(FORTUNE Magazine) – Imagine: a dress plays music while you dance. A sensor programs songs according to your emotional state. LCD screens beam information across your prescription lenses. A gossamer evening gown's metallic threads conduct current to make your necklace sparkle. All this and more paraded across the stage to a synthesized beat at--where else?--the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, part of the MIT Media Lab's conference on wearable computers. The outfits, high tech if not always high style, resulted from a collaboration between researchers at the Media Lab and fashion students from Tokyo, Paris, Rome, and New York.

Batteries in shoes, hard drives in backpacks: The looks (except for retro "disk-o" dresses made from floppies) were designed for the future, but the technology is available now. As far out as some of it appears, according to professor Alex Pentland, the instigator of this event, wearable sensors don't just trigger mood music; they also monitor respiration or blood pressure, opening up enormous possibilities for medical research.

The conference aimed to show how technology is not weird and alien but humane and whimsical--reality cloaked in fantasy. Science fiction writers spoke at the symposium; in the audience, executives from IBM, Sun, Merrill Lynch, Motorola, and Nike listened hard. And in time for the conference, Levi Strauss manufactured denim musical jackets invented by Media Lab students, featuring keyboards embroidered with conductive thread, pin-on synthesizers, and pocket speakers: wired on the range.

--Deborah Weisgall