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Hypercolor Shirts (1991)

Between February and May of 1991, the Seattle-based sportswear company, Generra, sold an incredible $50 million worth of color-changing, heat-sensitive T-shirts, shorts, pants, sweatshirts and tights.

Color was everywhere in the 80s and 90s! Thanks to mood rings and the neon stripes on spandex shorts, hyper color clothing was another extension of the color obsession. The concept was the warmth from your touch would change the color of the shirt. You could literally leave your handprints all over someone wearing these shirts. (Of course you could also achieve the same effect with your sweaty armpits.)

The shirts were dyed twice. First with a permanent dye and then again with a thermochromatic dye (a mixture of levco dye — a weak acid — and salt.) Levco dye is used on the sides of Duracell batteries to see if it’s charged and on food packages to gauge the temperature. When the shirts were heated or cooled, the thermochromatic dye changed shape and shifted from absorbing the light or releasing it, which made the color transform. After a few washes or one wash in too hot water, the dye would lose its “magic” and freeze permanently with a purple-brown color.

The other reason hypercolor garments aren’t around? Generra couldn’t handle its overnight success and declared bankruptcy in 1992. Subsequent attempts have since failed to reinvigorate the concept.

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