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The military's invasion of street fashion

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It seems like every year military-inspired fashion is declared back in season.


The truth is that the military aesthetic has been infiltrating street fashion for longer than anyone can remember and shows no sign of stopping.

Most people know that pilots wore bomber jackets. But did you know your grandfather's cardigan was actually battle dress?

Several cornerstones of contemporary street fashion and streetwear have surprising origins in the military.

White crewneck T-shirts, parkas, vests, combat boots, trench coats, chinos, pea coats, BDU pants, M65 Jackets, aviator sunglasses - yep you guessed it, all originally made for war.

Let's take a look at the origins of some military-inspired classics that you should have in your WARdrobe in 2020.

Khakis & Chinos


Khaki is an early military influence on fashion with interesting origins.


In the 1840s, a British military officer, Sir Harry Lumsden was stationed with the Corps of Guides on the Northwest Frontier of India, when he noted his soldier's bright uniforms made them easy targets for snipers.


To create a form of camouflage for the drab landscape, he had his soldiers dye their uniforms with river mud or tea. This became known as ‘khaki’, derived from the Persian word for ‘dusty’.


The Brittish went on to adopt khaki as colonial campaign dress.


The U.S. army first wore khaki in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war much later in the 1890s. 

Khaki pants (Chinos) have proved as practical for civilians as they have for soldiers.


Made from pure twill cotton in a sandy and drab shade, they provided soldiers with a durable, comfortable and concealing trouser for difficult conditions.


These early chinos were produced in China hence the name ‘chino’, which is Spanish for Chinese. Chinos are an understated wardrobe essential. 

Crew Neck T-Shirt


Some reports suggest a type of white shirt similar to a t-shirt was worn during the 1898 Spanish–American War, but it wasn’t until 1929 that the shirt most like the one worn today was developed.


Labeled the ‘crew neck’, it became a standard part of the naval uniform but was originally worn as an undergarment that would absorb sweat.

The U.S. Navy began issuing these short-sleeved cotton shirt as undergarments during World War I.


After the war, the military returned home and brought the shirts and the fashion, with them. When Hollywood and screen idols like James Dean displayed effortless cool while wearing one, it was a wrap.

Cargo Pant & Short


Cargo pants or ‘combat pants’ as they are also known, is another military based fashion trend that has become a cornerstone of contemporary fashion.


British military personnel first wore cargo pants in 1938 as part of their Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU). They were later introduced to the US Army during WWII.


Offering greater utility than a pair of jeans, cargo pants found a home in urban areas due to their durability and numerous pockets for carrying essentials.


The side pockets on cargo pants were initially only featured on the uniforms of paratroopers, who needed quick access to things like ammunition.


It wasn't long before cargo pants made their way from the battlefield into American households.

Cargo shorts didn't see mainstream civilian adoption until much later when they were marketed to fisherman and outdoor sportspeople. 

More versatile and generally more comfortable than jeans, cargo pants can look particularly good when paired well with other understated garments.


Perfect for outdoor wear cargos should be long-lasting and comfortable.

To see a list of the best cargo pants for men in 2019 click here

Bomber Jacket

Top 20 Bomber Jackets for 2019

Bomber jackets first appeared during World War I, having been developed for pilots who had to endure exposed, freezing cockpits.


In September 1917, the U.S. Army officially established the Aviation Clothing Board and began producing heavy-duty leather flight jackets.


These early flight jackets featured high wraparound collars, zipper closures with wind flaps, snug cuffs, and waists. Some of these were lined with fur and had fur collars.


The jackets evolved since those early versions and it wasn't until the late 1950s that Bomber jackets started to become popular in street fashion.


The A-2 jacket and the G-1 are two historically important American flight jackets, though many contemporary bombers are based off the MA-1, a now-obsolete but often recreated sage green bomber made from flight silk with a blaze orange lining.


The MA-1 and the lighter version L-2B both had two slash flap pockets on the front, two inside pockets and the classic zipped pocket with penholders on the left sleeve.


A cornerstone of fashion for both men and women, bomber jackets show no sign of losing popularity in 2019. 

These men's bomber jackets in this list draw inspiration from the original MA-1 & L-2B

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The military has served as the inspiration behind a range of boots you see on the street in 2019. The first real military boot is widely attributed to the Romans, who wore hobnail boots on their feet in battle.


In the 1800s the ‘Hessian boot’ (knee-high riding boot) was worn right up until WW1.


In 1917 the ‘trench boot’ was developed for use in the latter stages of WW1. These were made of tanned cowhide with a half middle sole covered by a full sole and studded with five rows of hobnails.


WWII significantly influenced military boot design. A German doctor named Klaus Martens (Dr Martens) designed improvements to the military-issue boots adding soft leather and air-padded soles made of tires.


In the late 1940s, these boots ‘now known as Dr Martins’  become very popular with housewives due to their comfortable soles.


Boots with buckles were standard issue in the US Army up until 1957 when they switched to black combat boots. These were first deployed late into the Vietnam War and called ‘Jungle Boots’.


In 2002, with the introduction of the updated US Army Combat Uniform, improved tan rough-out combat boots called ‘army combat boots’ were deployed. These boots are most commonly referred to as simply 'combat boots' today.


Aside from being fashionable, military boots have grown in popularity because they are durable, comfortable and designed to be worn for extended periods in all conditions without significant long-term wear.

The vintage military boots in this list pay homage to the boots of the past but thankfully, they are a lot more comfortable.

Trench Coat


The trench coat was developed to be an outerwear improvement over the heavy serge greatcoats British and French soldiers wore in the First World War.


The original trench coat’s invention is a mystery and a topic of much debate.


Two premium British clothing manufacturers claim to have invented it, Burberry and Aquascutum.


Aquascutum's claim dates back to the 1850s, while Thomas Burberry invented gabardine fabric, the durable and smooth twill-woven cloth in 1879.


He later developed a water-resistant version and The United Kingdom War Office commissioned him to design an Army officer's raincoat in 1901.


Today, trench coats are stylish outerwear essential with distinctly British heritage.


Many variants of the trench coat have appeared over the years including long and short tailored, double-breasted, and new improved versions are even being crafted today.

Pea Coat

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The pea coat is a stylish and versatile piece of military outerwear that has been around since the 1800s when the Dutch, a then naval power, first wore them.


The name pea coat originated from the Dutch word “pije” (they pronounce their j’s differently), which was used in the Dutch language to describe a heavy coat made from a coarse woolen fabric.


While the Dutch get credit for its invention it was the British navy who popularized it.


The British version of the coat was designed to be a uniform for petty officers.


The cropped, double-breasted style infiltrated men’s fashion after World War II due in part to them being low-cost military surplus.


Today, the pea coat remains a stylish firm favorite for outwear on the street, when the mercury dips.


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The very first parkas can be traced all the way back to the Caribou Inuit in Canada. They made parkas from caribou or seal for warmth and protection.


As materials and production methods improved the parka designs advanced rapidly.


The Canadian military was perhaps the first to issue parkas to service people in northern areas.


The US military parka, the USAF N-3B is another primary inspiration behind contemporary parkas.


The original N-3B was developed in the United States during the early 1950s for Air Force flight crews stationed in freezing cold areas.


It was labeled a 'snorkel parka' due to the fact the hood can be zipped right up leaving only a small hole to breathe.


Perhaps the best-known contemporary parkas are those created for over 50 years by Canada Goose, a Canadian company that has found recent favor in streetwear circles.

M65 Field Jacket


The M-1965 field jacket (abbreviated as M-65) is a straight front field coat made of water-repellent fabrics.

Initially designed for the US military it has now found popularity with civilians on the street.

The M-65 field jacket has been standard issue for troops all over the world, but was most widely used by United States Forces during the Vietnam War.

The jacket proved useful for troops serving in the Central Highlands where the weather was sometimes cool with monsoonal rains.

The M-65 was designed to be oversized, allowing soldiers to carry ammunition and all their gear,

The front of the jacket has two large hip pockets and two smaller-sized pockets on the chest both triple stitched.



When most people think of cardigans, they don’t really think of a knitted sweater as having come from the military. More something your grandfather might have worn.


But this slightly geeky but understated classic is actually inspired by battle dress. The cardigan is modeled after the knitted wool waistcoats that British officers supposedly wore during the war.


Cardigans are also named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, James Brudenell, a British Army Major General who led and miraculously survived the famous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.


So next time someone calls you out for looking like a nerd, remind them you are wearing battle dress.

Aviators Sunglasses


In 1936 Bausch & Lomb developed the ‘aviator’, sunglasses designed especially for pilots to protect their eyes from glare.


At the time many pilots were complaining of headaches and altitude sickness and they needed a solution.


Bausch & Lomb created uniquely designed sunglasses especially for them. The design offered the essential full range of vision and gave pilots a key advantage.


General Douglas MacArthur is actually credited with popularizing the sunglasses when he was photographed on a beach in the Philippines in World War II.

It only took until the 1950s, for aviator sunglasses to become part of the cultural style with military-style once again infiltrating street fashion post-war.


Aviators remain one the most popular sunglass styles for civilians and it is still standard issue for the US military to this day.