March 8 is International Women’s Day. This day highlights the daily struggles and discriminations that women faced and still suffer all over the world. For us it is a great opportunity to celebrate women who marked the history of the textile and clothing sector, as we believe in the power of representations. Who are these women who have marked the history of textile and clothing?
Playtex: the Bra-Maker company that walked on the moon in 1969
Playtex is the famous bra-maker company that managed to win the contract to create the spacesuit that dressed the Apollo Mission astronauts.
After responding to a call for projects launched by NASA, and competing with the largest aerospace and military groups of the time, Playtex’s suit was judged to be by far the best. Playtex succeeded in creating a spacesuit that met the following criteria: the spacesuit had to be resistant to extreme temperatures (-280°, up to +240°), had to be able to withstand a micrometeorite, all while being flexible. Indeed, astronauts had to be able to move as they did on earth. The agility of the suit was an essential quality. Apollo not only marked the first landing on the moon but also the collaboration between a company for women and NASA, a male-dominated institution at the time.
In the pictures below, you can see the pressurised spacesuit that Neil Amstrong wore. Here are the materials used to design the spacesuit: beta cloth, rubber, nylon, plastic connectors, aluminum neck ring, aluminum wrist locking rings, aluminum zipper, and brass with a neoprene gasket.
Ida M. Rew, Athletic Suit For Ladies, 1895
In the late nineteenth century, the topic of women’s sport activities was quite divisive. Indeed, people were debating not only physical requirements but also the notion of appropriate attire.
Thankfully, Ida M. Rew found a solution in 1895. Her invention was ‘to provide a safe, reliable, and easy lady’s suit, graceful in outline, hygienic in construction, light in weight, and of handsome and modest appearance’. Her work allowed women to pursue their athletic wishes. They wore trousers attached to a skirt, hindering the malicious remarks of their contemporaries.
The attire consisting of a bodice might rhyme with torture nowadays, however, it was, at the time, a colossal leap forward for women’s freedom.
Amelia Earhart: the genius behind a clothing line for ‘Active Women’ in 1933
You may already know Amelia Earhart as the most famous female pilot in history. Or because you watched Hilary Swank in Amelia (2009 biopic).
This icon was distinguished by her androgynous style. To mingle with the other aviators, Earhart cut his hair like a boy and wore a worn leather jacket.
But did you know that she also has made fashion history? Earhart became one of the first celebrities to create her fashion line. If before the ’30s women used to buy complete outfits, Amelia popularised the trend of buying separate clothes, by piece. It is since then that women have been wearing different tops and bottoms to fit a variety of silhouettes, instead of adhering to the one-size-fits-all mold of dresses.
Earhart realised that it was essential to create practical and comfortable clothing that women with an ‘active living’ could wear. The clothing collection by Amelia Earhart consisted of 25 outfits, from dresses and skirts to trousers. How would you recognise her outfits? By the red plane on the labels, a reminder of her love for aviation.
Fishman, C. (2019, 15 July). The improbable story of the bra-maker who won the right to make astronaut spacesuits. Fastcompany.
Spivack, E. (2012, 27 August). What Did Playtex Have to Do With Neil Armstrong? SmithSonian. Online: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/what-did-playtex-have-to-do-with-neil-armstrong-16588944/
Cycle History. (2015, 19 March). Cycling Patents of Yesteryear: No. 5 – Ida M. Rew’s Athletic Suit For Ladies, 1895. Online: cyclehistory.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/cycling-patents-from-yesteryear-no-5/?fbclid=IwAR33aK6Lqoubf5m1-ff6KkrTGQlakpRL-3BKhHKqBP5edCg6XmVVdDmxduQ
Morgan, T. (2018, 29 August). Amelia Earhart’s Other Runway: The Aviator’s Forgotten FashionLine. History. Online: https://www.history.com/news/amelia-earharts-other-runway-the-aviators-forgotten-fashion-line?fbclid=IwAR08PxKe_N_HVmElAHew-Z5Z8TPH17_f1EPs_fanPq8ifcvwYeQ0qZCQeY