Advances in textile technology, computer engineering, and materials science are promoting a new breed of functional fabrics. Fashion designers are adding wires, circuits, and optical fibers to traditional textiles, creating garments that glow in the dark or keep the wearer warm. Meanwhile, electronics engineers are sewing conductive threads and sensors into body suits that map users’ whereabouts and respond to environmental stimuli. Researchers agree that the development of genuinely interactive electronic textiles is technically possible, and that challenges in scaling up the handmade garments will eventually be overcome. Now they must determine how best to use the technology.The term ‘smart dresser’ could soon acquire a new meaning. An unlikely alliance between textile manufacturers, materials scientists, and computer engineers has resulted in some truly clever clothing1–4. From self-illuminating handbag interiors to a gym kit that monitors workout intensity, the prototypes just keep coming. But researchers have yet to answer the million-dollar question, perhaps critical to consumer acceptance, will they go in the wash?

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)01028-9