Fall in, stand to attention and listen up. Men’s fashion and military clobber have been close allies for centuries. You might not know it, but a few military-inspired items may have already infiltrated your bedroom and could be hanging in-between your work shirts right now. Crew neck tees, pea coats, trench coats; all have found their way into our wardrobes, and few are showing any signs of retreating.
And that’s with good reason. Fashion and the military have at times been interdependent. “It’s more of a two-way street than people realise,” says Amber Butchart, fashion historian and lecturer at The London College of Fashion. “Centuries ago, when military uniforms were standardised, most of the design came from the fashionable cuts of the time. Court dress staples were adapted for the front line.” The flipside of this was the inspiration those military adaptations then gave back to the front lines of fashion, in New York, Paris and London.
Indeed, so inspired were some fashion tastemakers that the surplus shops, in which defunct military clothing was dumped post-war, became search and rescue grounds for designers in the know. Yves Saint Laurent, being a supreme trend commander, was among them. “After his trips to New York surplus stores, Laurent recreated the pea coat in the 1960s, turning it into French chic,” says Butchart. “Then the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin were wearing pea coats and the item took off.”
Maybe it’s the timeless, sharp, functional nature of the garments that so appeals to men. Perhaps it’s the associations with heroism, as Butchart argues, that came after the exploits of World War One. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with military clothing. Which is why it’s had such a showing on the runways recently. And why acquiring these assets is mission critical for your autumn/winter wardrobe.
The Key Items To Deploy
1. The Trench Coat
Allow us to drop a bombshell here: while Burberry were surely the pathfinders when it came to trench coat design, there’s a little contention around whether it was them or Aquascutum who really blazed the trail.
“Thomas Burberry was commissioned by the war office to create a coat suitable for soldiers on the front line during World War One. The trench coat, as we think of it now, came into being,” says Butchart. “Burberry then developed water-repellent cloth for the trench.” Useful for both the boggy conditions of the trenches and miserable weather in Britain.
“It’s not really an autumn/winter trend as much as a perennial relied upon by many,” says Henry Wilfrid, stylist at Lizzie Edwards Style Consultancy. In short, you can never go wrong with a trench.
- He By Mango Classic Cotton Trench Coat
- Ben Sherman Double Breasted Twill Trench Coat
- Zara Double-breasted Trench Coat
- Aquascutum Corby Double Breasted Raincoat
- Best Of British For M&s Collection Pure Cotton Trench Mac With Stormwear
- Reiss Globe Belted Jacket Airforce Blue
- Burberry London Mid-length Cotton-gabardine Trench Coat
- Burberry London Kensington Cotton Trench Coat
- Sandro Double-breasted Cotton Trench Coat
2. The Bomber Jacket
Where much of military clothing was first born out in the civvy world, this is an example of a garment that was made for purpose by the army and later adopted by mainstream culture. As its name suggests, it was good for all that bombing. The U.S. Army’s Aviation Clothing Board created thick leather and lined jackets to keep pilots warm in cockpits so rickety and thin that freezing was as much a risk as being shot out of the sky.
Putting our outrageous surplus of sheep to use, it was us Brits that brought shearling to the party. But the Americans later developed the most famous bomber styles we see flying up and down runways today. Particularly the A-2, which you’ll often spot in satin and leather.
“The bomber is definitely a wardrobe staple for AW15,” says Wilfrid. “It’s been an advancing trend for a few seasons now. Keep an eye out for formal interpretations seen at Lanvin – with a leather trim – and Paul Smith – made with velvet fabric.”
- Topman Blue Wool Blend Flight Jacket With Borg Collar
- Selected Homme 100% Wool Bomber Jacket
- Alpha Industries Bomber Jacket With Sheep Collar
- Whistles Black Leather Bomber Jacket
- Schott A2 Leather Flight Jacket
- Realm & Empire A2 Hand-painted Leather Flying Jacket
- Stussy Ma-1 Jacket
- Acne Studios Selo Light Satin-finish Shell Bomber Jacket
- Neil Barrett Wool-felt Bomber Jacket
3. The Pea Coat
Like much of the goings on during wars, the origins of the pea coat are rather murky. “It likely dates back to the nineteenth century and its roots are in nautical attire,” says Butchart. It then docked and made inroads into men’s fashion promptly after World War Two. “Due to the post-war surplus and subsequent low cost, these were being picked up by artists and students, so it’s no surprise it leaked into mainstream fashion quickly,” says Butchart.
“The Navy heritage is why pea coats tend to be navy,” explains Dan Rookwood, US Style Director at Mr Porter. “That’s the most versatile, timeless colour of all. It goes with everything, so you’ll get plenty of wear out of it.
“When shopping for a pea coat, check the care label to see what the lining and shell are made from. The higher the percentage of wool, the warmer it’ll be; you should look for at least 85 per cent wool. Of course, the higher wool content will come with a higher price tag so keep that in mind, but the investment will be well worth it.
“Ideally, look for thermal – I own a J.Crew number with a thermal lining. I get the warmth without the bulk and padding.”
- Aquascutum Rowan Pea Coat
- M&s Collection Lightly Padded Peacoat With Wool
- John Lewis Mid Length Pea Coat Navy
- Gloverall Reefer Pea Coat
- Realm & Empire Wool Peacoat
- He By Mango Wool Peacoat
- Club Monaco Double-breasted Wool-blend Peacoat
- J. Crew Shawl-collar Peacoat
- Reiss Sonnie Wool-rich Peacoat Grey
4. Combat Trousers
Another item originally deployed by the military. Combat trousers (particularly in khaki) obviously have their roots in a need for functionality and durability in high-stress, high-action environments. Sound like your office? Perhaps it’s worth enlisting their help over the coming months. And don’t fret about them looking too casual to be worn as modern workwear. Smarter, tailored combats are a key piece this winter.
Indeed, combat pockets have been sneaking onto trousers for a few seasons now. “Side patch pockets on tailored casual trousers have been a slow burning trend for a while, and we’re now seeing them on the high street – Reiss have some great examples,” says Wilfrid. No longer the preserve of weekend dads.
- He By Mango Cotton Cargo Trousers
- Neil Barrett Tapered Cargo Trousers
- Stone Island Slim Cargo Trousers
- J. Crew Wallace & Barnes Wool Military Cargo Pant
- Zara Cargo Trousers
- North Coast Pure Cotton Garment Dye Canvas Cargo Trousers
- Reiss Ridley Tailored Cargo Trousers Light Grey
- White Mountaineering Cotton-blend Twill Cargo Trousers
- Michael Bastian Slim-fit Stretch-cotton Canvas Cargo Trousers
General Style Rules
1. Go All-Out Green
Even if a traditional military garment isn’t your style weapon of choice, you can still sign on with the military trend by utilising this season’s biggest colour.
“All shades of green are a key colour trend for AW15,” says Wilfrid. “Khaki in particular was prominent, used by high-ranking designers such as Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Paul Smith and Belstaff.”
Pair lighter tops with darker trousers and brown boots to nail the look.
Gieves & Hawkes AW14
2. Get Suited For War
Military coats like duffles and peas can join forces with much smarter attire. “The pea coat is hugely versatile in terms of styling,” says Rookwood. “Its length is longer than a blazer and it tends to be roomier in the shoulder so can easily be layered over a suit.”
“That said, it also looks slick worn casually with dark selvedge jeans and brown brogue boots.” Suitable for all-out smart offence and a more conservative, casual defence.
Hugo Boss AW14
3. Pore Over The Details
Military garments can be heavy on details. “These were born out of necessity on the front line,” says Butchart. “Epaulettes were there to hold gloves or caps. Straps near your belt might look funky, but they were originally used to hold grenades or swords.”
Respect the functions. But remember that too much detailing can make an item look more casual. Aquascutum trenches are often stripped-back, meaning they work better with suits than something with too many bells and whistles.
The Kooples AW14
4. Get Boots On The Ground
Combat boots couldn’t be more suited to the slushy winter months in the UK. But go easy if you’re really aligning yourself with the military trend this year. Rocking a bomber with cargo pants and combat boots is a look likely to turn heads the wrong way.
Evoke military style the right way by teaming combat boots with jeans or chinos and a simple white tee or Oxford button-down. Subtlety is your ally here. Overdoing it your enemy.
5. Remain Timeless
The simplest way to hark back to military threads is to strap yourself into a functional timepiece. “Not many people realise that the wrist watch only became fashionable for men after World War One,” says Butchart. “Pocket watches weren’t exactly suited to trench warfare.”
Bremont is a classic, high-end British designer that creates watches specifically for the military, if you want to go all-out. Alternatively, at the lower end of the price scale, a khaki Nato strap watch from the likes of Timex, Luminox or Shore Projects will bring a touch of rugged masculinity to any of your off-duty looks.
And there you have it, solider: a guide to increasing the rank of your military wardrobe in time for the months when it matters most. Are you signing up for military gear this autumn/winter or do you conscientiously object?
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