Skip to main content
Select Source:

Fashion, Military Influences on

Fashion, Military Influences on. American fashion has recruited military style again and again, recognizing the efficacy of military specifications and the charisma of heroic accomplishment. Virtually every factor of the military has been employed in civilian fashion sooner or later, including epaulets, ball buttons, khaki adapted from the British military in India, and olive drab. Special sartorial heroes have included A‐2 aviators' leather jackets, navy blue as a standard of modern dress, sailors' drop‐front bell‐bottom trousers, pea jackets, knit sweaters of sailors and commandos, aviator glasses, and camouflage appropriated to daily use. When the late‐twentieth‐century fashion editor Diana Vreeland called uniforms “the sportswear of the nineteenth century,” she was describing useful adaptations: examples of the cavalry to riding apparel, braid as reinforcement and decoration, plastrons and double‐breasted chests as double protection for the heart, and even romantic sashes that served by necessity to carry the wounded from the battlefield.

Military fashion enters the civilian wardrobe in varied ways. With modern, nonmercenary armies, countless veterans return with favorite jackets, trousers, or other items. Paramilitary organizations, including schools and police, have modified military traditions to enforce systematic social identity in forms as varied as middie blouses for school and recreation, tartan for school identity, police outfitting, and even World War I Sam Browne belts for child safety officers.

Military traditions often enter civilian dress in ways that are only partly remembered. The regimental tartans that identified Scotland when England proscribed indigenous Highland dress to Scottish civilians have been a recurring feature of modern civilian dress, with attenuated links to Scotland and to the military source. Not only the plaid, but even the kilt and over‐the‐shoulder drape are of military origin. The trenchcoat, made first and continuously by Burberry of London for Boer War and World War I service for officers needing protective cloth, closings, and latched wrists and collar, has become a basic of dress for both men and women. Its origins in officers' coats are remembered in name, but many today might more readily associate the coat with glamorous espionage and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, even as contemporary fashion specifications for most trenchcoats include vestigial D‐rings (designed for hand grenades) still worn by modern suburban commuter‐warriors. The popular Eisenhower jacket of the 1950s emulated Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's wool field jacket (M‐1944), modeled after that of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. This popularity benefitted from the “theater of war” picturing Eisenhower as Allied leader; his sartorial decisions assumed his mantle of leadership. Arguably, even exposed T‐shirts are sanctioned by sailors and soldiers in World War II and romanticized by photography and such films as South Pacific.

Some apparel from World War II waited a generation or more to be accepted in civilian fashion. The fatigue jacket was introduced to service in 1943; the same jacket, beginning with military surplus, became popular fashion in the 1970s, ironically largely associated with militant antiestablishment advocates of Black Power and the Vietnam Antiwar movement. The subjective but powerful value of military clothing can be demonstrated by the fact that war protesters of the 1970s frequently wore anachronistic military gear to express their opposition to the war of their time. Camouflage and desert camouflage—especially after the Persian Gulf War—has been widely adopted in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1988, fashion designer Stephen Sprouse used Andy Warhol's red‐yellow‐blue camouflage for clothing that would have made any wearer stand out in a crowd.

If fashion is vested in recent wars, historical warfare also becomes transmuted for peaceful purposes. Christian Francis Roth displayed medieval inspiration in his “soft armor” outfits of 1993, resembling medieval armor in gray flannel. In 1994, Ralph Lauren created armor in silver leather accompanied by Lurex knit gowns akin to knightly mail. In 1968, the Civil War–inspired dresses, based on Confederate officers' frock coats, by Geoffrey Beene (born in Louisiana). In 1989, Lauren emulated the tailoring of World War I uniforms. Lauren has regularly used band collars, epaulets, braid, pea coats, aviators' jumpsuits, and military tailoring as signs of crisp, effective women's attire. In the 1990s, Jean‐Paul Gaultier has returned repeatedly and ironically to the sailor's middie blouse.

American democracy celebrates military officers for their perfect tailoring, but is unique in world fashion in admiring equally the quartermaster's issue to the enlisted man. Abhorring enforced homogeneity, American culture nonetheless revels in the selective possibilities of uniform. Fashion for both men and women admires alike the common soldier or seaman and the officer. Moreover, uniforms for women in the military, including the WAVES uniforms designed in the 1940s by Mainbocher, have set a standard for orderly, smart dressing.
[See also Culture, War, and the Military; Film, War and the Military in: Feature Films; Military Uniforms.]

Bibliography

Richard Martin, and and Harold Koda , Swords into Ploughshares, 1995.

Richard Martin

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fashion, Military Influences on." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fashion, Military Influences on." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fashion-military-influences

"Fashion, Military Influences on." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved June 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fashion-military-influences

Vreeland, Diana

Diana Vreeland, 1906–89, American fashion editor and consultant, b. Paris as Diana Dalziel. In 1937, she joined Harper's Bazaar, becoming fashion editor in 1939. In 1963, she moved to Vogue magazine, where she was editor in chief from the mid-1960s until 1971. As editor of the two leading fashion magazines, she had considerable influence on fashion and on the success of particular designers and models. In 1971, she became a consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During her tenure, the museum held exhibitions on the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga and treated such themes as "American Women of Style," "The Glory of Russian Costume," and "Man and the Horse." The openings to each exhibition became a major social event in the fashion world.

See biography by A. Mackenzie Stuart (2012); study by L. Immordino Vreeland (2011).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vreeland, Diana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vreeland, Diana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vreeland-diana

"Vreeland, Diana." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vreeland-diana