Men’s fashion, especially along the sartorial end of the spectrum, has nobody to thank more than the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte himself for its formative roots. The Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815 saw soldiers become outfitted in the latest, most elegant uniforms the opposing forces could muster – almost like they were battling to outdo each other in a war of style. The 19th century saw innovations in men’s outfitting like never before – many European tailors perfected their techniques and styles whilst clothing the ranks of their national armies. Countless menswear staples can be traced back to their military roots: the 3 piece suit, the dress shoe, the overcoat, the trench coat; even the belt would not have existed if not for its birth as a way of displaying military accolades on an officer’s uniform. These styles all trickled down into everyday men’s fashions, as soldiers returning to civilian life wanted to retain aspects of their military uniforms in their clothing, as a way of clinging onto memories of former glory.
Moving on from Victorian times, military issued garments continued to find their way into the wardrobes of the everyday man. Popularised in the Brando-Dean era, the t-shirt took its first steps as an undergarment issued in the US Navy. When operating in humid countries, US troops wore light cotton trousers made in China, the country of manufacture becoming the eponym for what we know today as Chinos. The very extent of menswear classics that exist thanks to martial uniform would leave most men naked, had it not been for the excellent style of their armed forces. Bomber jackets, turtlenecks, woollen beanies, even jeans (arguably) all started off as functional garments created for military use. Recently, however, military uniform and gear worn by soldiers has become more and more functional rather than formal. Can we still look to the modern-day soldier for style guidance? Of course, fashion always finds a way.
So how does the stylish man of today imitate the armed forces? With almost no aspects of the formalwear left to borrow, brands are becoming less and less subtler with their military-inspired designs. Many runways over the past couple of decades have almost resembled boot camps as designers debuted tactical combat gear lookalikes in their collections. Nothing short of bullet-proof vests have been exhibited, first notably by Helmut Lang in the late 90s. The style recently saw a revival thanks to none other than Kanye West, who also released a ballistic vest as part of his first season at his own label, YEEZY. Mr West even produced a ‘baby YEEZY’ version of the designer combat gear, which was controversially seen on his then one-year-old daughter, North West.
Branching out from this ‘Lang-aissance’, as the trend has been labelled by Vouge‘s Steff Yotka, other fashion houses have taken their own spin on modern military gear. SS19 saw fashion powerhouses such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Dior debut tactical vests, harnesses and all sorts of chest-rigged bags.
However, no one is doing military-inspired menswear right now better than New York-based subversive fashion label ALYX. Brand founder and head designer Matthew Williams has shaken up the high fashion world by introducing utilitarian style to luxury couture, influencing industry leaders including the likes of Kim Jones and Virgil Alboh. The designer’s recent collaboration with sportswear powerhouse Nike may be the epitome of warcore style; almost every piece comes in guerilla-esque camouflage, not to mention the straps, metal buckles and harnesses all over. Where else would a man wear a woodland camo balaclava other than in the jungles of Vietnam? On the ALYX catwalk, thanks to Mr Williams.
As this militarised trend picks up speed, we begin to wonder – where does one draw the line between progressive fashion statement and actual combat gear? Designers are always pushing the boundaries when innovating for future trends, but it’s definitely possible to take things too far, as streetwear brand Anti Social Social Club did when they released a literal riot shield last year. What will we see in the future? A Colt x Supreme AR-15? This is definitely a trend to keep a close eye on – the possibilities are worryingly endless.
Belgian designer Diane von Furstenberg did once say that fashion ‘is a reflection of our times’, so if Vogue is correct in predicting that warcore is to become our new look du nos jours, I suppose we’d all better brace ourselves for a worldwide geopolitical meltdown. Hopefully, her quote was not to be taken literally.