The Military's Influence on Fashion
It’s hard to imagine two more opposite ends of the spectrum: fashion and the military. However, many pieces of today’s apparel are pulled directly from the battlefields. The military has had a powerful impact on the fashion industry since as early as the 15th and 16th centuries and it continues to inspire new trends even today. Here are a few examples of inspirations that went from the war zone to the runway.
The Pea Coat
A winter favorite in nearly all countries, the pea coat had humble beginnings. The coat got its name from the Dutch word “pije” which references the type of cloth used for the garment. The dark blue fabric was a rather rough and coarse kind of twill. For the better part of the 16th century many Dutch Navy sailors wore these coats to keep them warm and dry while on the ship deck. Many modifications have come to the coat since its early origins. Namely, the coat is frequently cut from various forms of wool. Wool heaviness and weight depend upon the climate, and in warmer climates the coat is often fashioned out of polyester. However, regardless of the weather, the blue color remains a consistent trademark.
Adorned with tightly wrapped scarves around their necks, Croatian military arrived in Paris. During the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, the brightly colored scarves helped soldiers identify their fellow brethren from a distance. However, they tended to wear them a tad too tight, often passing out due to lack of oxygen once the battle began. The French seized the opportunity to improve the colorful neck garment and several years later adopted the look themselves. The French tied their scarves much more loosely, looping the scarf around their neck in a style that eventually became known as “la cravate.”
Hands-down one of the quintessential wardrobe items for many men and women is the khaki pant. The khaki hails from the color of the fabric used to make these popular trousers. After a defeat by the American troops during the Revolutionary War, the British continued to parade around in their brightly colored, fancy uniforms. It wasn’t until the late 1840’s that a commander is the British Bengal Cavalry concepted an extraordinary idea. While serving in the heat of India, commanding officer Harry Lumsden declared that tight tunics, high stockings, and coats were not appropriate attire for the plains of India. Instead, Lumsden fashioned cotton smocks and pajamas. To add a hint of color, the clothing was dyed with a local plant called mazari. Mazari tuned everything a dull brownish-gray. The color was called “khak” which means earth, dust or ashes in Persian. The name coincidentally has stood the test of time and remains the common name we use to refer to this wardrobe staple.
Few teenagers growing up in the 1990’s wore anything other than this popular combat-style boot. Originally, the Dr. Martens boot was created to alleviate an ankle injury. In World War II German doctor Klaus Martens, while on leave from the army, sustained an ankle injury skiing. Fearing that he’d be unable to return to service, Martens created a new boot that was more supportive than his military-issued pair. His design became so popular that Martens began exploring with different soles, leathers and ankle heights to bring us the design that still survives today.
There are countless other fashion trends that have been influenced by the military. Sometimes the trend reflects the uniforms or adornments of the soldiers themselves, other times the trend surfaces out of necessity or function. Regardless of how we get to the look, we can always count on the military for inspiration.
Written by Brook Appelbaum