Future Fashions Are Not Quite Ready To Wear

Whatever we do in the next millennium, it's a safe bet we're going to want to look good doing it. So what will Today's Man be wearing tomorrow? Science fiction seems split on the issue. There are the utilitarian but none-too-expressive uniforms that clothe both the ""Star Trek'' crew and the majority of aliens they encounter. And then there is the expressive but none-too-utilitarian school, perhaps best exemplified by Jean-Paul Gaultier's outrageous costumes for the recent film ""The Fifth Element.'' Since fashion changes faster than a traffic light, we'll probably end up wearing each at some point in the next thousand years. The more important question may be when someone will devise a pair of boxer shorts that won't ride up.

Take heart, O ye of odd body shapes. The clothing of the future will likely fit better, wear longer and serve us in ways J. Crew can only dream about. ""I think designers, if they're called designers, will have to be scientists in the future,'' says Betsey Johnson, famous for whimsical creations like a dress that grows when you water it. Scientists may not be known for their fashion sense, but they are already bringing us some innovations that promise to work wonders on our wardrobes. For one thing, supercomputers may replace supermodels. They don't look like much in a dress, but computers will soon be able to take into account the bend, weave and density of a given fabric and predict how it will drape over a human body. Eventually, the design process might take place wholly on computers: a machine will model a design in 3-D on a screen, then translate it into a two-dimensional pattern and send it to another computer for production. Meanwhile, the air force has developed technology to measure every nuance of the human body using laser scanners. Combine these two technologies, and you've got custom-fitted clothing for the masses.

Advances in fabrics themselves will also enhance comfort. Arun Aneja, a fabric scientist at Du Pont, is working on a ""smart'' fabric that would sense the temperature of the surrounding environment and either warm you up or cool you down to your comfort level. No more itchy sweaters to pull on and off. Elsewhere at Du Pont, they're busy making Teflon-coated cloth. ""If you spill red wine on your dress, it rolls right off,'' says Paige Wheeler of the company's Teflon division. ""And with mayonnaise, you can just lift it off with a napkin.'' They're already making socks with low-friction Teflon toes and heels to fight blisters; other chafe-prone garments, like bicycle shorts, sports bras and pantyhose, may eventually benefit from similar technology.

And why stop there? Johnson, for one, envisions mood-altering outfits. ""Clothes that would make you not only look great, but also feel great,'' she says. ""Correct you, give you energy. It would be like a cup of coffee, a caffeine dress.'' Such clothes would be created anew each day, depending on the wearer's mood and particular physiological needs. ""You punch in what you want of your clothing - skin conditioning, liposuction; from psychological well-being, to not sweating, to orgasming,'' she fantasizes. Johnson will have to wait for the scientists to catch up to her on that one.

Designers, after all, are paid for their imagination. Paul Compitus, who's attracted attention with a line of clothing inspired by the lost city of Atlantis, has a few ideas of his own. ""There are only so many colors in the spectrum,'' he points out. The next big area of innovation, then? Smell. ""Cosmetics companies are already experimenting with how to naturally synthesize pheromones,'' he says. ""It's nature's way of chemically attracting the opposite sex.'' (Gee, honey, that dress smells great on you.) Compitus also foresees clothing that fits like a second skin - and even grows and regenerates like skin. ""Imagine the garment that forms while the individual is actually wearing it,'' he says. ""Seamed areas could expand to accommodate changes in weight. Split seams could grow back together.'' Sounds like bad news for the Salvation Army.