The Fascinating Story Behind The 1991 Fashion Trend Of Hypercolor Clothing

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Back in the 80s and 90s, things that supposedly changed color with your mood were all the rage. Why, exactly, teenagers wanted others to be able to easily read emotions they might rather keep hidden remains a mystery.

Kids, man. We’ve always marched to the beat of our own drum.

That said, clothing that changed color when it came into contact with body heat seems like it should have been a recipe for disaster. We were all trying to pretend we weren’t blushing or sweating, and there go our clothes again, betraying our biological reactions.

I’m talking about Hypercolor clothing of course, a Generra brand of thermochromic apparel dyed with a patented process that allowed the fabric to react to changes in body temperature.

If someone put a hand on your shoulder, a print remained. If they gave you a hug, the outline of crossed arms could be seen across your back. And yeah, if you were a mass of sweat, there would be blotches.

Regardless, in the year 1991, kids bought the crap out of it.

They got the idea after learning about a process developed by Japan’s Matsui Shikiso chemical company, in which a permanent dye was used on a garment, then a thermochromatic dye was added. Microcapsules bonded to the fabric, and the dye typically appeared colorless, along with acid and a dissociable salt dissolved in a fatty alcohol named 1-Dodecanol.

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Above 75.2 degrees, the 1-Dodecanol reacted with the salt, causing the previously colorless dye to change colors.

Generaa was the exclusive licensee of the Hypercolor technology in the US, and spent a ton of money on promotional campaigns in late 1990. The ads and marketing paid off, and in early 1991, the clothes were flying off shelves.

Surprisingly, the potentially controversial nature of the splotching never caused a ruckus – perhaps because the trend was so short-lived.

Hypercolor and it’s spinoff line, Hypergrafix, did $105 million in revenue in 1991, which was over 5x what they’d projected. They faced a dye shortage and a backlog of orders, and by the time they’d gotten everything back up to speed, consumer interest was already waning.

Aside from the novelty of watching them change colors, there was nothing novel about the clothes themselves. Not only that, but a few normal wash-and-dry cycles turned the shirts an odd and unattractive purplish-grey color.

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Kind of like a giant bruise.

By 1992 to the he was over. Generra declared bankruptcy, sold off their screen-printing plant, and licensed a company named Seattle T-shirt to continue making the shirts for anyone who wanted them.

The technology has been revived here and there, but it’s never generated much enthusiasm.

As someone who was a pre-teen in 1991, I can confirm that this was a thing – and that it was a blip on the radar.

And that I had a few disappointing, bruise-colored shirts. Womp-womp.