Neil Armstrong in 1966.
Neil Armstrong in 1966.
Image: AP

Here’s a fun quirk of history: It was the expertise involved in developing the innovative Playtex Living Girdle that helped create the spacesuits that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wore all the way to the moon.


Author Jasmin Malik Chua has the story over at Racked. The Playtex Living Girdle was developed by the International Latex Corporation, a “sheath of smooth liquid latex” without seams or boning. Twenty years later, the company had moved into some R&D defense contracting—while still in the Playtex business, which is really a perfect image of the postwar American economy. So when NASA asked for Apollo prototypes in 1962, they threw their hat into the ring:

Rubber wasn’t an obvious spacesuit material, at least not at first. Prototypes favored by both military contractors and NASA engineers had so far been armor-like, cumbersome, and nigh impenetrable. But the Speciality Products Division (SPD) of ILC proposed a new kind of textile, one that employed flexible, accordion-like folds instead of tin-can-like components. Coupled with restraints that would keep the folds from flattening out, this “convolute” would allow a certain degree of movement in the areas of a suit that needed it, such as elbows, shoulders, and other joints.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the combination of materials that comprised the convolute was something with which ILC was deeply familiar: “the nylon tricot of the bra surface, the polyester webbing of a bra strap, and the dipped rubber out of which a girdle was made,” De Monchaux said.


The whole story culminated in a contest between ILC and another company that worked more with NASA, in which they competed to prove they had the bette prototype. Victory ultimately did go to ICL; here’s the really good part, though:

To hear De Monchaux tell it, however, the true story about the Apollo spacesuits isn’t about which company beat out which, but rather the women who ended up making them. Many of the seamstresses hailed from Playtex, which means they went from one shop floor making bras and girdles to another one producing clothing for the moon.

Read the entire story here. Cancel First Man and replace it with a thriller about an elite team of Playtex seamstresses.

Senior Editor, Attic Haunter, Jezebel

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