Tag Archives: bras

I Dreamed I Was a Moonwalking Astronaut in My Playtex Space Suit


two women in 1960s bras and girdles gossiping with each other, and a male astronaut in a spacesuit, with his helmet in his handDebbie says:

I’m old enough to remember bra ads that looked like the left side of the image above. And I’m delighted to see several media outlets covering a previously ignored story: the Apollo 11 spacesuits — the ones that the first men on the moon wore — were designed and made by women who worked for Playtex, known only for bras and girdles.

One of the underrated technical challenges of going to the Moon was designing the spacesuits. The suits had to be inflated and pressurized from the inside—meaning, they had to carry around a tiny version of the atmosphere human beings require to stay alive. The suits were, in essence, sophisticated balloons.

They also had to be tough, able to withstand a temperature range of perhaps 500º, from –280º in shadow to +240º in sun, as well as survive being hit by a micrometeorite going 36,000 mph while astronauts were wearing them.

The most daunting challenge? The suits also had to be flexible.

Astronauts had to be able to move with almost the same freedom, flexibility, and nimbleness that they would on Earth. They had to be able to climb, bend over, twist and look around, and most difficult of all, move their arms and hands so they could get anything done on the surface of the Moon or while spacewalking. The gloves, said one official, should allow an astronaut to pick up a dime.

Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon 50 years ago this week. I remember it; almost everyone my age and even 10-12 years younger remembers it. Thanks to Margot Lee  Shetterly’s best-selling book Hidden Figures, and the movie made from it, many of us now know more about  the Black women like Katherine Johnson who were essential to the calculations behind the space program, but until this week I didn’t know about the women who were essential to the spacesuits.

Playtex’s first challenges were political. The big tech companies of the 1960s wanted this gig, and many decision-makers didn’t take a bra-and-girdle company as a serious contender.

At one point, Playtex won the contract to make the suits, was made a subcontractor to Hamilton Standard but then, in a dramatic turn in 1965, was fired by Hamilton Standard, which wanted the suit contract for itself.

Then there was a competition, but Playtex wasn’t invited. Playtex executives pushed their way in (at their own expense), and in six weeks the company designed and built a suit which (among other tests) was field-tested on a high-school football field, and passed with flying colors.

The technical challenges were perhaps more daunting than the political ones:

The sewing of the astronauts’ suits turned out to be daunting and demanding. Playtex, which renamed its industrial division ILC Dover during the spacesuit work (after its Delaware headquarters), brought skilled seamstresses over from its consumer products factories. “I was sewing [latex] baby pants,” said Eleanor Foraker, who would go on to be a spacesuit assembly supervisor, “and an engineer came to me and asked me if I would mind trying something else.”

Some of the layers were, in fact, composed of bra and girdle material, including nylon tricot.

The suits were a huge success, and Neil Armstrong wrote a fan letter about them. In the most important victory for Playtex, “that same division of Playtex, now the independent company ILC Dover, still makes every NASA spacesuit, from its headquarters at 1 Moonwalker Road.”

I am no longer amazed by how many ways women’s contributions are replaced from history that is framed as entirely male, and I have never been surprised by the vast range of skills women continuously bring to the table. And yet, this story is especially delightful, partly because the tech involved is coded so essentially female (bras and girdles!) and partly because it’s just amusing to think of those hyper-male-hero astronauts with their lives depending on nylon tricot.




Links Re-Appear Without Warning

Debbie says:

Singer Meghan Trainor has a song called “All About that Bass” which is catchy, and sends a strong message:

Chloe at Feministing loves it and deconstructs it:

loving yourself because dudes like what you’ve got going on is a pretty flimsy form of self-acceptance. In fact, it’s not really self-acceptance at all if it depends on other people thinking you’re hot. Most of us want to be attractive in the eyes of the people we find attractive — I sure as hell do — and I don’t want to downplay how great that can feel. But the point of loving yourself no matter what is that you love yourself no matter what boys, or anyone else, thinks about your booty. And there’s certainly something to be said for reiterating the idea that there are some men who prefer curvy women, especially when the vision of female beauty we see in popular media is almost uniformly slender, white, able-bodied, and so incredibly specific that a tiny percentage of the population can ever live up to it.

Chloe goes on to say “it’s like it’s scientifically impossible to write a song about how great it is to have curves that doesn’t insult people who don’t.” Laurie and I struggled with this so much when we were working on Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes. We learned that there are ways to talk about one kind of beauty without dissing another, but it’s hard work, because people are so ready to hear that building up one thing is automatically dissing another. I feel confident that it can be done in song lyrics, short and punchy as they are. Meghan Trainor, are you up to the task?


Every feminist blog I read linked to this one, and no wonder …

As one YouTube commenter points out, a disproportionate number of the men in the video are men of color, which (to say the least) I think was a bad decision. Nonetheless, the point is well taken, as long as you remember that telling women to smile is by no means limited to men of color.


Sesali Bowen at Feministing talks about a little-examined aspect of female sexuality:

so much of what we (Americans) think about sex is caught in limited, male-dominated, and frankly, fictional perceptions of how our bodies should work (because… porn). Our incompetent approach to sex education has done nothing to address one of the most widespread misconceptions, and consequences have been dire. But today I am willing to go where few feminists have gone in examining this important and widely-felt issue through a critical feminist lens. Today I am going to share the truth about lube! …

the notion that vaginas should always be wet is another way of suggesting that women’s bodies should be constantly available and ready for sexual consumption, specifically penetration. Because out here in the wild west, sex just happens. 

More importantly, because of this myth that a normal vagina always gets wet on cue, lube has really gotten a bad reputation. Pushed to fringes of our sexual consciousness, so many people view these amazing concoctions as only necessary when having anal sex or doing something especially adventurous, like double penetration or nuru body slides. This simply isn’t true! Lube is great for so many reasons. It adds another sensation that can enhance pleasure, even if you are already wet. It also improves the function of condoms, especially latex ones which can dry out the wettest of vajayjays. It can also provide taste, heating, cooling, and tingling sensations that all work to make sex more pleasurable. And better sex = more relevant feminism. This very scientific formula is the reason why using lube makes you a better feminist.

And she goes on to share excellent technical information about kinds of lube, how to use it, and more.


I’m seeing a lot of centenary posts about World War I, but here’s something I didn’t know. World War I marks the shift (in the United States) from corsets to bras. Melissa Pandika at NPR has the story

since corset frames were mostly made of metal, which was needed for ammunition and other military supplies, the U.S. War Industries Board asked American women in 1917 to stop buying them. Around the same time, the modern-day bra emerged, freeing up wartime steel and women alike. …

the War Industries Board’s corset ban, which freed women to work at physically demanding factory jobs — and 28,000 pounds of steel, enough to build two battleships. By the time the war ended in 1918, corsets were fading fast.

Pandika’s article also includes the history of the bra, which (in its modern form) was invented and later marketed by Caresse Crosby in 1914.


Speaking of bras, or at least of removing them, Jay Livingston  is musing about topless sunbathing (with graphs, because it’s Sociological Images):

Americans are much more likely to feel uncomfortable at a topless beach. But they are also much less likely to have been to one. (Northern Europeans – those from the Scandinavian countries and Germany – are even more likely than the French to have gone topless.) (Data are from a 2013 Harris survey done for Expedia.) …

{There is an]other way of thinking about the relation between fashion and ideas: exposing your body changes how you think about bodies.  If people take off their clothes, they’ll become more comfortable with nudity. That is, whatever a woman’s original motivation, once she did try going topless, she would develop ideas that made sense of the experiences, especially since the body already carries such a heavy symbolism. She would not have to invent these topless-is-OK ideas all by herself. They would be available in the conversations of others. So unless her experiences were negative, these new ideas would add to and reinforce the thoughts that led to the original behavior.

Livingston makes some interesting connections here, based on some 2009 and current very similar articles about the end of topless sunbathing in France.


And finally, photographer Cameron Drake’s anatomical x-ray gifs, for the beauty inside bodies …


Sources: Feministing, io9, and Sociological Images, plus assorted other blogs I read.