TBT: Apollo 13 (1995)


Last week I got a random desire to watch Apollo 13 (1995), and it wasn’t until a day or so later that I realized it was because I subconsciously remembered it was the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Funny how that sometimes happens!

Anyway, I hadn’t watched Apollo 13 in years, so I decided it was a good time to revisit it with the distance of time and a more evolved sense of historical costuming for the late 1960s (yeah, yeah, the bulk of the action takes place in 1970, but just go with me here). One of the things I have always really appreciated about this film is that, steeped as it is in “HOORAY AMERICA” nostalgia, the story of the Apollo 13 mission is really one of success despite massive failure. Something about that always appealed to me. Also, the sets and costumes are fantastic, which is what we are really here to talk about.

Of course, one of the hardest things about this era of clothing is that, unless you’re dealing with fashion designers or rock stars, the menswear is pretty boring. Doubly so if you’re dealing with men in the military or government (check, and check), so the most interesting costumes in this movie ended up being worn by the female characters, such as Marilyn Lovell (played by Kathleen Quinlan), with a few other notable exceptions here and there.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Ed Harris absolutely rocking the waistcoat as NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz.

While the costumes were designed by Rita Ryack (probably best known to historical film aficionados as the designer for the 2007 remake of Hairspray), the film utilizes a good number of vintage garments loaned by vintage clothing collector Doris Raymond, including Marilyn Lovell’s amazing pink dress that she wears for the Apollo 11 launch party she and her astronaut husband, Jim, are hosting. I am absolutely obsessed with this dress, btw.

Apollo 13 (1995)
Apollo 13 (1995)

That macramé work on the front, culminating in long beaded tassels is just *chef’s kiss*


Apollo 13 (1995)

A photo from a 1999 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, showing vintage clothing collector Doris Raymond and the 1971 pink linen dress she loaned out for the film. The article notes that Raymond will often loan out a range of costumes from a few years before the set date of the film, to a year or so after, to account for the fact that most people will continue to wear clothes that are several years old. Sounds obvious when you think about it, but sometimes historical films get really bogged down by limiting their wardrobes to only the most fashionable clothing of that time.


Apollo 13 (1995)

Barbara, the eldest Lovell child, gets a number of cute outfits. This one was one of my favorites. I’m not sure if it’s actually a Gunne Sax dress, or simply one of several other similar prairie-style outfits that were popular at the time, but I love it.


Apollo 13 (1995)

You can see Barbara’s dress is ankle length in this shot. Also, note the amazing green, brown, and dark olive striped shirt on the guy on the right…


Apollo 13 (1995)

I. LOVE. THAT. GREEN. JUMPSUIT. Also, note the white go-go boots on Swigert’s girlfriend, and that white pantsuit. All of this is good, very good.


Apollo 13 (1995)

Speaking of white suits. Marilyn shows up to the launch of Apollo 13 wearing this fabulous white linen suit jacket with contrasting red edging.


Apollo 13 (1995)

Mary Haise, wife of Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, coordinates her family in primarily red with pops of white and blue in this pre-launch meeting with the astronauts. It was not easy being an astronaut’s wife.


Apollo 13 (1995)

It also wasn’t easy being an astronaut’s kid. Barbara Lovell is seen throughout the film as a rebellious young teenager, but adolescence coupled with the high stakes of her father’s job, as well as the constant press intrusions, had to be really hard. Here she is wearing another cute outfit, picked out by her mother so she would look presentable during their publicized tour of Mission Control. I tried to find better images of it, but this was as good as I could get.


Apollo 13 (1995)

I really liked this white dress with black bow and belt worn by Mary Haise in this scene. The use of white on the wives and children stood out to me while I watched the film this time around. As you can see, it’s a color choice that’s repeated several times that draws the attention to the astronauts’ family members amid more somber earthy colors for the astronauts.

Finally, I wanted to conclude this post with a few pictures of the real astronauts and their family members. I think it’s interesting to compare these photos with the costumes used in the film (which at that point was released only 25 years after the actual Apollo 13 mission, so the late-1960s/early-1970s aesthetic was still pretty fresh in many people’s minds).

Apollo 13 (1995)

Marilyn Lovell addresses the press with her children after the successful splashdown of Apollo 13. I love her dress. Also, again, note that the red, white, and blue theme that is repeated throughout the film is present here as well.


Apollo 13 (1995)

Marilyn and Jim Lovell, photographed in April 1970 for LIFE Magazine, after Apollo 13 retuned safely. You definitely earned that cocktail, Jim.


Apollo 13 (1995)

An interior shot from the same LIFE Magazine series. Comparing this photo to the set used for the Lovell’s living room in the film, they got it pretty close, don’t you think?


Apollo 13 (1995)

Mary Haise and her children, addressing the press after Apollo 13 safely returned. Again, there’s that intentional red, white, and blue color scheme. The “astrowives” as they were known, did have their clothing dictated to them by NASA for official photographs, even having colors assigned to them.



What did you think of Apollo 13? Tell us about it in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

11 Responses

  1. Roxana

    What’s wrong with Hooray America? On this occasion it was definitely deserved. I was nine years old in 1970 but all I can remember directly about the Apollo 13 mission is a vague sense of anxiety. I apparently knew what was going on and was worried about it but I retain no details. I remember the movie much better.

    • adina

      I mean, it was hooray america after nasa fucked it up by letting the wiring in the CSM get damaged enough to short out inside an oxygen tank. You could say that any retelling of apollo 7 is a hooray america story because nasa figured out that maybe it was a bad idea to over-pressurize the cabin with pure oxygen an have an inward opening door.
      Hell, you could call soyuz 3 an “ura sovetskiy” (thank you google translate) story because they figured out how to get their parachutes to deploy properly and not send a cosmonaut crashing into the ground. But you can’t forget the fact that that success came out of massive failure.
      I would actually argue with Sarah that a lot of space race media (Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon, The Right Stuff) is less about nostalgia for the US and more about nostalgia for this era where you had the heroic scientist/engineer trope in popular imagination, and it felt like you were making quantum leaps rather than incremental steps.

      note: I was born in the late 90s, and I grew up as a gigantic space race nerd (I can recite most of ‘from the earth to the moon’ from memory, but it was of course from books and documentaries rather than any sort of first hand exposure

  2. Mary

    My mother in law worked in women’s retail fashion in Houston, and during the 70’s through 90’s helped quite a few astronaut families with their wardrobes. One notable sad occasion was the dresses worn by several spouses at the funerals of the Challenger astronauts.

    • Jessica

      My mom and her sisters lived in La Porte, Texas (a Houston suburb) during the late 60s and my grandfather was an accountant for Rockwell and the Apollo project. According to my aunt, my grandmother taught Buzz Aldrin’s kids when she was a first-grade teacher.

  3. Katie O.

    I love this movie! The soundtrack is also amazing. And the while the men’s clothes are pretty boring, I like the way they create the atmosphere of the command center – especially over time with the crisis, the way the men get gradually more rumpled and you can tell they haven’t gone home to change or freshen up.

  4. Karen

    The outfit (real) Marilyn Lovell is wearing in their living room looks very maternity top to me (they had a very young son, so it’s possible on the timeline, if the pic was taken a few years earlier). I absolutely love this movie. I saw it multiple times in the theater when I was expecting my DD. Side note: my DH’s uncle worked on the lunar rover for GE/NASA at this time, and they attended the same church as the Lovells, and remembered the youngest son very fondly (I think he was friends with my DH’s cousin).

    • Colleen

      Mary Haise was allegedly very pregnant (if you went by the movie), but looking at photos at the time, she didn’t look it.

  5. Lisa Joseph

    “Apollo 13” is what I call a “house favorite:” one of those films you can hit at any point in the narrative and end up sitting through the whole thing because it’s that good.

    Having grown up during that period (I was eleven when this mission took place), the costuming and production design is dead on – there’s even a toy we had: a Fisher Price wind up toy clock.

  6. Umbriel Orbit

    Apollo 13 is certainly a summer fav, but one closer to my heart is The Dish starring Sam Neill about the Apollo 11 story & the Satellite Dish in Australia that broadcasted the event.

    It is humorous, quirky, with a touch of drama, and the women’s outfits are amazing as well as their hairstyles. You can view the extended trailer at IMDB and I think you can rent it from Amazon.

    • Morgan

      The Dish!!! That and Apollo 13 are the favorite double feature in my family as my great-grandfather was an astronomer and his son, my grandfather, took it up recreationally around this time.

  7. Nzie

    Being the daughter of space-race-era parents (about 8 at the moon landing), I grew up with The Right Stuff, and then of course Apollo 13 (and even Space Camp, as ridiculous as it was), and now we’ve enjoyed Hidden Figures and the new NatGeo (via Disney+) Right Stuff series. Apollo 13 is a really well-done film that captures that era really well. You’ve made me want to revisit it, too. :-)