Today, thankfully, most of us no longer feel the need to adopt armour-like clothing to be taken seriously. In the workplace in particular, we’ve seen traditional city suits increasingly replaced by softer style dresses and colourful, relaxed-cut tailoring. However, despite this new sartorial freedom there is something instantly empowering about the strictness of military style that I still crave. Pulling on a sharp-shouldered jacket adorned with shiny silver buttons or stomping about in a pair of Ann Demeulemeester combat boots I feel ready to tackle anything. And the angular lines of the regimented look undoubtedly appeal to the practical side of my personality – I like plans, rules and structure.
I’m definitely not alone in my love for military style. “Half the people you see on the street are dressed to kill,” wrote Troy Patterson back in 2015, the then ‘On Clothing’ columnist for the Times Magazine commenting on how military wear had been absorbed into mainstream fashion. And today, battle-ready looks continue to have mass appeal, inspired by both officers on parade and soldiers out in the field.
Here are just a few of the military favourites that have conquered our wardrobes, and which continue to influence both high street and high-end design…
The Military Jacket
Did you know that frogging was originally used to give the chest and shoulders additional protection from the swipe of a sword blade? Or that small spherical buttons were used as decoration as they could be pulled from a soldier’s coat and fired from muskets? It’s these survival essentials that give the military jacket its distinctive look, details that have made their mark on fashion today.
Perhaps one of the most iconic interpretations of this classic look was the jacket designed by Christophe Decarnin for Balmain. His fabulously flamboyant military jacket featured crystal frogging, and kick-started the transformation of what was a rather stuffy French fashion house into the statement-making brand it is today.
Ten years later and the same uniform-inspired tropes are still making headlines, if rather less loudly, as seen above at Chiara Boni, Zadig & Voltaire and Gabriela Hearst.
Practicality and comfort spring to mind when we think about traditional green army fatigues, and so it’s no surprise that items such as khaki parkas and combat pants have slipped seamlessly into our off-duty wardrobes.
But although these kitbag mainstays allude to action, their association with military discipline and order have also inspired other sartorial takes, including much smarter options that also feature in our on-duty wear.
A case in point, among the khaki looks on the AW19 catwalks were Tom Ford’s crisp satin combat-inspired trousers and Maryling’s glamorous greatcoat two-piece.
This military print is undoubtedly one of fashion’s favourites, and while outside the army it was originally worn to make a political or subversive statement, it has now been fully co-opted into the mainstream. So much so that its military associations are now almost a distant memory.
Originally designed to ensure that the wearer blended into his or her surroundings, the pattern is constantly being reworked by both the high street and high-end designers to ensure exactly the opposite, using clashing colours, such as Donatella Versace in 2015, or in unexpected styles, as Miuccia Prada did this season at Miu Miu. And by reinvention, the familiar print continues to look fresh.
Since Yves Saint Laurent introduced the belted safari-style jacket back in 1968, it has become a summer wardrobe staple. Inspired by the heat and dust of desert and tropical military campaigns, a version of the beige-coloured, belted jacket, complete with pleated pockets, is what many of us reach for to dress up an outfit as the temperature rises.
Two of the most recent safari-inspired looks include Isabel Marant’s sandy-toned high-neck top, and Anthony Symonds and Max Pearmain’s pocketed two-piece, as seen below on the AW19 catwalks.
The Breton Stripe
It’s not only soldiers who have influenced fashion but sailors too, and so-called ‘nautical chic’ is as enduring as any army-inspired look.
Originally said to make it easier to spot someone who had fallen over board, the blue and white striped Breton top was among the items of seafaring clothing adopted by Chanel – which undoubtedly explains its place on every ‘How to dress like a French girl’ list.
The fashion staple is beloved for its graphic qualities, but also its adaptability, as seen this season at Hong Kong label Izzue where the classic striped top was given a subversive twist.
Typically associated with tyrants, executioners and spies, all-black looks and in particular glossy leather in the form of items such as long coats and jackboots are among the more sinister items also linked to military style. Dressing in this way implies threat as well as a form of defence, but perhaps above all represents power.
For AW19 Olivier Theyskens injected some military-style power dressing into his collection, with model Sijia Kang taking to the catwalk in a form-fitting black leather skirt suit, complete with utilitarian buckles and styled with glossy black leather gloves.
Author: Julie Hurst
Reference: ‘Military Style Invades Fashion’ – Timothy Godbold