James Fallows has linked a fascinating series of 1910 French prints that depicted the future they imagined for the year 2000. Matt Yglesias is particularly struck by one showing people heating their homes with radium, noting that France is in fact the world leader in nuclear energy.
What strikes me is the clothing--none of the prints envisions anyone wearing anything except, well, basically what people wore then. I don't know whether the difference is time, or culture--but if these prints had been made in 1930s America, they would certainly have depicted people in futuristic space suits, not plaid suits and fedoras. Why did people in 1910 assume nothing would change? They'd seen a pretty damn large revolution in male fashion at the turn of the 19th century, so why think that it couldn't happen again?
There are a couple of explanations:
1) The customary dress is the point of the prints, which tend to rely on changing one element in an otherwise familiar scene. (I think that's certainly part of it--but I'm still convinced that you simply would not have drawn the future a century hence without futuristic bodysuits--so what changed?)
2) Recent clothing reforms had trended towards less modesty (split skirts, bloomers) and the artist(s?) could not feasibly extrapolate the trend to its logical (and correct!) conclusion in a series meant for broad consumption.
3) Recent clothing reforms had been pretty limited and the hobble skirts and flappers were still well in the future. Women's and men's fashions had been fairly stable for 100 years, so the artist felt safe in assuming that the trend would continue for 100 years more.
4) Total failure of imagination.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down