Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction Experts React to the U.S. Space Force’s New Uniforms
Posted September 27, 2021
With an asymmetrical cut and six shiny buttons that suggest a rocket’s hard burn to orbit, there’s little doubt the U.S. Space Force’s new prototype service dress uniforms are meant to evoke the newest military branch’s futuristic spirit.
The uniform’s design also highlights the fascinating influence of science fiction on fashion and how studying the genre can help unravel a host of cultural and technological conundrums, notes Regents Professor Lisa Yaszek of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication.
“One of the things I frequently talk about is how science fiction is a global language, and this uniform is an example of that. It wants to signal the unique nature of the Space Force as the military of a technoscientific present and future. The jacket does that by referencing the great tradition of imagining space forces through science fiction,” Yaszek said.
Indeed, the togs do bear a remarkable resemblance to uniforms in the television series Battlestar Galactica, as noted in many less-than-stellar reviews.
In the jacket, Yaszek also sees echoes of uniforms from Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and other early science fiction classics.
“But the rest of the outfit, which seems drawn from more traditional military workwear based on corporate suiting, reads less Flash Gordon and more Gordon Gecko,” said Yaszek. “And I think that’s what’s causing a lot of the cognitive dissonance.”
Yaszek believes people are picking up on the tension between the uniform’s futuristic, sportswear-inspired jacket and the collared shirt and slacks, which sport a more traditionally military workwear look.
“That choice probably came out of a desire to make Space Force both part of the existing military community but also set it apart. That people are picking up on that shows how much people read culture, and how much science fiction influences that,” she said.
Yaszek teaches a class on fashion in science fiction — LMC 4000 — Senior Seminar in Literature, Media, and Communication: “Science, Fiction, and Fashion.” She said the sorts of fashion we all recognize from science fiction began in the early 20th century with Italian Futurists and Russian Constructivists, who celebrated technology and its promise for a better future.
“Futurists invented the concept of uniform dressing as the ideal mode of clothing for our impending, high-tech future,” Yaszek said. “The idea was to use high-tech fabrics in bright and beautiful colors to create simple clothes that could be worn by anyone and easily adapted to various bodies and situations through the strategic use of accessories.”
Early science fiction artists such as Frank. R. Paul absorbed these design concepts and rolled out a steady drumbeat of futuristically clad space warriors, including Flash Gordon and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.”
Quickly, elements such as asymmetry, bright colors, and metallics became the standard for signaling a futuristic military. These powerfully evocative concepts continue to be seen today in costumes for films and TV, including Galactica.
They’re also present in the Space Force uniform, with its off-center and angled jacket closure, shiny buttons, open collar, and highly polished insignia.
As a leading scholar of feminist science fiction, Yaszek praised the Space Force’s announcement that the uniforms were the first designed for female bodies instead of male ones. But, she said, she would like to hear more details about what that actually means. The science-fiction inspiration could also have led designers to more innovative or unisex designs, she said.
Yaszek’s colleague, science fiction film scholar Ida Yoshinaga, wonders if the convention-breaking and obviously sci-fi approach to uniforming the Space Force means more changes might be in store in terms of rules limiting personal expression in the ranks.
“In many science fiction worlds, there tends to be a wider range in uniforms and what is worn with them, and I wonder if we will see that here in rules about hair length, style, color, and so on,” said Yoshinaga, who studies costume design and other aspects of science fiction film productions.
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