The history of the interdependent relationship between military uniform and fashion is a long and storied one, spanning centuries of warfare. It’s perhaps natural fit – only in these seemingly antithetical industries is ceremony so celebrated, while the politicisation and subversion of army garments has made them a firm favourite among fashion sets.
Take the Thomas Burberry-designed trench coat, for example; it was made standard wear for British officers in 1914, rose to iconic status when worn by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 classic Casablanca, and has had an unshakeable presence in the realms of outerwear ever since. It is one of endless examples; on the other side of the coin are Vivienne Westwood’s 1970s punks, who overturned the traditional use of Nazi symbolism, aviator jackets and army-issue white T-shirts. This autumn, Phaidon celebrates the prevalence of military signatures throughout the fashion industry with a new book entitled Military Style Invades Fashion. From dazzle ships and the French Foreign legion, to Eastern traditions and the notoriety of leather, it makes for a fascinating read. Here, we select some of our favourite examples.
The Bréton jumper, or marinière, might be one of fashion’s most omnipotent pieces, riding on the coattails of the black leather biker jacket. First introduced to the naval uniform of French seamen based in Brittany in 1858, its original design was manufactured in wool and cotton, and featured 21 horizontal stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s historic victories.
It resurfaced in popular consciousness with Coco Chanel’s renewed focus on nautical themes in the late 1910s, after the designer spent a season holidaying on the French coast, and was reborn yet again with the Beatnik movement in the 1950s and 60s. Who can forget it slung casually over the shoulders of Jane Birkin? Nautical inspiration does not begin and end with the Bréton, however; it seeps inconspicuously into our undying love of the colour navy, and the sweet square collars of well-dressed Bonpoint babies – military style for the every(wo)man.