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What to Wear to a Nuclear War

"Stilettos burn slightly slower than fabric, and are an excellent way to go out with a bang."

Pictures: Las Vegas News Bureau

You heard it here first: the feminization of military technology has begun.

This past week in Milan, Dolce & Gabbana used approximately eight quadcopter drones to show off its most recent handbag collection. Talk about unrealistic body expectations! Unmanned aerial vehicles and purses. While critics have slammed this opening stunt, it is undeniable that high fashion is knocking on Silicon Valley’s front door, bringing along the women in its wake.

In fact, this isn’t the only place where women seem to be escaping their pigeonholes. Despite the proverbial “doomsday” clock being the closest it has been to midnight since 1953, this is not your grandfather’s Cold War. Nukes are getting smaller, women are getting louder, and the president likes to tango with modernization and brinkmanship, entertaining his audience of nuclear wonks with tales of Trident and nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missiles. The latest version of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a Hawaiian apocalyptic “oopsie.” What a time to be alive!

Indeed, 2018 seems to be flirting with the edge of nuclear disaster. The other day, some poor soul actually called my physics advisor to ask if taking iodine supplements would prevent cancer pending nuclear fallout. He’d been watching the news a bit too closely and wanted to update his “duck and cover” practices. I think it is safe to say that the public is with him. People are terrified of those small hands near that big nuclear button and want to be prepared. They simply have no idea where to start.

In that spirit… I propose a solution. Like the revolutionaries they are, the designers at Dolce & Gabbana have truly inspired me. After searching and searching, I have finally found the appropriate role for female voices in nuclear policy. Using the two things we women obviously know best, fashion and having things explained to us with child-like simplicity, I believe that we have the capacity to make civilian nuclear emergency awareness glamorous again.

Allow me to demonstrate. Without further ado, I present to you: What to Wear to a Nuclear War.*

Ground Zero to 2,550 Feet From Impact

Oh Honey. Since your clothes will probably be the first things to go up in flames, I would focus on the accessories. Stilettos burn slightly slower than fabric, and are an excellent way to go out with a bang. But, don’t forget the most important accessory: booze. Strap on those Louboutins, and dust off that Moët, because there is no better way to greet the sweet kiss of thermonuclear death than with a little glamor and a lot of alcohol.

A flirty, flippy, dress will picturesquely blow in the breeze as buildings collapse at your feet.

2,550 feet to 1 mile out

So, the bad news is you’re still probably going to die. The good news is that your death might be a little less fiery. Since this is the first “air blast” zone, why not channel your inner Marilyn? A flirty, flippy, dress will picturesquely blow in the breeze as buildings collapse at your feet. Take your look a step further by donning on a 50’s housewife headscarf and narrow black sunglasses, and give a big middle finger to those shoddy duck and cover videos you used to see in history class. What a perfect way to pay tribute to our favorite ‘50s-era relics, the atom bomb and Ms. Monroe herself.

1 mile to 1.33 miles out

Unfortunately, you’re also going to die. Assuming that the collapsed buildings and debris from the explosion don’t kill you, the radiation probably will. But you’ll have anywhere from several hours to several weeks (No, iodine can’t save you now). So, lucky for you, this is the distance at which we can really let our creativity begin to flourish. A loose-fitting chiffon dress is your best option at this stage. Since you’ll be super uncomfortable, a flowy dress with soft fabric is ideal. This fairy-tale-esque staple will beautifully contrast your zombifying skin. You won’t look pretty in the process of dying, so your clothes had better do some extra work!

1.33 to 1.9 miles out

As I’m sure you can assume by this point: you’re probably dead. Here, bright colors are your friend. Drape yourself in fluorescent yellows, greens, and oranges — paying tribute to the 80’s comeback that has recently dominated the catwalks — and increase your chances that maybe, just maybe, someone might be able to find you in the rubble of the collapsed buildings all around.

1.9 to 3.93 miles out

Great news! You might not die! At this stage, you’ll only have third-degree burns covering most of your body. The burns will likely be painless, as they’ll completely destroy all your nerves. But they only require amputation some of the time. This stage has a lot of potential. See, your burns will give you an excellent foundation for a political platform, but you’ll still need to take care of yourself. Dior’s Couture Spring 2017 line should do the trick, a beautiful concoction of gauze and tulle and delicate flowers. Naturally, the gauze and light fabrics will help protect your slowly healing skin. But the flowers are where the real power lies. They’ll send a subliminal message to your future constituents: the possibility for growth after fallout. In this outfit, you are the new face of hope.

4 miles and Beyond

Luckily, you are at a much less critical location than your unfortunate neighbors. Which is not to say you are safe. You probably won’t have clean water, food, or air for some time to come, especially if you’re within 200 miles of the blast. Radiation, albeit diluted, will likely manifest itself as cancer, and you too will die. Even worse, you’re going to be slapped by an ugly wave of politics, and probably war, following this little “incident.” You have the most creative freedom, but also the largest burden. So here’s my advice to you: do something. Make like Balenciaga’s Spring 2017 campaign and embrace those messy politics. Your clothes have always been a blank canvas… give them a voice. Let the world know you want less weapons of mass destruction constantly pointed at you. Fearlessly enter that boy’s club of nuclear jargon, renewed by your passion and unashamed of your fashion, and make your voice heard.

*Calculations (and expertly crafted fashion recommendations) are based on the assumption that a 300 kiloton bomb is bursting at surface level with moderate weather conditions. Data provided by “NUKEMAP 2.55” by Alex Wellerstein.

Jamie Withorne


Jamie Withorne is a Research Assistant and Office Manager with the Middlebury Institute in Washington D.C., and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Prior to joining CNS and MIIS, Jamie has held research and policy internships at Global Zero, the American Enterprise Institute, and the U.S. Department of State. Her research interests include emerging technologies, missile defense, and arms control agreements.


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