“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for fashion,” isn’t quite what astronaut Neil Armstrong said after his 1969 walk on the moon. But the Space Age, starting with the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik 1 and including the Apollo 11 mission, has had a huge influence on what people have worn on Earth since.
Outer space — representing a new frontier, adventure, endless possibilities and a clean slate — was the perfect fit for a fashion industry increasingly being driven by rebellious young customers bucking tradition and abandoning old dress codes for things that were fresh and new. So, in the 1960s the fashion universe became one of extremes, representing diverse youth movements — with traditional looks colliding with counterculture Space Age, hippie, Carnaby Street, Mod and Beatnik styles.
Designers Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges and Paco Rabanne began looking to the stars to push the boundaries in their choice of materials and silhouettes, and creations inspired by events such as the moonwalk landed squarely on the catwalk.
Pieces resembling astronaut gear were created, such as jumpsuits, puffer coats, flat boots, and helmet-like hats, and all-white outfits, see-through vinyl dresses, thigh-high skirts, shutter glasses, minimalist, geometric and androgynous looks were everywhere. Models on runways and in magazines resembled aliens or space cadets.
“The French especially were the ones who I think embraced this most obviously,” says Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at FIT in Manhattan and curator of its 2018 exhibit on extreme fashions. “Everybody was caught up in the Cold War thing.”
Mears notes the United States had a long history of ready-to-wear fashions starting with the Civil War, while France specialized in custom-made clothing that was thought of as passe to young people growing up in a world obsessed with the space race and technology.
“In the '60s young women didn’t want to wear antiquated, old-fashioned clothes like their mother would wear,” Mears says. She also adds that the British, led by designer Mary Quant (a main figure in the 1960s London-based Mod fashion movement), were now looking for ways to wed the quality of couture with something that not only looked new, but was futuristic.
French designers went far out by adopting “almost a Hollywood version” of futuristic fashion, Mears says. “They used shiny materials, metals, clean looks … taking their cues from space movies like “Barbarella” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Rabanne designed some of the Barbarella looks for that film.
Fast forward to today and Space Age-inspired fashion is still sending a galaxy of designers and brands into orbit including Givenchy, Balmain, Rodarte, Armani Prive, Carolina Herrera, Alexander Wang and Thierry Mugler. Some have had collaborations with NASA.
Giancarlo Zanatta, who founded Moon Boot, a snow boot brand started in 1969, has said his inspiration for the shape and technology of the original boot came after watching the Apollo 11 lunar landing and seeing the astronauts’ boots. The Moon Boot became popular in the years after the moon walk and is constructed with a thin rubber outsole and cellular rubber midsole covered by nylon fabrics and using polyurethane foams.
Ministry of Supply, a Boston-based men’s and women’s business fashion brand founded in 2012, uses the same temperature-regulating material as in the clothing of NASA astronauts. Those fashion pieces include the Apollo 3 dress shirt, described as “engineered to stretch, wick moisture, and breathe, so you can look sharp and keep your cool.”
For the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s July 20, 1969, moon landing, Louis Vuitton launched a summer ad campaign for its luggage that featured Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and Apollo 13 pilot Jim Lovell gazing up at the night sky and a bright full moon from the back of a pickup truck. The theme was “Some journeys change mankind forever.”
Chanel’s Fall 2017 show was simply out of this world with Karl Lagerfeld’s homage to all things Space Age including the creation of a space station inside Paris’ Grand Palais and models in space shawls, galactic prints and dresses in spacesuit prints walking to Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
That same year Alpha Industries came out with a silver-toned MA-1 Tight Apollo jacket with a NASA emblem in the chest area, and in 2018 a NASA and Vans collaboration included a slip-on that came in colors such as “Galaxy/Black” with removable American flag patches.
David Ben-David, 29, is founder and creator of Manhattan-based Sprayground, whose website says the company is “focused on creating, designing and selling rebellious, edgy, and innovative trendsetting product to a streetwear, fashion and lifestyle market.” In 2017 the brand featured a fashion capsule collection with Aldrin that included backpacks, a futuristic-looking parka and a ball cap, reflecting Ben-David’s interest in aerodynamics and aerospace.
On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, Sprayground will launch a collection to commemorate the historic event, something Ben-David says will continue to inspire fashion designers everywhere, along with the Space Age in general: “It represents man’s desire to go further.”
SPACE AGE FASHION FUN FACTS
- Neil Armstrong’s Pillsbury Doughboy-looking suit was made by the industrial division of the women’s bra manufacturer, Playtex. Called “the world’s smallest spacecraft” by spacesuit designer Dava Newman, the suit has to give astronauts protection against extreme environments, deliver oxygen, modulate temperature and allow the wearer the mobility to work.
- Putting a spacesuit on is called "donning" the suit. Removing the suit is called "doffing."
- The reason that the Apollo 11 spacesuits were white is because white reflects heat in space as it does on Earth. Temperatures in direct sunlight in space can be more than 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The late English fashion designer Hardy Amies designed the clothes for the 1968 sci-fi classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Amies was the official dressmaker for Queen Elizabeth ll from when she took the throne in 1952 until his retirement in 1989.
- Italian designer Emilio Pucci designed Space Age-inspired uniforms between 1965 and 1974 for flight and ground crews of the defunct Braniff airlines. Included in one collection were clear plastic bubbles called “Rain Domes” for hostesses to wear between the terminal and the plane to prevent their hairstyles from being ruined by the weather. The domes were only used for a month — the helmets easily cracked and there was nowhere to store them on the aircraft.