The Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was in full force as the 1960s began, and each side wanted to prove its superiority in every way possible. This included competing with each other on fashion as well as technology, but what did that look like? The answer is pretty weird. Fashionably weird, but still weird. It’s hard to explain how two opposing countries could have such similar ideas about what would be cool at the same time unless it was some kind of cosmic coincidence. Perhaps this was just a sign that we were ready for another Age of Enlightenment! Whatever the reason was, both sides of the Space Race also turned their attention toward fashion in general thanks to a new emphasis on space exploration.
What was popular in the sixties?
The early 1960s was a time marked by the rise of the British Invasion, which means a lot of mod fashion was finding its way into mainstream culture. Mod was a subculture known for its appreciation of modernism, which meant that futuristic and space-themed fashion was going to be in style for a while. Mod fashion included a lot of space-themed design elements like silver and metallic accents, bright colored suits, and bold designs. At the same time, Hollywood fashion was in full swing, with both film and TV stars setting trends. For example, Audrey Hepburn’s frequent pairing of classy dresses with sneakers caused a massive spike in sales for the humble sneaker.
Pantsuits: The Space Age Uniform
In the early ‘60s, the U.S. government’s space program was just starting to take shape, and astronauts were being selected to train for spaceflight. These early astronauts were all military officers and they needed something to wear while they were in training. Since there were no uniforms specifically designed for astronauts, they were instead given blue flight coveralls that had once been used by Air Force pilots. The new-old uniforms became known as the “pumpkin suit” because of their orange color. When the astronauts were finally ready for spaceflight, they switched over to the standard NASA spacesuit, which was immediately nicknamed the “pumpkin suit” as well. While the “pumpkin suit” was being developed, the astronauts were given a modified version of the blue flight coveralls, which had a zipper in the back so that they could easily go to the bathroom while wearing them. This modified blue flight suit became known as the “pumpkin suit” too, and because it was the uniform of astronauts, it’s sometimes referred to as the “astronaut suit”.
Decorated Shoes and Boots
Because the space race was in full swing, astronauts on both sides were wearing highly decorated boots and shoes. This was particularly true in the Soviet Union, where cosmonauts wore boots with extremely elaborate decorations. Over in the U.S., astronauts were also wearing boots with decorative elements, but much less so than their Soviet counterparts. The boots worn by astronauts were actually modified versions of the standard Air Force combat boot, which had been designed for pilots to wear while in flight. The standard combat boot was modified to include a softer sole to make it easier to walk in a space suit. Cosmonauts also wore modified versions of the standard Soviet military combat boot.
Dresses with Tabs and Zippers
When the space race started, many designers were inspired to create futuristic-looking designs. One of the most popular design elements used to create futuristic fashion was zippers. Zippers were used to create futuristic-looking accents on clothing like dresses and skirts. Designers also used tabs on clothing to create futuristic designs. Tabs were typically used to close garments like dresses and blouses, but some designers opted to put them on the outside of their clothing so that they were visible.
Shaped Collars and Shaped Skirts
As the space race progressed, designers started to add more shape to their clothing. One of the most common design elements used to create a futuristic look was a shaped collar, which was made by cutting the corners off of a regular collar so that it was rounded. Shaped collars were used on both men’s and women’s clothing, but they were particularly popular on women’s blouses. Women’s skirts were also cut in a more extreme shape as the decade progressed. Skirts were often cut so that they were wider at the top than they were at the bottom.
Outer Space Décor for Fashion’s Sake
Although designers were inspired by the space race in their designs, they weren’t necessarily focusing on creating functional clothing that would work in space. Instead, they were inspired by the idea of space and decorated their clothing following that theme. Designers were particularly fond of putting “outer space décor” on their clothing, like zigzag patterns, swirly designs, and star patterns. When fabrics were printed with space-themed designs, they often used a silver or metallic color, which became known as “metallic fabrics”. Metallic fabrics were particularly popular in the 1960s because they were a cheap way for designers to create “outer space décor” on their clothing with little effort.