Though "Mad Men" said goodbye to the '60s before its final season, '60s fashion is about to enjoy another TV moment — thanks to Eric Daman and his mod-era costumes on "The Astronaut Wives Club," premiering this Thursday, June 18, at 8 p.m. on ABC. You may recognize Daman's name from his work dressing Leighton Meester (as Blair Waldorf) and Blake Lively (as Serena van der Woodsen) in Oscar de la Renta and Chanel on "Gossip Girl" (2007-2012), and from the colorful, '80s -inspired outfits in "The Carrie Diaries" (2013-2014).
In his latest project, Daman tackles late '50s to late '60s fashion — from prim and practical shirt dresses to progressive pedal pusher pants — in the small screen adaptation of the book, "The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story" by Lily Koppel.
"I think 'Mad Men' left off in a really great place and a juicy part of fashion and we picked up a little before that," Daman tells Fashionista. Decades before the nation was transfixed by "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," attention was centered on the Cold War-era "Space Race," when, from about 1955 to 1972, the U.S. and what was then the Soviet Union competed to be the most advanced in space technology. The elite "Mercury Seven" astronauts were the nation's heroes and their wives became American icons, glamorized in print magazines and on black and white TVs. In a stellar PR move, Life magazine worked directly with NASA to document the everyday lives of the seven wives, including Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons), whose husband John became the first American to orbit the Earth and later became a U.S. senator. "They’re kind of like the first 'Real Housewives' of America," Daman says.
The veteran costume designer used wardrobe to underline the women's evolution from housewives, relegated to the background of their husband's lives in the late '50s, to pre-Internet media stars of the '60s. "Through that they learned how to dress and navigate the media and put their best foot — and designer shoe forward — as they went through it," Daman says. "Wardrobe helps follow that journey and really shows how each of them grow later in the ‘60s. All of a sudden some of them are wearing miniskirts and they're not wearing bras."
For inspiration, the costume designer looked at old issues of Vogue and other fashion magazines of the era, and also at more domestic fare, like Better Homes & Gardens and Betty Crocker cookbooks. "Things that these women would be reading," he says. Binge-watching the mid to late '60s soap opera, "Peyton Place," starring Mia Farrow, was also in order. "It definitely holds up to watch," he says. His mom, who recently learned to text, provided more inspiration and sometimes offered wardrobe notes, like dressing the children in cuffed Levi’s and saddle shoes. He spent hours combing through vintage shops on Etsy for costumes, plus First Dibs ("It’s like a couture Etsy, if I may") for higher-end designer pieces, like refined Dior hats, that he could throw into the mix.
Daman assigned a color palette to each wife for easy identification and to suggest her backstory. For instance, there's wide-eyed Midwestern transplant Betty (Joanna Garcia Swisher). "She’s from Indiana, so I wanted to give her this this frozen vegetable color palette because bright yellow was her main thing," he says, pointing out that some of her accessories, like fruit and corn-shaped earrings, are a more obvious reminder. For well-bred Louise (Dominique McElligott), Daman stuck with a palette of frosty lavenders, light blues, plus elegant blacks and grays. "She grew up around Jackie Bouvier and had an elevated style," he explains. "She’s a little icier than the rest of the wives, so we wanted her to come off as a little more high fashion, East Coast." She wears a pendant given by Daman's father to his mother: a diamond necklace inspired by the North Star. "My dad was a big NASA space fan," he explains. (And, yes, she got it back after the series finished shooting.)
Feminist sports car driver and trained pilot Trudy (Odette Annable) met her husband Gordo (Bret Harrison) in Hawaii, and the duo rocks some tiki prints here and there. Trudy also enjoys the privilege of regularly wearing pants, considered progressive for the time. Then there's Marge (Erin Cummings), who can't give up that '40s film noir silhouette. "Her color palette has a little bit of a gangster’s moll," Daman says of the deep purples and earth tones. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's the sweet young Annie, who's trying her best to hide her stutter. "Annie was the all American," Daman says, and he dressed her in pastel pink and blue hues and with modest, buttoned-up collars to make her stand out from the rest of the ladies. "Kind of first communion," he laughs. WASP-y, one-liner throwing Jo (Zoe Boyle, whom you might remember as the doomed Lavinia Swire from "Downton Abbey") veers toward lacy creams and sedate beiges. "Jo is our most uptight," he says. "I call her our Charlotte." He also made sure her society girl accessories were on point: pearls, white shoes and "a signature headband." Sounds kinda familiar, no? "Yes, there’s a little Blair Waldorf in Jo," Daman laughs.
Like any costume designer on a show, there were times when Daman had to build custom outfits — especially in scenes that were interspersed with real-life footage of the astronauts and their wives. For instance, for the Life cover shoot in the first episode, six of the wives wear the wallflower pastel shirt dresses they were advised to wear. But bombshell individualist Rene — the "wild card" that gets to wear all the fun prints and colors — shows up as the Beyoncé of the group in an attention-catching, clavicle-baring, rose-printed dress. "We had to build that from a rental dress that we found," Daman explains. "We repurposed the vintage dress because it’s so specific, the one that she’s wearing on the cover of Life magazine, and we really tried to get as close to it as possible."
Turns out it wasn't just the dresses and outfits that needed to stay as authentic as possible. The women also wore vintage-inspired undergarments, mostly from the brand Secrets in Lace, to literally support their characters. Daman avoided actual vintage bullet bras and cinchers, because delicates tend to deteriorate over time. They also would have been far less comfortable. Women's libber Trudy lucks out with a comfy sports brassiere. "She’s the first one to burn the bra, like, see ya!" says Daman.
The wives aren't the only ones who stick to the same colors, by the way. "I wanted the husbands to reflect their wives’ color palettes," he explained. "So when you get into their families and their houses, everything is very tight and you can pair them up very easily." The actors didn't resist the frozen veggie hues or paisley-printed shirts, but they weren't so keen on the high-waisted trouser silhouette of the era. "The biggest battle with the dudes is that they had such a hard time with wearing their pants pulled up," Daman laughs. "Right before every scene, we’re like, pull your pants up!"
Luckily for Daman, his next gig has him working with a much more fashionable menswear silhouette. He just started designing the dapper costumes for Showtime's upcoming series, "Billions." The series focuses not on stylish young women making it out in the world, but wolves on Wall Street — namely Damian Lewis, late of "Homeland," and Paul Giamatti. "It’ll be a nice change. I can totally get down with it," he says. "I haven’t had some good menswear since Chuck Bass."