The Style Cadet’s Guide to Fashion Through The Space Ages

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Greetings, Cadets!

We’re on a mission to explore the universe of space-age fashion. We’ll make several stops on a journey through time and a few different places right here on planet Earth. Our goal is to better understand the origins of the influence of space travel on style and fashion as we know it today. Grab your go-go boots and your goggles and get ready to go on a funky ride!

Our first stop is Paris, France, 1964, where we will meet Andre Courrèges. Named “The Space Age Designer,” Courrèges was the first to incorporate astronaut inspiration into haute couture. His color palette of stark white paired with metallic silver and the occasional orange or pink accent closely resembled the colors featured in space uniforms.

Materials such as lycra, PVC, and plastic paired with architecture-like tailoring added to the futuristic appeal.

He disliked corsets, bras, and high heels, maintaining that it was unfair to femininely dress the “active woman.” Arguably, the first wave of 1960’s women’s lib fashion wasn’t the flower child, it was the cosmic girl.

Four years later, in Hollywood, California, the popular sci-fi movie Barbarella mades its debut, starring actress Jane Fonda in an iconic, sexy green space-costume dreamed up by designer Paco Rabanne. Like Courrèges, Rabanne played with shape and unconventional materials in his designs, such as metal and paper.

All of this glamour is fun to watch unfold, but there’s still more to see, as our next stop brings us directly to NASA headquarters! In 1970 famed French designer Pierre Cardin took a tour of NASA HQ and became the first -and only!- civilian to get to try on the very space suit that Neil Armstrong wore when he first set foot on the moon. He later created a design for NASA himself.

Cardin was a designer who always played with shapes and geometry, having invented the bubble dress in the mid 1950’s, so it seems natural that he would be among the next wave of designers to pioneer space-age chic. Far-out styles like fur-trimmed helmets, hats with built-in goggles, and dresses with shape and colors resembling aeronautical uniforms ruled the Cardin runway of the late 1960’s and early 70’s.

By the late 1970’s, things got dramatically different. Did we accidentally land on another planet? No, we’re back in France, where Thierry Mugler made his mark on a strange new decade. Here, broad shoulders, exaggerated collars, and tiny waistlines prevail. You probably know the name Thierry Mugler for his popular fragrances, such as Angel and Alien, that have a unique atmosphere all their own, but what you see here are the roots of his work.

Like his mod predecessors, Mugler’s shows often had robot and space-like themes, utilizing PVC and other similar materials. Though the insect-like silhouettes of Mugler’s designs give them a more eerily alien vibe.

Next stop: 1990’s Earth. During this time, all things “retro” reimagined and repurposed in a casual, comfortable style are everywhere. There’s a fascination with nostalgia for the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, along with a fixation on the fast pace of technology and the looming uncertainty of Y2K. This brought about a return of the go-go boot, silver pleather, miniskirts, and exaggerated goggle-like sunglasses. Not only were new pieces made to resemble old favorites, but second-hand and vintage pieces were in demand, both for the appeal of their authenticity and eco-friendliness.

We’re zooming back towards the present day, but first we’ll stop in nearby early-2000’s Scotland, the home of Christopher Kane, guardian of the galaxy print. Space fashion begins taking a very literal turn, as photo-real images of nebulas, supernovas, and comets similar to those one might see from the Hubble telescope adorn everything from casual knit hoodies to elegant evening dresses. Among his influences, Kane lists the classic sci-fi film Planet of the Apes. The celestial prints become so popular that knock offs appear everywhere, and are still ubiquitous today.

…which brings us to 2017. Christopher Kane’s Fall 2017 collection featured an illustrated spaceship print. Meanwhile, Gucci presented a romanticized version of Star-Trek-inspired style. It seems these more current designs are whimsical and escapist in nature, taking more from our existing folklore about space travel and the future than inspiration from technology. Perhaps it’s the hope of better days as we are faced with uncertain times that informs these interstellar flights of fancy.

One thing is certain: space style blasted the way we dress into the stratosphere, bringing us wardrobe staples that have stayed with us in every decade. Let’s hope, during fashion week, designers take more brave chances like their 1960’s predecessors.