What the Well-Dressed Astronaut Wears
The Movie: “Apollo 13.”
The Setup: Dramatization of the 1970 Apollo 13 space mission with astronauts James A. Lovell Jr. (Tom Hanks, right), Fred W. Haise Jr. (Bill Paxton) and Jack L. Swigert Jr. (Kevin Bacon, left).
The Costume Designer: Rita Ryack, whose film credits include “The Paper,” “Mad Dog and Glory,” “A Bronx Tale,” “Cape Fear,” “After Hours” and the upcoming “Casino.” For theater, her work includes the Broadway production of “My One and Only.”
The Look: On Earth, the NASA population--flight controllers, astronauts at home, company wives--was conservative, buttoned up and big on synthetics. The fashion world had veered into the groovy ‘70s, but the message hadn’t filtered down to Mission Control in Houston.
Women such as Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan) stuck with bouffant coifs and shocking pink A-line dresses along with NASA-logo jewelry, while men wavered between skinny ties with short-sleeved shirts and Banlon mock turtles in wicked colors, plus NASA cuff links, belt buckles and the like.
The Macho Factor: Astronauts’ uniforms may have been preordained, but reproductions were modified somewhat for vanity. “We don’t want to see anything in this kind of movie look excessively unflattering,” as Ryack put it. “What is utilitarian in real life has to have pleasing proportions if you’re making a movie.”
For instance, on “in-flight suits"--the two-piece white outfits worn during most of the mission--and on regulation NASA jumpsuits worn for simulator missions and public appearances, Ryack altered the depth of a back pleat here, the line of a shoulder there, and she subtly played with collar proportions to suit the stars’ faces and physiques. “So much of the filming is from the neck up. The collars are really important.”
As for the geeky bonnets or so-called Snoopy caps that were supposed to be worn throughout the mission, they were quickly “cheated” off.
You Should Know: The astronauts’ clunky pressure suits--made of a Teflon-like fabric with gloves, boots and helmet, all attached with anodized metal rings--were enormously ungainly. “We couldn’t put our actors in real pressure suits because they’d be far too hot and heavy,” Ryack said.
A more streamlined version was constructed of similar fabric and then a padded inner suit was worn to look convincingly cloddy. Still, a venting system was arranged by special-effects wizards to inject air conditioning. Another problem was created by regulation helmets--they reflected light and fogged up. That meant a non-reflective cover had to be invented and more ventilation hoses installed.
Trivia: Flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) was well-known at Mission Control for wearing special white vests made for him by his wife for each mission. (She made yet another for splashdown.) The vests could get quite flashy--some were brocade, some had pearl buttons.
Ryack copied one of the simpler ones, which Kranz provided. “Oh, your wife made you a different white vest for every mission?” Ryack asked the astronaut. “Affirmative,” he replied.
Research: NASA archives, the Lovells’ family photos and period magazines.
Sources: Most of the astronauts’ clothes and uniforms, other than pressure suits, and other principals’ costumes were made at Universal Studios. Anto of Beverly Hills fashioned the stars’ shirts. Pressure suits came from Kansas Cosmosphere in Kansas, which makes replicas of NASA equipment for museum exhibitions. Most of the rest of the clothes and accessories came from JMS Strutters in Boston, the Way We Wore in San Francisco and other vintage clothing stores around the country.