Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are known for many things; being fashion plates isn’t one of them. When the Apollo 11 astronauts made their giant leap for mankind in 1969, however, they were wearing a type of “space couture” that shared a history—and, indeed, many of the same seamstresses—with what was essentially the Spanx of the time.
More than two decades earlier, the International Latex Corporation, later known as ILC Dover, debuted the Playtex Living Girdle, a “sheath of smooth liquid latex” that was a “new discovery in figure control.” Hailed as a revolution and a revelation, it was free from seams, stitches, bones, or rods that pinched or restricted, along with an “all-way stretch” that molded to the wearer without the need for custom fitting.
“The ideal all-occasion girdle that makes you inches slimmer in everything from an evening dress to a bathing suit!” one ad in Life magazine declared. “As comfortable for golf or driving as for hours of sitting at an office desk. Work or play, winter or summer, the Playtex Living Girdle never tires for you.”
By the time the government put out an open call for proposals for an Apollo suit in 1962, ILC had parlayed its profits into research and development, filling orders such as steel-and-aluminum helmets and partial pressure suits for the Navy and Air Force. A spacesuit didn’t seem like a huge deal.