Sew Electric – “This website and its companion book will show you how to make your own soft, colorful, and wearable electronics. You’ll play with fabric, light, and sound to build a glowing bracelet, a singing stuffed monster, a fabric bookmark, and a fuzzy cloth piano. Along the way, you’ll learn how to sew, design electronics, and write computer programs.”

How To Design A Wearable For LeBron James. They don’t talk about her much in the article, but Rinat Aruh is the badass co-founder of design and strategy firm aruliden. She gave a talk on injecting design thinking into early education that I bet you’ll like.

+ MakeFashion was in Paris last weekend. The written coverage is mostly in French, but the photos I’ve seen are pretty neat looking. You can look it up if you speak French, or here’s video compilation from MakeFashion Calgary, which was held a few weeks prior!

Brooklyn’s Wearable Revolution – Okay, read the article, but I do want to say one thing first. I found the writer’s descriptions of the female entrepreneurs to be rather obnoxious. I guess it’s because it was in the fashion & style section, but still — you don’t often see descriptions like “a 41-year-old computer scientist and mechanical engineer with long blond hair who talks at warp speed, has a thing for biofabrication, and tends to pepper [their] sentences with words like ‘density mapping,’ ‘voxel’ and ‘hacking interfaces'” when the person in question is a man.

+ There are all kinds of fashion tech startup situations taking off, actually! Asos is doing a thing. There are big secret plans in the works for sportswear, supposedly. I’m sure these news stories will be a lot more interesting to me when there are actual things to look at.

Sew You Want to Learn to Sew: All About Sewing MachinesFabric, Patterns, and Resources, Oh My! – Oh hey, remember when Jasika Nicole broke this all down for you like a boss? Maybe you should take a look at it again.


Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 211 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. “Making bra is like building a bridge.”

    …you have to go through miles of red tape to make it happen! =)

    Anyway, I love that illuminated dress, but I imagine it’s pretty freaking expensive.

  2. “There’s a reason we don’t have “dress engineers.””

    YES! I sew, knit, spin, and embroider and it’s so frustrating to hear people say that the solution to girls not having “techy brains” is for them to play with boy toys, when traditionally feminine past-time often require the same fine motor and spatial skills, but have just been devalued as all hell.

  3. That is so cool you engineered / designed your own prom dress; it sounds beautiful!

    There’s a binary scarf knitter that lets you input a custom message like your name and it will convert to binary code and then this knitting machine will knit the binary code into the scarf. Fun!

    • I did this in high school! A little less assistance from technology — I had the basic pattern for the scarf, but I looked up the binary code on my own for the actual message. Then it was just trying to keep track of all the 0s and 1s for the entirety of the scarf and ~analog knitting~ from there and voila, binary scarf!

      I gave it to my cousin and I don’t think he ever actually knew what it said, he just thought it looked cool.

  4. If you want to see some real dressmakers look to the nerdy world of cosplay. Do you think Princess Amidala’s dress from Episode 1 The Phantom Menace can be bought at Macy’s? Absolutely not, it takes lots of time and effort to make it. Somebody with fine skills to make one for themselves isn’t easy.

    • Not just the dresses, but the props mein gott the props and accessories.
      None of Padme Amidala dresses could be bought in a store, a dress to be harvested for detailing parts maybe.

      It’s not just the fine skills or engineering that awe me but the mind pullling know how and swings the supplies to make it happen.
      The critical thinking skills!

  5. Ooh ooh but what about the punch cards of the Jacquard loom leading to computer?
    The importance of a technology used to make fancy girly fabrics like damask and brocade in the history of computing hardware is one of my favorite things.

    And of course every little textile or ballistics nerd knows about Stephanie Kwolek and her discovery of Kevlar.

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