On July 20th 1969, two American astronauts walked on the moon. Since that anniversary is coming up, it occurred to me that for this edition of “Historical Titbits About Underwear,” I should share about an out-of-this-world bra maker: Playtex. Because without Playtex, those two astronauts wouldn’t have had spacesuits. So let’s get ready for takeoff as I share about bra maker Platex’s A7L spacesuit. Maybe I can finally get that Even Stevens “Moon Song” out of my head too!
First, a brief history on how the spacesuit came about. Pressurized suits became necessary as pilots starting pushing how high they could ascend during the early adventuring period right after both World Wars. Until then, most pilots wore pretty normal clothing. As they competitively tried reaching higher altitudes, they started experiencing altitude sickness. It became apparent that some sort of pressurized suit would be needed if we were going to continue climbing the skies.
After World War II, as the country’s fascination with and development of a rocket program started, suits that could protect a pilot from both high altitude and accelerations came into production. In 1952, the US Air Force unveiled a new suit called the “T-1” the to public. The suit was manufactured by David Clark, who also used custom corset maker Berger Brothers to help him with modifications from his line of 12 sizes.
It’s also noted that the production developments needed for spacesuits helped many bra makers create new materials, patterns, and seaming that they used throughout their lines. This helped lead to a wider variety of bra styles being available for buyers. Clark wasn’t surprised by this connection, as it’s noted that he once joked that bras are, “just another ‘G’ problem.”
But it was Playtex that would became the true problem solver of the spacesuit. Playtex, the consumer arm of the International Latex Corporation (ILC), was the holder of several patents and expert in latex molding and manufacturing. That expertise came in handy when the company got the chance to design a spacesuit: the A7L.
Playtex struggled for almost a decade with the Air Force and their government contracts. The company was leading the development and research on nylon and latex suiting, but kept losing (or just not being given) contracts. They continued to work on pressurized suits, even so much as internally funding the projects. But in 1962, when the call for suiting the Apollo mission went out, they knew they had it; because the Apollo suits needed to not only help an astronaut while he was inside or tethered on the outside, but provide life support during a walk on the moon.
Playtex’s suit was tested alongside two other competitors on July 1 1965 (as Suit A was Playetx/ILC, Suit B David Clark design, and Suit C Richard Hamilton design). The eight-sentence conclusion from NASA’s report says it all: “Suit A placed first.”
It’s Playtex’s unique ability to adapt the hard and soft, creating support and movement that made travel in space possible. So whenever you look up at the stars or see the moon on full display, give a little thanks to your bra. Because without it, we might still be just dreaming of that final frontier.
-Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, Nicholas de Monchaux, 2011.
-Suiting Up for Space: The Evolution of the Space Suit. Lloyd Mallan, 1971
“Evaluation and Comparison of Three Space Suit Assemblies,” NASA Technical Note TN D-3482, R.L. Jones, 1966.
-Air Hawks (1935) http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2017/10/air-hawks-1935.html
-"Sewing a Fine Seam ...," NASA, Smithsonian Institute, 1968
-"front view of the pressure garment assembly for the Apollo A-7L space suit," NASA, Smithsonian Institute, 1975
-"The intravehicular configuration of the A7L space suit worn by the commander and lunar module pilot," NASA (Wikipedia)
-"The Lunar EVA configuration of the A7L spacesuit used for lunar EVA's on Apollo 11, 12, and 14," NASA (Wikipedia)
Dayna Brownfield is an editor and writer, with a background in women's niche publications. You can read her musings at www.daynab.com, and check out her monthly Instagram project, Zine It, at @dayna_._b.