From military surplus to streetwear essential, the camo jacket’s rise through the style ranks has seen it adopted by everyone from punks to skaters, Burberry to BAPE. Here’s how the camoufleurs conquered menswear.
CULT ITEM: CAMO JACKET
By Kasia Hastings, 13 October 2016
We can thank our French comrades for a lot of fashion staples, including camo. The pattern is believed to have been invented in 1915 by French painter Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola who was part of the Camoufleurs, the world’s first unit dedicated to creating military camouflage. The British and American armies were quick to emulate the idea as the nature of warfare changed and low-visibility uniforms became essential for survival.
By WWII, the American army had donned a green and brown frog-like pattern and during the Vietnam War its Navy SEALs, Green Berets and other Special Forces acquired an unofficial 'Tiger Stripe' camo (as seen in Apocalypse Now, above). The military continues to develop its designs in different colours and configurations, each expertly tailored to a specific climate. Popular patterns include Chocolate Chip, US Woodland and Digital Camouflage. These prints have been applied to military styles including the M43, M51 and M65 field jackets and the MA1 bomber, which have all become post-war pop culture staples.
The M65 is now fundamental in the menswear field. Like much of the military uniform, this classic army cut has been worn, torn, ripped and appropriated by men looking for new sartorial ammunition. In the 70s, it became part of the punk aesthetic, finding its niche in a subculture fighting a battle against mainstream fashion with tartan, tattoos and large woodland-print camo. Since then camo trousers and M65 jackets have been embraced by the 90s grunge and skate scene and here Brooklyn Beckham adds skinny jeans for a contemporary take on camo skater style.
With its oversized styling and heavy brass zips, the MA1 bomber flight jacket has won over just about everyone and is never more powerful than when covered in a statement print. Originally developed by the US Air Force, civilian users have included punks, skinheads and, of course, Kanye West. The tastemaker is regularly seen sporting this vintage Raf Simons jacket from the designer’s 2001 autumn-winter range and incorporated the camo into much of his own Yeezy Season 2 collection.
Supreme, Maharishi, BAPE and most other hyped brands have all gone commando and made camo jackets a key part of their DNA. Military men and streetwear aficionados alike recognise the fabric's functionality, durability and cool colour palette. It’s a natural choice for streetwear designers who have applied the print to just about every item of clothing, including bombers, coach jackets, smock jackets and parkas.
Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Valentino are just a few of the designers who have given camo – considered by some critics to be the leopard print of menswear – the couture treatment. The upper echelons of fashion have now fully embraced the military print, applying it to all kinds of coats, suits and accessories. Camouflage is also a favourite of designer Riccardo Tisci, who presented a motif-infused iteration of the pattern on parkas, trenches and overcoats at his SS17 Givenchy show (above). It looks like this sartorial special force will remain the coolest way to cover up in years to come.