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The Space Race: The Fashion Revolution of the Swinging Sixties

By Olivia Madrid

Inspired by the scientific advancements of the Space Race during the revolutionary era of the Swinging Sixties, a vibrant fashion movement came to be. American popular culture soon became obsessed with the idea of space travel as John F. Kennedy boasted his ideas of going to the moon and the slew of space-themed shows, like Star Trek and the Jetsons, dominated television. The world of couture launched into a new world of futurism and innovation.

This era of fashion was defined by Vanguard designers such as André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. 

Courrèges always had a love for science and technology; he even invented a bubble car called “La Bulle” long before Tesla entered that territory. The emerging designer studied civil engineering before entering the fashion industry and joining Balenciaga. Once he broke off to create his own line, his Spring 1964 collection truly defined him as the designer of this era, with pieces, such as coats with structured silhouettes that featured double-breasted designs and contrasting trim. He impeccably tailored mini dresses with sleeveless or short-sleeved styles, boasting dropped waistlines and intricate welt seaming. Also, tunics paired with hipster pants, notably incorporating reflective material like PVC and vinyl to add to the celestial and futuristic vision. Accessories were often parts of old astronaut equipment, like goggles, moon boots, and helmets. Courrèges also introduced the iconic trapeze dress, a staple that defines the fashion of the Space Race. He was soon credited for the invention of the mini skirt.

Courrèges biggest achievement — his insistence on making women comfortable. He emphasized that “a woman’s body must be hard and free, not soft and harnessed.” The designer favored flats and A-line silhouette-shaped dresses that were meant to be worn without a bra. 

“The clothes float,” he said, “you don’t feel them.”

Alongside Courrèges, Pierre Cardin found himself pioneering the Space Race fashion, beginning his career as a tailor’s apprentice for Elsa Schiaparelli, and soon becoming the head of Christian Dior's workshop in 1947. In 1950, he founded his own fashion house, becoming the biggest house for ready-to-wear fashion by the mid-60s. Dazed shares that Cardin designed for “neither a woman nor a universe. Rather a shape, a volume. An idea, a silhouette. Wearable, mostly wearable.” According to Dazed, Cardin owes his inspiration not to women and fashion, but was instead said he was, “inspired by satellites. By lasers. By the moon.” 

His avant-garde, genderless fashion saw men and women dressed in knit bodysuits with housewife-like layers, such as skirts and aprons, paired with thigh-high boots. 

Cardin’s use of foil, vinyl, and plastics helped increase the daring concepts to become more surreal and futuristic. Throughout his design journey, Cardin explored negative space and geometric forms in his collections, as he introduced wool crêpe dresses and skirts featuring parallel strips of fabric that moved freely around the body. Later, he incorporated these strips into a simple shift dress, creating what became known as the "carwash" dress due to its resemblance to the brushes of a drive-through car wash.

The impact of the Space Age Fashion movement transcended the 1960s, leaving an indelible mark on the world of fashion. Elements of this cosmic couture continue to inspire contemporary designers who draw upon the futuristic and space-inspired themes introduced during this groundbreaking period. Even today, elements of the space race will continue to be timeless, as the allure of cosmic and celestial glamor continues to be woven into the fabric of fashion. 

A very special thank you to The Chic Daily’s Vice President and Director for this year's fashion show, Planet Chic, Alexia Hill, for her remarkable efforts to create such a fulfilling and inspiring futuristic show. Hill's unwavering dedication and creativity have paved the way for an inspiring futuristic vision. Her love for the Chic and dedication to the show only marks the beginning of what promises to be a stellar career for her, as she graduates this upcoming May. Join us as we witness her Space Race-inspired passion project, Planet Chic, featuring student designs and babes from beyond, this Friday, February 9th, 2024, at 7:00 PM in the A.E England Building located in Downtown Phoenix. 


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