How space exploration influenced fashion and wearable tech

Hello stylish nerds and friends, let’s sit down and talk about fashion and technology! This is a fun post I wrote back in Feb’23 for my cosmology science communication assignment. The only rule was to ‘not bore the lecturer’ – challenge accepted! Whenever I watch or play space sci-fi media there is a noticeably similar taste in clothing style, all rooting back to space exploration. Dune and Mass Effect are my favourites.
As this post is technically 5 months old, I’ve revised the original SciComm piece and added some extra details that I overlooked. I think publishing is better than keeping it hidden away in my drive. I hope it’s a fun read!

Introduction

When you see a person, your perception of them is quickly determined by their clothes before they speak and act. Their clothes have influenced you at a glance. It reflects everyone’s personality, and most importantly the time they were designed. As the modern time is currently in an age of space exploration, there is without a doubt space has inspired the style of clothes we wear today. Along with the aesthetic inspiration of space, technology made for space exploration has been integrated into clothes such as NASA’s memory foam. The material was invented to provide cushioning and protection for NASA aircraft seats, and now they are found in many stylish footwear. We cannot forget space exploration has contributed to clever wearable technology, innovative textile materials to improve construction and comfort, as well as the inspired visual aesthetic of the new frontier.

The ’60s Space-Age Chic and Cultural Influence

The new space age heavily influenced the ’60s culture as it was the pinnacle birth of space exploration. The beginning occurred in 1957 when the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite and the first orbiting man-made object in space, Sputnik 1. In 1958, the US launched their own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, which was also the birth year of NASA. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit around Earth in a capsule-like spacecraft called Vostok 1. In 1963, the first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova as she piloted the Vostok 6 spacecraft. And finally, one of the most outstanding human achievements occurred in 1969, when Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the Moon – a lot of milestones happened during this period. The space race was an important period of scientific progress during the late 1950s to 1970s for directly innovating modern technology we apply every day and demonstrating significant scientific advancement to the public. Aesthetically, it gave a vision of the future. We even had an astronaut Barbie!

The 1960s runway displayed elements of metallic textures, sleek geometric cuts, futuristic headdresses, and dramatic eye makeup. The style was inspired by the rapid development of space exploration and designers such as André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Pierre Cardin introduced a new fashion frontier of the space age.

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Pierre Cardin
1968 Paris Fashion Week

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Paco Rabanne
1967 Metallic Design

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Paco Rabanne
1974 Autumn/Winter Collection

Sci-fi media may not be ‘real-life’ but they do retain the idea of space travel in a fictional world, such as Star Wars, Dune, and Star Trek. The costumes are also created and imagined by real designers. Space exploration is seen as the ‘future’. So what do people who are well-versed in space travel wear? The cuts here are not as sleek and are more ‘flowy’. However, you can still retain futuristic embellishments such as metal detailing, and Padmé‘s action attire has very practical materials and sleekness. The gowns are also inspired by historical fashion, so it is a fusion of history and the future.

Padmé’s Lakeside Gown
SW II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
By Trisha Biggar

Lady Jessica’s Arrakis Gown
Dune (2021)
By Jacqueline West

Padmé’s Action Attire
SW II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
By Trisha Biggar

Darth Vader’s suit is the epitome of fictional supportive wearable technology. The suit is designed to keep him alive while possessing a menacing tone.

Darth Vader’s Suit
Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Designed by Ralph McQuarrie and John Mollo

Space Exploration Technology for Practicality and Style

For modern fashion, designers want to integrate more high-tech innovations while still incorporating practicality and style. The ESA (European Space Agency) and textile companies have discussed how technology developed for space can be applied to improve textiles, clothes, fibre products, and manufacturing equipment. Some applications include shape memory alloys for non-ironing clothes to retain garment construction, and innovative textiles used by astronauts’ gym wear to reduce bacterial and fungal infections by improving heat transfer and sweat management for anti-bacterial properties. The technology has been useful for athletes and firefighters as they provide comfort and quick drying.

In addition to textiles, wearable technology has been on the rise. You may think about smartwatches and AR headsets, but one of the most prominent wearable tech in history is the space suit. The technology was invented to keep the human body safe with stable internal pressure, oxygen supply, temperature regulation, and a communication system. Modern wearable tech can now monitor your body’s health with sensors, or light up your gown with interwoven LEDs like Zendaya’s Cinderella gown. Maybe one day you can change your clothes’ patterns and colours with your phone. Fashion tech is real.

Space innovations have improved the quality and practicality of textiles that could be used in work and leisure, and the boom of wearable technology can save lives and better the quality of life. Excitingly, textile and wearable tech are still developing.

We also have a wearable technology research group and design innovation research at NTU!

The Spacewalk and The Catwalk

The fashion industry and space industry are interlinked as space exploration continues to provide a stream of inspiration to designers with the awaiting space race to Mars and beyond. Space fashion is still in style on the catwalk. Chanel staged a mock launch with a Chanel-branded rocket for their 2017 Autumn Collection. The clothes were styled in modern space elements of astronaut-esque tweed, silver-white-black colour palette, astronomy prints, metallic textures, and glittery boots. It is known the runway influences style trends of high-street fashion, which would eventually inspire the masses.
Accompanying high-fashion houses, the ESA has been collaborating with leading fashion schools to design couture pieces from high-tech innovations for their ’Couture in Orbit’ project. The younger generation of designers will be able to utilise new fashion tech for future generations.

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It is a common misconception that STEM and art are separate entities – that is absolutely not true. That successful experiment? It needed creativity to create a data-generating system with limited time and resources. That beautiful dress? It needed the right material properties and the perfect stitching sequence to work. That perfect lipgloss? Chemistry. That spacesuit? It needed the right technology and complex design to keep the human body safe from the void. That beautiful building? Art, physics, engineering. You have a repetitive task and you’re lazy? Type some code to automate it. Coding is a skill that utilises creativity and logic.
STEM and art are symbiotic and can be sources of inspiration to one another. The world needs creative and analytical minds to succeed.

The universal appreciation for space is everywhere, it is not only found in science communicators, books, and lectures – it can also be found in the clothes you wear.

Be stellarly fabulous and keep looking up,

Check out my blanching of varnish in historical artwork research: PURS

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