High Fashion: The Women’s Undergarment Industry and the Foundations of American Spaceflight

Author: Hersch, Matthew H.

Source: Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Volume 13, Number 3, September 2009 , pp. 345-370(26)

Publisher: Bloomsbury Journals (formerly Berg Journals)

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In the years that followed the end of World War II, Americans turned to synthetic fibers to transform their bodies to meet the challenges of a new era: for women, the pinched waists and thrusting bustlines of Christian Dior’s “New Look;” for men, the physiological demands of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The story of foundation garments and pressure suits is not simply one of government-developed “spin-off” technologies invigorating the civilian market; rather, new techniques for the manufacture of civilian apparel infused pressure suit development. Inspired by each other, the two industries revolutionized “high fashion” with a series of radical new garments as “dangerous” as they were beautiful. Considering the two as complementary technologies may illuminate both the ways in which the consumer market enriched American innovation during the twentieth century, and the resonances these two kinds of garments have as iconic representations of postwar American modernity, beauty, and power.

Keywords: New Look; advertising; corset; girdle; spacesuit

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175174109X438118

Affiliations: Email: mhersch@sas.upenn.edu

Publication date: September 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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