28
$\begingroup$

What might clothing designed to be worn, long-term, in microgravity look like? For the purpose of this question there are two categories. Practical, or everyday wear, and impractical or simply fancy wear. But these categories can overlap. The second is just for those designs you might not want to wear every day.

Specifically looking for certain trends that might be found in clothing, like a popularity in single piece suits or something. Fashion should only be taken into account if it could logically emerge from useful trends.

Note: I am looking more for everyday, civilian wear, then military uniforms

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Can we assume air pressure similar to that on the ISS? That may affect the appeal of larger, baggier styles $\endgroup$ – Bewilderer Dec 19 '18 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah air pressure is probably going to be the same, the size of various structures isn't going to be too big for microgravity structures (probably the biggest in my universe is the main cavern of Deimos which is a partially hollowed out cylinder) $\endgroup$ – The Imperial Dec 19 '18 at 1:43
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Some Flapper dresses from the 20s would look hillarious, because you'd walk around looking like a big fuzzy cat who'd been savaged by a balloon. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 19 '18 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ Antigravity's got nothing on suspenders! $\endgroup$ – user45266 Dec 19 '18 at 5:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Think startrek uniforms with velco at the waistband to secure the top and bottom halves to create a "stretch two-piece onesie" $\endgroup$ – Bohemian Dec 19 '18 at 5:34
34
$\begingroup$

Take a look at swimming costumes over time.

The thing about microgravity is that it's relative pull by comparison to the atmosphere would be similar to that which we currently experience diving - that is to say that water is quite dense, and we float in it because the pull of gravity affects the water more than us because its denser. We compensate for that by putting on weights, but that is for another topic.

The important factor here is that the way objects like our clothes are going to react around us in microgravity is similar to how they react around us in the water.

So - skirts, T-shirts and other items that are designed to hang loosely are definitely out because they won't hang, or will take much longer to do so, especially in response to our sudden movements. That's why our swimwear looks so much different.

Ultimately, how 'modest' our clothing will need to be will be determined by temperature in the first instance - it's no surprise that European visitors to Polynesian and Southern African areas were shocked by what the inhabitants wore. They came from cold climates, but the locals had adapted their cultures to the humidity and warmth. Add to that, there is no doubt a need to get in and out of clothes as conveniently as possible, and several trends are likely to emerge;

1) Swimsuit Style Apparel. What I mean by this is things like boardshorts, possibly speedos and one pieces, probably some form of shirt that has elastic around the bottom of the shirt to keep it in place at all times, and possibly some of the long-john style swimwear from the Victorian era, especially for formal occasions. Shoes, especially on a space station, will be essentially velcroed extensions of the foot, allowing for good purchase when moving about.

2) Wetsuit Looking Outfits. Neoprene is unlikely to be used in space because wetsuits can be really hard to get in and out of, and getting purchase on the suit is hard enough in full gravity. But, it would make sense that some form of thick (but softer) insulating material would form full body (or more likely 2-piece) coveralls for people on space stations so the internal temperatures don't need to be set so high (preserving energy). See more detail below discussing temperature control in space; short version is that cooling is probably the bigger issue in space in most configurations.

3) Lots of Zippered Pockets. It's not just the human that suffers when clothing needs to be designed for microgravity - it's the things he or she carries around as well. Some things, like wallets, pens, phones, etc. may easily drift out of pockets designed for larger items, meaning that the best and most logical approach is to either button them down or zip them up. Either way, flashier buttons or zips on pockets will become a fashion statement, just like all those extra buttons on suit sleeves that don't actually do anything. Some clothing may eventually manifest buttons and zips in areas that don't actually have pockets, especially for formal wear.

In the end, modesty will initially restrict things like skirts, but practicality is likely to enforce a sense of modesty, by forcing people to stay warm via their own body heat rather than energy taken from the station to stay warm. On the other hand, in an environment where the space station (assumption on my part) actually exists in a close solar orbit or has some other reason for having trouble expelling heat (often the case in current tech spacecraft and stations) then it's more likely to see people in space wearing one piece swimsuit style clothes and boardshorts as a reaction to the warmer environment.

The key things to consider when extrapolating all this is;

Form follows Function - people will dress for comfort and practicality first, then the culture will adopt local mores from these constraints rather than the other way around.

Convenience Always Wins - People simply won't go from convenient clothes (to both wear and put on) to inconvenient. Convenience always improves over time.

Fashion is about Affectation - Things like flashy zippers and buttons will manifest after they prove their usefulness. Ties were originally neckerchiefs that were used to wipe the blood off swords after a duel, but became a bragging item (look how many times I've had to clean off my sword) that led to universal adoption and even generated a few sayings, like someone 'earning their stripes'. Lanyards worn by many military officers were originally used to hold the firing pins for the cannons they commanded, but became a more ornate feature of uniforms much later.

If you factor all this in, I'd expect to see some form of clothing that is at least reminiscent of swimwear from some period of history, with flashy buttons and zippers used for formal attire. As for how modest the clothing remains or changes to, that will literally be set by the thermostat on the station itself.

From comments, there is always going to be debate about the origin of sayings, and the nature of specific clothing affectation. Many of the comments below represent some known variances on the thinking around the introduction of ties and sayings like earning stripes. The statements I make above in that regard should not be considered definitive; they are one of many interpretations of these origins. They are included here because they are relevant possibilities

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nicely explained, I was also thinking that "tight" clothing will be more suitable for micro gravity environment, it'd be annoying for clothes to rustle endlessly everytime you move. $\endgroup$ – Basher Dec 19 '18 at 2:08
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Re "the internal temperatures won't need to be set so high" - space habitats actually have bigger problems cooling than they do heating. Waste heat generated from people, computers, machinery etc. is the biggest hurdle there. Per this answer on Space.SE, modern craft are kept at normal room temperature. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Dec 19 '18 at 2:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that clothing has also a protective function. Mechanical protection may be especially important in microgravity, it's easier to get scratches and bruises there, with nothing to stop you from flying into the wall. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 19 '18 at 7:38
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ This answer makes an implicit presumption that microgravity clothing would tend towards form-fitting styles, rather than baggy coveralls. This presumption seems unwarranted, given both that many people find baggy clothing more comfortable than tight clothing and that baggy clothing is what actual, real-world people currently living in microgravity tend to wear. $\endgroup$ – Dave Sherohman Dec 19 '18 at 11:02
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I always thought that earning one’s stripes referred to the literal stripes attached to military uniforms that indicate rank. $\endgroup$ – J F Dec 19 '18 at 21:21
12
$\begingroup$

The obvious place to look for what hypothetical future people living in microgravity might wear would be to look at what real-world people living in microgravity today actually do wear.

A quick image search for "ISS astronauts" turns up many, many photos of people living and working in microgravity. In the substantial majority of these photos, they are wearing cargo pants and (usually tucked-in) t-shirts. The next-most-common outfit is loose-fitting one-piece coveralls.

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

The most important thing I see is that people would avoid clothing that needs to drape to look right, so, with nothing to hold them down, the following are probably going to be out:

  • skirts
  • neckties
  • dangling jewelry
  • most hats

With neckties out (too busy floating around Dilbert-style), we could see a resurgence of the bow tie, a la Asimov!

Hats (not helmets) could become reserved as formal wear, and worn either with hairpins or straps to keep them on the head.

With no skirts, we could see people substitute so-called "split skirts" or harem pants that tend to be very baggy but don't float up nearly as easily as a skirt would.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

In our world, four important factors have determined the look of our clothes since the dawn of time: available resources, climate, purpose and moral. In my opinion, microgravity is simply going to add one degree of freedom to the clothing designers, but it is not going to decide whether clothes will be tight around the body, or floating in the air.

Note on Resources. If all clothing is imported from Earth, then we can presume we'd be able to find the same range of materials that we would find in terrestrial shops. On the other hand, if the manufacturing occurs locally, then depending on the local resources, one could should consider whether cotton or linen production is feasible, whether farming for wool could happen, or whether the local fauna can provide skin for leather clothes. If the answer to these three questions is 'no', then the locals may exhibit a preference for synthetics. A note about the local fauna: if there is a native wild fauna, the corresponding skins and furs may be considered fancy pieces of garment, depending on how difficult it is to hunt them.

Note on climate. I am going to state the obvious: cover more to protect from extremes. Extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme radiance, extreme wind, all typically call for longer clothes, covering more of the human body.

Note on purpose. Working clothes are definitively designed for purpose. Be it a uniform to identify members of the organization, or a special suit to shield from hazards on the workplace. Hazardous working environment will require stricter control over the design. For instance, factory workers moving around large machinery may be given tighter clothes, gloves, helmets, and protective shoes.

Note on morals. Morals dictate clothing design in our world to much a larger extent that we may imagine. The most interesting aspect of this is that hindering and impractical clothing may become the norm if it best fits the moral standards of society. The fact that women had to wear gowns for instance, even when riding horses, is just one example of such trend. I would recommend that you define your society well before dwelling into defining the clothing design, as the latter depends heavily on the former.

Q&A note on microgravity

Q: wouldn't microgravity make clothes float as in water?

A: That is very likely, but... It depends on the fabric and on the treatment. A large dose of starch can keep clothes rigidly in place for quite some time. Leather can be arranged to be stiff and in place. Old Victorian era gowns had a frame to keep them in shape, defying gravity: the same principle could be applied, i.e. to implement a frame inside the clothing, to defy microgravity.

Q: wouldn't this floating be unpleasant?

A: Not necessarily. In fact, it may be part of the fashion to have a floating scarf that follows you as you dash around. Or to have a tunic dancing in the air as the memory of the contour of the movements you just made. In fact, you could build a whole Bohemian philosophy on that.

A note about military uniforms

A military uniform is not a combat suit. It is a cloth of display. In history, military uniforms have been designed to be pompous, affected, and possibly impractical. I would imagine that they would embrace microgravity, add a cape and a complicated set of salute movements to make it float like angel's wings. Add a hat with golden threads, dangling in the air, like the mane of a godly horse. Now you have a military uniform worth being displayed.

A combat suit, on the other hand, has to allow free movement, protect from external hazards, and provide some level of cloaking. No special microgravity thoughts there. It really depends on where the action happens.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

For physical work, garments like long johns or lycra to wick up sweat for cooling and to prevent it from flying elsewhere. The outer garment, as others have noted, would still need to be somewhat formfitting and have appropriate loops and pockets with velcro or zippers. A zippered jumpsuit of soft material would work.

For those not doing physical labor, looser fitting outer garments with elastic at appropriate points would work. I'm thinking something like the scrubs worn in hospital settings. Of course, they do have the option of wearing just boxer briefs or going nude as well. It just depends on what all they need to have access to.

I really like the fashion comments in NofP's answer. There's got to be interesting hair styles as well that can work in microgravity. Garments as video displays all over might also be fun and fashionable. Being able to slowly spin in place while a video is playing has real possibilities that make tattoos seem boring.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

In terms of formal/fancy clothing, I can definitely see the "ballgown" or "wedding dress" equivalent as having large amounts of lightweight fabric that's designed to float out artfully, and then trail elegantly behind you as you push off a surface. Just as an example from an underwater photographer: enter image description here

It's not meant to be practical, of course, but elegant and ethereal and more than a bit extravagant as the wearer floats their way across the microgravity equivalent of a ballroom.

And like modern gowns with trains, it's also likely to have discreet pins or hooks to marshal all of the extra fabric to something more manageable once the wearer is no longer on display and is just mingling with other guests.

Depending on the sizes of the spaces people are gathering in, I can also see hand-fans, whether the flat/folding kind or powered, becoming a common accessory again as well. CO2 doesn't naturally sink in microgravity, so if you're in a space that doesn't have great ventilation, it can start getting stuffy after a while. Plus, if you happen to drift away from a surface to push off from, it can act as a backup propulsion method (though it might be embarrassing to be caught having to use one that way!)

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.