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An early history of wearable technology: from 1286 to present day

When we think of wearable technology, the first thing to spring to mind is smart watches and fitness trackers, but strictly speaking it stretches far earlier and more primitively than that.

wearable technology smart glasses
Hugo Gernsback wearing his TV Glasses in a 1963 Life magazine shoot

When we think of wearable technology today, the first thing to spring to mind is smart watches and fitness trackers – the devices we attach to our bodies to count our steps, monitor our health and communicate more readily.

But, strictly speaking, technology on the human form stretches way earlier than that and far more primitively too. In 1286 there was the first pair of eyeglasses for instance – an innovation that transformed lives for centuries to come. In the 1600s and the early days of China’s Qing dynasty, the common abacus was worn as a ring. Then we had air-conditioned hats, TV headsets, wrist PCs and sneaker phones through the 1800-1900s, before the very idea of anything sport related hit with Nike in 2006. Since then there has of course been everything from Google Glass to Fitbits, Apple Watches, Misfits and more, not to mention lots in the way of solar-panelled jackets, connected jewellery and beyond.

Give and Take, a multi-brand online store for timepieces in the UK, has put together an infographic on this early history, as below. Note the themes we’re still obsessing over today: how to make tech more accessible to our daily lives, how to think insane clunky devices are appealing to the human form, how to turn some of that hardware into soft garments and how we might go about attaching it to our faces too.


wearable technology history

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

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