May 21, 2016 3:42 pm

Science Is As Fierce As Ever

This guest blog post is by Alex Hanson, StarTalk’s new STEAM intern. She is a sophomore at NYU and founder/editor of HERpothesis, which showcases work by creative young women inspired by STEAM.

As a new StarTalk intern, I get to dive into the archives and take a fresh look at older episodes. My first assignment was to rewrite the description for the Season 2’s episode “Science is Fierce.” I started by checking out what James Aguiar, the episode’s guest fashion expert, is up to now. Along the way I also found a new perspective on my own interests in combining science and self-expression through fashion.

“Science is Fierce” features an interview with James Aguiar, who at the time was host for the television show Full Frontal Fashion. His insights about the process behind designing science fiction costumes were eye opening. For example, the reason so many people are still in love with Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura’s uniform is that it was at the cutting edge of late 1960s fashion. Yes, it was designed to look futuristic, but Uhura’s red miniskirt and black go-go boots are an artifact of what the 1960s imagined the future to be like, making Uhura’s outfit a retro version of the future.

Photo of Lt. Uhura, from Star Trek. Image via The Guardian, courtesy of Insight Editions.

Star Trek’s Uhura is the epitome of science fiction fashion. Image via The Guardian, Courtesy of Insight Editions.

James Aguiar is now the National Fashion Director at Modern Luxury Magazines, where he gets to design and style photo shoots. His portfolio includes a 2013 photo shoot with Zachary Quinto to accompany an interview about the actor’s return to his role as Spock in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. James Aguiar’s shoot features no Starfleet uniforms, but Quinto is surrounded by bright blue and metallic colors, emulating the colors I’ve come to associate with Spock through Star Trek’s many incarnations. I would love to hear James’s ideas on the costumes in the latest Star Trek films: Will future generations watch the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and see it as a remnant of 2016 fashion instead of truly futuristic? Will they interpret it as merely a reincarnation of the original series’ design? Or something in between? We will have to follow up with James Aguiar in fifty years to see what he says.

Photo of Zach Quinto in fashion reminiscent of Spock, By James Aguilar. Image courtesy of Modern Luxury.

James Aguiar created a Spock-reminiscent style for Zachary Quinto. Image courtesy of Modern Luxury.

Throughout the episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-host Lynne Koplitz look at the ways science is informing new developments in fashion and textiles, including water-soluble clothing, aromatic fabrics, and even athletic wear for Olympic athletes, which can then be appropriated for superhero film costumes—if you’re a fan of speed skater Apolo Ohno, then the fabric for Spiderman’s costume may look familiar. I was fascinated by their example of water-soluble clothing: dissolvable dresses appearing on the runway. The question that came up was whether there was any practical use for this kind of fabric (perhaps dissolvable clothes are the future of foam parties—someone make me a club owner so I can capitalize on this genius idea), but I think there’s something very fun and exciting about presenting something innovative through fashion just for the heck of it. (Check out this NY Times video of dissolving clothing from Fashion Week.)

James Aguiar says in the episode that fashion is about “reassessing ourselves,” and I think that there are a lot of fun applications for this purpose by using science and science fiction developments to express our own passions. I do this all the time. My favorite sweater makes me feel like I’m wearing the entire universe: it’s bright pink, blue, and yellow stitching through its dark black fabric reminds me of images of distant galaxies. In “Science is Fierce,” Neil asks James why aliens are always portrayed wearing silver. I just about cracked up when I heard this because a few weeks ago I bought a metallic, silver, reflective top with a weird shape just because it made me feel like I was part of some advanced alien species. I’m also obsessed with Prague’s 600-year-old astronomical clock tower because its astrolabe and zodiac calendar date back to a medieval understanding our universe—but people still gather around it every hour to watch the clock come to life with animated statues. I express my passion for the astronomical clock by sporting earrings in the shape of the clock tower itself and buttons featuring the astrolabe and moving statues around it.

Photo of blog post author Alex Hanson, by the author.

I know how to rock my astronomical clock accessories.

I know I’m not the only one who loves to dress up in my favorite science and technology concepts. There are entire websites dedicated to apparel inspired by science fiction fandoms, like ThinkGeek and Her Universe. I’m constantly inspired and amazed by Sci Chic, a company founded by two mechanical engineering students. They create 3-D printed jewelry that illustrates STEM concepts, like suspension bridges and moon phases. Astronomy and space exploration constantly inspire fashion. When you think of Neil deGrasse Tyson, do you think of the sun and moon vest he sports in his Twitter picture and in his Superman comic cameo?

Comic book panel from Action Comics #14, January 2013, when Neil deGrasse Tyson helped Superman locate Krypton. Credit: DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Neil and Superman are friends: Neil helped the Man of Steel locate Krypton in Action Comics #14, January 2013. Credit: DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Buzz Aldrin’s Twitter feed is laden with his stylish “Get Your Ass to Mars” and “Eat My Moondust” t-shirts. STARtoralist, a blog run by two astrophysicists, Dr. Emily Rice, host of the upcoming StarTalk All-Stars, and Summer Ash, who regularly post astronomy-inspired fashion and décor (I’ve never felt more like a fashionista than when I got to gush about my astronomical clock accessorizing on STARtorialist). I would argue, though, that the best astronomy-inspired fashion of all time is Ms. Frizzle’s outfit in the series premiere of The Magic School Bus. Absolutely iconic.

Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, Season 1 Episode 1, “Gets Lost in Space” Courtesy of Scholastic Entertainment

Image credit: Screenshot of Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, Season 1 Episode 1, “Gets Lost in Space” Courtesy of Scholastic Entertainment

“Science is Fierce” exposes the scientific foundation for science fiction fashion, designer fashion, and textiles in our everyday use. It also inspired me to think about how science, science fiction and fashion all seem to cycle around each other, in my own life and that of people I admire.

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