Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, NASA astronaut and former U.S. Navy pilot
Houston, Texas, August 1962 through March 1966
Film: First Man
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Director: Damien Chazelle
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
In addition to being my 30th birthday, today is also the 50th anniversary of when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the surface of the Moon at 02:56:15 UTC on July 21, 1969, six hours after he and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle as part of the Apollo 11 spaceflight, a mission also manned by command module pilot Michael Collins.
Last year, Damien Chazelle directed Ryan Gosling in First Man, a biopic focused on Neil Armstrong’s life and career through the 1960s from the tragic death of his young daughter Karen to his triumphant first steps on the Moon… “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
First Man traces Armstrong’s career as an astronaut back to his initial application that led to interviews for astronaut selection at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, Texas, on August 13, 1962. The astronauts chosen would be attached to Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program and so named for its goal of sending two humans into space, an expansion on the previous Project Mercury’s achieved goal of sending one man into Earth’s orbit…and returning him safely, of course.
Pete Conrad: Neil, I was sorry to hear about your daughter.
Neil Armstrong: I’m sorry, is there a question?
Pete Conrad: What I… What I mean is… Do you think it’ll have an effect?
Neil Armstrong: I think it would be unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have some effect.
In addition to his celestial achievements during the 1960s, First Man also focused on Neil Armstrong’s personal life, including how the family grieved and healed following Karen’s death and how his relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) evolved over the course of a decade that ended with one small step on the lunar surface.
What’d He Wear?
The excellent period costumes in First Man were designed by Mary Zophres, working again with director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling after their successful earlier collaboration in La La Land (2016). Zophres shared insight during a November 2018 interview with Janet Kinosian for the Los Angeles Times, published about a month after the film’s release.
For the world of Gemini-era NASA, Zophres considered that “the story centers in Houston, and they were in a secluded suburb outside of Houston and had maybe three stores they shopped at — Sears and a couple of others,” explaining her more conservative approach to dressing the film’s characters despite the increasingly colorful palette of 1960s menswear. “I proposed to Damien early on that it’s not the Brady Bunch, and the research backed us up, so we took a very conservative approach to the way the people dressed.”
One item of muted color that gets plenty of wear from Neil Armstrong’s closet is a gun club check flannel sport jacket. Also known as the Coigach, Alan Flusser describes this Scottish-originated check as “an even check pattern with rows of alternating colors.” In Armstrong’s case, these colors alternate between brown and black horizontal stripes that cross-cross olive and blue vertical stripes.
The single-breasted sports coat has narrow notch lapels with short notches that roll to a three-button front. The jacket has two-button cuffs and a welted breast pocket, though details like the hip pockets and the back vent situation are not readily available from the garment’s screen appearances.
Armstrong’s go-to office shirt in the film’s early scenes, set throughout 1962, is light blue oxford-cloth cotton with a large button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and box-pleated back. Most notable are the short sleeves often associated with NASA engineers of this era.
When dressing up for his interview for astronaut selection in August 1962, Armstrong dresses up the shirt with his gun check sport jacket and a skinny navy blue tie patterned with a series of white six-segmented parallelograms arranged like “downhill”-direction stripes.
The interview sequence begins with a close shot of Armstrong’s feet, including the cuffs of his dark navy blue trousers, recalling a story that Zophres relayed from Ryan Gosling’s first costume fitting with “the perfect pair of trousers:”
I’d found a pair of 1960s dead stock [unworn] with the tags still on. They were Ryan’s perfect size; I don’t think we even had to hem them! It was the very first fitting and the second trousers we tried; I remember saying, “OK, that’s Neil.”
Armstrong’s feet in this sequence are dressed in black leather apron-toe four-eyelet derby shoes and black socks.
By spring 1966, the on-screen Armstrong has finally graduated to long-sleeved shirts under his sports coats and suit jackets, abandoning the NASA-associated practice of short-sleeved shirts with skinny ties.
Having noted that Sears likely directed most of the astronauts’ sense of style, Zophres explained to the Los Angeles Times that she “looked at Sears’ period catalogs and paid attention to the colors that were available and also checked the material’s content. There were light yellows and ivories and such. And I also used shirts with texture, natural fibers where you could actually see the warp and weft of the cotton—the vertical and horizontal—since there were so many close-ups. Today’s material just looks thinner and flimsier for some reason; it doesn’t have the same texture that a white cotton dress shirt from the 1960s had. When you wash them, they sort of come alive vs. disappear.”
Armstrong’s white cotton long-sleeve shirt for the Gemini 8 presser has a point collar and is worn with a slim black tie with a pattern of small white boxes, appropriately evoking a celestial scene of stars across the night sky. He is possibly wearing the same brown wool flat front trousers with side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) that he wore when dancing with Janet two years earlier, though the navy trousers from his 1962 interview would also be suitable.
The Gemini 8 presser calls for Armstrong to wear his NASA Exceptional Service Medal on his left lapel, a commendation established in July 1959 that recognizes U.S. government employees who have shown “significant, sustained performance characterized by unusual initiative or creative ability that clearly demonstrates substantial improvement which contributes to NASA programs.” The light blue horizontally ribbed grosgrain ribbon is flanked on each side by a yellow vertical stripe, each bisected by a thin navy stripe. Suspended from the ribbon is a round , 39mm-wide gold medallion with “NA” and “SA” flanking a grid globe resting on two olive branches.
A simpler but no less symbolic accessory that Armstrong wears at all times is the gold wedding band on the third finger of his left hand.
First Man also features Neil Armstrong wearing several Omega watches, an accurate reflection of Omega’s storied history with the space program rather than straight product placement. During the scenes of Armstrong returning to work in early 1962 shortly after the death of his daughter, he is depicted wearing a classic steel Omega CK 2605 with a silver dial and 6:00 sub-dial, gold markers and “dauphine” hands, and a tan leather strap.
Omega introduced the Speedmaster chronograph in 1957, intending its use for motorsports though its place in history would be during the space race rather than any car race. The durable, reliable, and fashionable watch caught the eye of astronauts like Wally Schirra, who first wore his personal Omega Speedmaster CK 2998 aboard the fifth manned U.S. space mission, Mercury-Atlas 8, in October 1962.
Less than three years later, the manual-winding Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph had passed all of NASA’s qualifying tests for space flight under extreme conditions and was approved to be the official watch of the space program on March 1, 1965. The same month, Gus Grissom and John Young would wear their Speedys during Gemini 3, and an Omega Speedmaster 105.003 was strapped to the left wrist of Ed White’s G4C space suit with a long nylon Velcro-secured strap during his famous space walk during Gemini 4 in June 1965.
Much was made of the fact that the iconic Omega Speedmaster would be appearing in First Man, reported on by Esquire, Forbes, and The Hollywood Reporter, and promoted by Omega as the company proudly supplied period-correct Speedmasters to the production. This was no doubt met with enthusiasm by its star Ryan Gosling, a vintage watch enthusiast, who would wear on screen both the ST 105.003 reference which was tested by NASA in 1964 and the ST 105.012 “Moon watch” that Armstrong famously wore both for his training and the eventual mission to the Moon.
Though during the lunar landing itself, Armstrong did leave his ST 105.012 inside the lunar module as a backup as the module’s electronic timer had malfunctioned and the Speedmaster was more reliable, thus making Buzz Aldrin‘s ST 105.012 the first actual watch to be worn on the Moon. Of his decision, Aldrin wrote, “few things are less necessary when walking around on the Moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist around the outside of my bulky spacesuit.”
Back on Earth, Armstrong sports his Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph through press conferences and internal meetings. The watch is housed in a 42mm stainless steel case with a slim black rotating bezel and black dial with three sub-dials. As he’s wearing it with a sport jacket and slacks rather than a space suit, Armstrong sticks to the classic steel link bracelet rather than the black Velcro-fastening nylon strap worn in orbit.
You can see more of the screen-worn watches from First Man with context about their use in this Watch Advisor article. Though Aldrin’s Moon-worn Speedmaster was lost or stolen en route the Smithsonian Institution, you can find the real Neil Armstrong’s watch among the displays at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
What to Listen to
One of the most tender moments in First Man finds Neil and Janet dancing late at night to “Lunar Rhapsody” from the first of three records featuring the collaboration of thereminist (and podiatrist) Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman and exotica maestro Les Baxter.
“That’s an old favorite of mine… it’s an album made about 20 years ago, called Music Out of the Moon,” Armstrong stated when he played a cassette tape of tracks from the album, compiled for him by Hollywood producer Mickey Kapp, during Apollo 11’s flight back from the Moon.
Recorded and released in 1947, Music Out of the Moon was one of the first albums to have a full-color cover and considered the best-selling theremin record of all time.
How to Get the Look
Not everyone who worked at NASA in the ’60s wore white short-sleeved shirts and skinny ties… though Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong is seen wearing his share of that combination in First Man. For meetings with the public and top brass, Armstrong dresses it up with a subdued but interesting gun check sport jacket and a long-sleeved shirt.
- Brown, black, olive, and blue gun club check single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and vented back
- White cotton long-sleeve dress shirt
- Black slim and straight tie with small white boxes
- Dark flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather belt
- Black leather apron-toe four-eyelet derby shoes
- Black socks
- Omega Speedmaster Professional ST 105.012 stainless steel “Moon watch” chronograph with black rotating bezel and black dial (with three sub-dials) on steel link bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I had a few opportunities in the X-15 to observe the atmosphere. It was so thin, such a small part of the Earth that you could barely see it at all. And when you’re down here in the crowd and you look up, it looks pretty big and you don’t think about it too much… but when you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective.