Clever New Clothes To Protect You From Germs On The Subway

The news that measles might be spreading through San Francisco's BART network not only triggered a warning from the transit authority itself, it is also a particularly alarming reminder that public transportation can be, well, disgusting. Winter's runny noses, summer's sweat, spring's sneezing allergies—it doesn't really matter the season. When you ride the bus or subway, often the last thing you want to do is touch the straps or hang on. Could a new line of clothing help protect you from the germs?

That's the premise of the Straphanger jacket from design consultancy firm gravitytank, part of their "Transfer" project studying the health effects of public transportation.

Clever New Clothes To Protect You From Germs On The Subway

The jacket comes with a sneezing patch in the elbow—don't worry, it can be detached and you can wash it—and even palm-protecting "fold out gloves" that slide down from inside the coat sleeves to offer some distance between you and the germ-covered pole that keeps you from falling (these, too, can be detached and laundered).

Clever New Clothes To Protect You From Germs On The Subway

There's an internal collar, scarf, and face mask with an "antimicrobial liner [that] acts as a filter for times you have to sneeze in crowds"—etc. etc.

There's a backpack with a flippable outer lining, and so on.

Clever New Clothes To Protect You From Germs On The Subway

What's interesting are not the actual design specifics of the project—which is entirely speculative at this point, subject to change, and explicitly based on pre-existing products from other companies, such as Incase and The Mission Workshop. Rather, it's the very idea—both weirdly obsessive and totally practical—that our clothing should be adapted to act as well-ventilated medical shields between us and the commuting world, complete with antimicrobial protective flaps, sneeze-filters, and tiny outer pockets for holding our commuting cards.

Further, it's worth noting the designers' overall notion that transit itself—the experience of the public commute using shared methods of transport—is such a ubiquitous and permanent cultural experience that it justifies its own form of clothing. This is what gravitytank calls "transit gear": "Straphanger is the first of its kind," they write. "It builds on current momentum around lifestyle brands and increasing public transit ridership to introduce an entirely new product category to the market: transit gear."

So is this just a clever way to convince people that they need more than just shoes and a jacket to navigate the subway—that they need specially priced "transit gear" in order to get to work in one piece? Well, of course; that's exactly what it is. It's capitalism at work, looking for new markets and, more importantly, new customers who are willing to believe they need the goods (and are willing to pay a not inconsiderable amount for them).

But it's also kind of awesome, to be honest, in a thrillingly dystopian, jarringly sci-fi way, promising a coming era in which we'll see the complete medicalization of our outerwear, a future world in which we will no longer really come into contact with one another on the buses and subways, living instead in a state of garment-enforced quarantine, passing through the same world without our microbes ever connecting. [Atlantic Cities]