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How to wear military style

2010.03.10
From
March 6, 2010

How to wear military style

model wearing military style

Dateline: Milan. Mission: to define men’s fashion from 2010 to 2011. And by the time Burberry commander-in-chief Christopher Bailey had ordered his twentieth military-clad model to charge down the catwalk, I was conquered.

Flashing back to boyhood visits to the Royal Tournament, I would’ve been perfectly unsurprised had Bailey deployed a corps of army alsations (adept at leaping through fiery hoops, naturally) or even a squadron of barrel-chested synchronised motorcyclists. Sadly, the military-metaphor blitzkrieg didn’t extend beyond the clothes. These, however, were quite sufficient to press home his point: from RAF-style sheepskin flying jackets (huge next winter) to gold-buttoned sailors’ woollen overcoats, via Burberry’s defining trope, the trench, this was a military coup. And the theme will apply to womenswear, too – the difference being that military is known as utility.

Sitting there, though, under assault from that kitted-out collection of grimacing male models, I suddenly rallied a little to wonder: is this really suitable? After all, military clothes evolved for one reason only: to give the man wearing them the maximum opportunity to do his job properly. And that job is to kill other men, whether by shooting them down from the warmth of your Biggles jacket, torpedoing them from your submariner’s greatcoat or machinegunning hundreds of the blighters from the shelter of your trench. Clothes designed for wreaking gory, bloody, hideous death in are hardly consistent with Burberry’s aspirational yet non-confrontational marketing recipe of Emma Watson and the Kooks.

And then I realised I’d shot myself – in the foot (as per). Because, even when military isn’t in, all menswear is military inspired. Savile Row originally functioned to outfit gents who had won officer commissions. Much of the sartorial innovation dreamt up to cater for equestrians was to serve this horsebound martial market – which places everything from the suit you and I go to work in to the psychedelic gear worn by the Beatles for Sgt Pepper all firmly in the military tradition. Even now-ubiquitous items such as Bermuda shorts evolved in India to keep Our Boys’ arsenals aerated.

Admittedly, it’s not solely the British military that has helped define the lexicon of modern menswear (although we were easily the most influential detachment). Dutch sailors are reputed to be the original source of the pea coat. And the Americans can be cap-doffed for two of the 20th century’s most influential military-clothing designs. The four-pocket M-65 field jacket was first deployed during the Vietnam War and has since been subverted by everyone from Rambo and Travis Bickle to Osama bin Laden. Valentino made a version, Nike’s is great, and I love my sale-bought Dunhill with luxe leather inside pockets. And then there’s the M-51 parka, which, to this day, defines the mod. So even when military isn’t in, it’s what we’re wearing. Whether we like it or not, men are dressed to kill.