War (huh, yeah). What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Apart from, perhaps, shaping practically everything we wear today (we’d wager that you’re probably wearing some military-inspired clothing right now).
The 20th century’s conflicts may have been entirely undesirable, but it’s possible that without them, we men would still be trapped in a sartorial straitjacket. There once was a time when the suit wasn’t just office-appropriate, it was practically everywhere appropriate. Outerwear? Judged by its ability to sit over a suit (hence overcoat).
Here we guide you through six essential menswear pieces of the modern day that started life on the battle fields but ended up on the runway.
It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if arguably the most iconic menswear item in the world remained nothing more than an undergarment.
The most classic version of the T-shirt, a short-sleeved white cotton crew neck, first sprung to life as standard issue schmutter for the US navy and later the army in the 1910s. When the war ended, tens of thousands of soldiers took the fashion home with them.
Brando, Dean, Beckham. The rest, they say, is history.
When it comes to trousers that sit slap bang in middle of smart and casual, you’d be hard pressed to find a pair that fit the bill better than chinos.
Before landing on college campuses across the US in the mid-20th century, chinos were built for battle. Developed from khakis, which were created as a way to camouflage British troops stationed in India, chinos came crafted from pure twill cotton in a sandy, light-brown shade to provide a hard-wearing and comfortable means of going low-profile during war in dusty places.
Nowadays, chinos will do little to keep you incognito, but they do offer an updated, streamlined way of nailing Ivy League style, with the same hardy wear.
As hard as it is to believe, your granddad isn’t in fact the originator of the cardigan. This geek chic classic also has military roots.
The seventh Earl of Cardigan, James Thomas Burdenell (technically somebody’s granddad) lays claim to its parentage, having commissioned it for British soldiers during the Crimean War. Original designs were sleeveless vests loosely based on waistcoats, but designs with sleeves soon followed.
The cardigan is now loved for its insulation, not only by OAPs but practically every style tribe and subculture imaginable. If you still need convincing that the cardigan is cool, Kurt Cobain couldn’t get enough of them.
Mindlessly glossed over the fact that this casual footwear staple is called a desert boot? Here’s your stating the obvious klaxon.
The style was popular for use in the desert, more specifically by soldiers, in the late 1940s. Officers commissioned the shoes from a bazaar in Egypt because the crepe-sole was lighter than standard issue military moonboots, but still offered the same robust build and formidable grip.
Schoolyard footwear stalwarts Clarks was responsible for introducing them to the feet of the masses when the great-grandson of the British company’s founder stumbled across squaddies stationed in Burma. The essence of today’s designs remains largely unchanged, which goes some way to explaining why your supple suede pair still doesn’t get along with puddles.
Modern pilot watches come in all shapes and sizes, with price tags ranging from modest to mind-blowing. Today they are worn for decorative reasons, but they were borne out of pure necessity.
The first pilot watch dates back to 1904 and was created by Louis Cartier for friend Alberto Santos, an aviation pioneer in need of a practical means of time telling in the air. Technological advances and a few World Wars quickly bumped up the timepiece’s list of specs (luminous hands for use at at night, for example) and suddenly the design was an indispensable piece of aviation kit.
That’s the last time you underestimate your pilot watch then – it’s a bonafide weapon of war.
Almost every style of outerwear we wear today can be traced back to warfare. Fact. That’s not to say that pre-war people were walking around sans coat, there were just significantly fewer options.
Take four of the most well known as examples. The parka wasn’t pioneered by Oasis, it was created to keep American soldiers warm in the Korean War. Similarly, the flight jacket was born out of a need to keep early aviators toasty in open cockpits. Then there’s the waterproof trench, which was created for use, well, in the trenches. Finally, there’s the field jacket, with its roomy pockets and fast snap popper buttons, which meant its original wearers (the US Air Force in the 1950s) could spring into action in a second.
That’s without even mentioning the duffle or pea coat, which were originally designed for sailors in the Navy.