A Brief History of Wearable Tech

British music-hall star Zena Dare models a pair of turn-of-the-century headphones.
British music-hall star Zena Dare models a pair of turn-of-the-century headphones.

There’s a new theme every day on It’s Vintage. Read more articles on today’s topic: the History of Wearable Tech.

With all of the recent fashion-industry hoopla around the Apple Watch, Google Glass, and other dubiously cool smartbracelets and fitness trackers, it can be easy to overlook the fact that the concept of wearable technology isn’t actually all that new. Even before the dawn of computers, people were used to incorporating newfangled gadgetry into their outfits, from early headsets and clunky portable stereos to the eventually ubiquitous Walkman. 

Recent years have seen the fashion and technology industries become increasingly eager bedfellows: Diane von Furstenberg and Sergey Brin teamed up to give Google Glass a NYFW runway debut in 2012, and last year, the Apple Watch made the cover of Vogue ChinaMadame Figaro did a Glass-themed shoot that paired the device with a Burberry gown, and Opening Ceremony joined forces with Intel to design MICA, an “intelligent communication accessory.”

Whether or not these devices are actually fashionable remains up for debate — but if history is any indication, we can expect to keep seeing wearables integrated into the style of the day. Click through the slideshow for a look back at the evolution of wearable technology, from radio headphones to the Bluetooth to the iPod.

Photo: Vintage Images/Getty Images

The Acoustic Headset

Early headphone designs — like this pair from the turn of the century, modeled by British music-hall star Zena Dare — were not hands-free accessories.

Photo: IMAGNO/Austrian Archives/Getty Images

The Portable Stereo

It was a bit of a stretch to call the forerunner to the Walkman “portable” — early models like the one pictured, which was presented at the 1934 London Radio-Fair, were still pretty heavy.

Photo: Malcolm Clarke/Getty Images

The Calculator Watch

The first computer-calculator-wristwatch hybrid, the “Pulsar,” debuted at the 1977 International Watch and Jewellery Trade Fair in London.

Photo: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

The Walkman

The first Sony Walkman went on sale in 1979 — and it didn’t take long for headphones to become a commonplace commuting accessory.

Photo: NBC/Getty Images

The Headset Radio

Via Gary Coleman of Diff’rent Strokes, a throwback to the good old days when you had to wear a foot-long antenna on your head to listen to the radio.

Photo: Dawn Villella/AP

Mini Computers

In 2000, the “Brave New Unwired World” fashion show in Minneapolis provided a taste of a future where people would use an array of handheld wireless gadgets to access the “World Wide Web” anytime, anywhere.

Photo: NBC/Getty Images

The Bluetooth

The wireless, one-ear clip-on was a nautral accessory for Jason Sudeikis’s character in SNL’s recurring “Two A-Holes” skits — in which he and Kristen Wiig played gum-cracking, technology-obsessed dunces.

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage/Getty Images

The iPod

That cute little click wheel now seems as quaint as a flip phone … which might mean it’s ripe for an ironic resurgence. 

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Google Glass

Early adopter Diane von Furstenberg gave Google Glass its NYFW debut when she sent models down the runway sporting the then-mysterious headpieces at her spring 2013 show.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Google Glass

Google Glass enthusiast DVF closed her spring 2013 NYFW show with a hand-in-hand victory lap with Google co-founder Sergey Brin — and released a behind-the-scenes video filmed using the technology shortly therafter.

A Brief History of Wearable Tech