- By Catherine A. TraywickCatherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.
Military chic is so hot right now. It was only a matter of time before the actual military caught on.
Last week, Elle informed its readers that military inspired style was making a comeback — in the words of the magazine, "North Korea chic." Thanks to the good people at the Authentic Apparel Group, average Joes can now stay on trend with a new U.S. Army-licensed clothing line available exclusively on Zappos.com. It’s the first time the U.S. Army has extended its brand to an original line of consumer clothing and, surprisingly, it doesn’t disappoint. Neither does its spokes
personmodel: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has signed on as the public face of the clothing line.
For now, the 42-item collection is limited to menswear, and includes pants, shirts, sweaters, hoodies, jackets and coats. According to Authentic Apparel, each garment was individually approved by the U.S. Army, ensuring that the clothing line meets the rigorous standards of the largest and oldest branch of the U.S. military. In other words, these clothes are rugged enough to withstand even The Rock’s rough-and-tumble lifestyle (he does most of his own stunts, you know).
Most of the items in the line — bomber jackets, khakis, henleys, etc. — originated as military uniform, but are now common to civilian wardrobes. In an ironic effort to render them more "authentic," the company added field and dress details like kevlar threading and epaulets. The occasion underscores both the public’s boundless appetite for military-inspired garb, and the surprising extent to which military accoutrement has already been absorbed into popular culture.
Wristwatches, for example, were a military tool during World War I, when the U.S. Army used them to synchronize precision attacks (they were easier to consult than the more ubiquitous pocket watches). Similarly, RayBan aviators were designed for U.S. Air Force pilots in the 1930s, as a way to prevent headaches and altitude sickness caused by sun glare. They became a household a name two decades later, when Hollywood’s leading men adopted them as an accessory. Trench coats were developed for the British Army in the 19th century, and took their name from the grimy trenches in which soldiers fought and died during World War I. Even the iconic Burberry trench has military roots: In 1901, Thomas Burberry submitted to the British War Office an officer’s raincoat design made with his own proprietary water-resistant fabric.
And khakis, now a staple of casual menswear, were a product of colonial India. In 1846, a British district officer in charge of a troop in Peshawar realized that the soldiers’ white cotton uniforms proved easy targets for snipers. So, his troops began dying their uniform with tea (or mud, depending on whom you ask), to better blend in with their surroundings. Ten years later, the Magistrate of Meerut, a city in Utter Pradesh, adapted this discovery and formed the Khaki Risala, or ”Dusty Squadron.” Since then, khaki has trickled down to every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The U.S. Army has licensed all kinds of products, including electronics, toys, and camping gear, but this is its first notable foray in fashion (hopefully not the last). While some soldiers might turn up their noses at the notion, there is an upside for them: By federal law, licensing fees from all branded products must benefit the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program, which provides social and educational services to soldiers, retirees, and their families. For some, that may be a pleasing alternative to lining the pockets of high fashion designers, whose military-inspired peacoats and trousers aren’t even sewn with kevlar thread.