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Military Fashion Ranks High in Style

Sailor stripes and camouflage are back for another tour of duty on the runway.

Military-style jackets and coats are available this season from Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, and Calvin Klein as well as mass manufacturers like Old Navy. In March, Vogue published a spread on military fashion, explaining how “heavy duty utility pieces in khaki and olive make up a distinguished urban uniform that commands the season’s attention.” The trend also applies to menswear, influencing everything from suit jackets to cufflinks.

“Military fashion is a style that you can’t miss with,” says Paula Taylor, Fashion Instructor at The Art Institute of Tucson. “It’s not something that you have to totally rework to make it look sharp.”

Lines this year suggest a more feminine twist — shorter hemlines and ruffles, for example — on the standard nautical and military fashion looks. That’s a departure from the functional fashion that initially made the military look popular with civilians, according to Melissa Manuel, Fashion & Retail Management Instructor at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

“In years past, military-inspired clothing maintained many of the original masculine style elements,” she adds. “However, many fashion designers have taken the liberty to incorporate military inspired design elements into garments with more feminine silhouettes. Other designers have taken the original military style lines and translated these garments to show more feminine flare.”

Those designers, Manuel says, are using camouflage, khakis, aviator jackets, epaulets, and more as part of their collections this season. Civilians have embraced military fashion trends for decades, she says, and the style’s popularity often tracks with the cycle of U.S. wars.

“Military styles typically reflected social moods of the people during war time — whether in protest or support,” Manuel adds.

Whatever the reason, the military fashion trend is thriving today. Abraham Perkowski is president and founder of OutInStyle.com, a company originally started in 1994 to serve the needs of outdoorsmen. He says the camouflage and street fashion the company began selling about 10 years ago makes up about 75% of his orders. And he expects that number to grow.

“Camo just keeps growing more popular each year,” he adds. Perkowski did notice, though, that his sales spiked during Desert Storm and after Sept. 11, 2001, which would suggest there is some tie between military fashion and patriotism.

Others aren’t so sure about the patriotism link. Tania Braukämper, the editor of fashionising.com, says the reemergence of military fashion stems partly from its association with the 80s era. Fashion from that decade has made a comeback, she says. Plus, military campaigns such as the Iraq War have influenced fashion by making the military style topical, not necessarily because people take a political position on a particular war.

“Wars have existed throughout time,” Braukämper adds. “So there will always be designers embracing the military look.”

Because the war is on the mind of civilians — and designers — it is only natural that military fashion lends itself to the fashion conscious. That’s partly because it’s already a part of our collective conscious, Taylor says.

“I don’t think it hurts that we’re obviously at war and these photos of the military are constantly in our consciousness, but I think it’s also got a proven track record,” says Taylor. “It’s functional enough that a working woman can wear it but also be hip”

Because the military style has become such a staple in the fashion community, Manuel says it provides a creative challenge for designers to “re-interpret military-inspired designs while incorporating their signature design elements to invent a style that is uniquely their own.”

As with the newer feminine twists on the look, military fashion has constantly evolved. For example, Taylor says that a couple of years ago, military fashion featured much more layering than the current stylized pieces coming down the runway. Simpler, it would seem, is better this season for military fashion.

“Now it's about army greens and neutral tones, and practical materials like leather, canvas, mesh, wool, and cotton,” Braukämper says. “So the feminine twists are the perfect way to turn those practical elements into a high-fashion trend.”

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