Who designed the army uniform color

Culture : All just camouflage

Press briefing at the US Army headquarters in the Persian Gulf. General Tommy Franks appears in front of the cameras in a wide-cut combat suit printed with sand-colored desert camouflage patterns. No epaulettes, because the four stars have recently been arranged from top to bottom on the collar tab. Behind the general are other high-ranking soldiers of the coalition, dressed in various camouflage designs.

In the video for her latest single "American Life", Madonna dances in a skin-tight camouflage suit, with several background singers behind her in a military look to the left and right. Madonna had recorded the video before the war, in the meantime she has withdrawn it out of "consideration for the fighting troops". The pictures of the singer in battle suit are blocked.

Gulf War, Chechnya, the Balkans, Afghanistan, another Gulf War - have our viewing habits changed? Is it because of the wars of the last decade that more and more elements of military uniforms are used in our everyday clothing? Almost everyone, whether man or woman, has something of this in their closet: Cargo pants with combat-ready cut with lots of pockets, colors from olive to khaki, sturdy but light lace-up boots? Do we now find beautiful what seemed strange to us when the Federal Republic was still a country in which military uniforms were practically never seen?

A survey in 2001 showed that only seven percent of all Germans find a man in uniform erotic. A hundred to 150 years earlier it would certainly have been 97 percent. In the 19th century, and especially under Wilhelm II, a “dashing officer” embodied the ideal of male beauty; There were no more desirable marriage candidates. The cultural historian Sabina Brändli describes the uniforms and badges of rank as the “price tag of the goods man”, from which marriageable young women and their parents could read the market value of a prospective groom like on a table.

It is not new that military uniforms affect civilian clothing. In the Thirty Years' War the mercenaries came back with their clothes ripped open. These war marks gave the wearers so much social respect that the fashion arose from it, decorating almost all other items of clothing with artificial slits.

With the social reorganization after the French Revolution, uniforms came into fashion all over Europe. They created self-confidence and identity; not only did the military wear them with pride, but also civil professions from chamberlain to miner. Practically every opportunity was seized to dress in uniform; the civilian was not considered to be of much importance. You were now a citizen with all rights and obligations, including compulsory military service. In the 18th century, the richly decorated clothing of men had blurred the differences between the sexes. The knee-length, waisted skirt, called “Justaucorps”, was cut so that the hips appeared broad, the chest and shoulders narrow, and the belly well-nourished.

After the fall of the Ancien Régime with its decadent refinement, the ancient ideal of male beauty was rediscovered. The uniform fashion was based on Napoleon's army, the cut made the hips appear narrow and the legs long, and enforced an impeccably straight posture due to the limited space in the back and shoulders, epaulettes visually broadened the shoulders.

Three-year-olds in sailor suits

For women (apart from the brief interlude of the loosely falling Empire fashion), the corset became mandatory, which not only shaped the narrow waist, but also deformed it, emphasized the bosom and made the hips appear rounder. Never was the difference between the sexes more emphasized than in the 19th century. The man was a citizen, the woman was the public in the exercise of his duties. The boys were prepared for the seriousness of life by drilling them, giving them war toys and taking pictures of them in mini-uniforms with spiked hats. The girls were given cut-out dolls whose uniforms they could memorize ranks and regiments.

The fashion of sailor suits and later also dresses, already cultivated by the nobility in the 18th century, spread among the German bourgeoisie after the future Kaiser Wilhelm II was presented to the public in a sailor suit at the age of three, a gift from his grandmother, Queen Victoria of England.

The Justaucorps had long since become intolerable even for civilians. In its place came the sober and practical English riding skirt, based on the model of economically cut uniforms. From this skirt developed the men's suit as it is worn today. It is one of the most prominent examples of clothing elements in uniforms that go into civilian clothing not for aesthetic reasons, but because of their functionality.

Functionality then became one of the main demands on fashion in the 20th century - and for the army: the wristwatch was designed for the soldiers in the First World War. Until then, the watch was carried in the vest pocket or pinned to the dress, but time and its exact measurements became such a decisive factor in the 20th century that the watch, which was visible at all times, was soon indispensable for everyone.

A classic in terms of functionality and elegance also comes from the First World War. In 1917 Thomas Burberry designed a belted coat for soldiers in the British Army, suitable for fighting in the trenches. Trench means "trench" in English. Many soldiers continued to wear their practical raincoats after the war, because they were light and, thanks to the material and collar cut, well protected against wind and weather. So the trench coat changed to the stock of civilian clothes, soon also for women. The shorts, the chinos, which emerged as casual men's trousers, and the color khaki have also been adopted from the uniforms of the British Army in India and other regions of the Empire.

Even within the military, functionality had suppressed the need for representation. As early as the 1860s in Europe, the brightly colored uniforms by which one recognized one's comrades had been replaced by field green ones for better camouflage. A completely new sight were the soldiers of the US Army who entered Europe in light combat uniforms during World War II. For the first time, generals appeared in uniforms that, like the camouflage outfit of Tommy Franks, looked more like a front line than a representation. The clothing of the military was lighter, more comfortable, more functional than the European, with more cotton than wool; the shoes did not have heavy leather soles but rubber soles. "The GIs brought a whole new attitude towards life with them, from music to chewing gum and brushcuts to the essential item of clothing in every modern wardrobe, the T-shirt," says Hannelore Gabriel, lecturer in media and fashion sociology.

The black leather jacket modeled on the US Air Force flight jacket became modern; Jeans, worn by the GIs as casual trousers, came to Europe with the US Army, as did Hawaiian shirts and nylons for women. "The young Germans, who grew up in a culture that no longer offered them any means of identification, gratefully accepted the suggestions," says Gabriel. A few years later, leather jackets, T-shirts and jeans were made into rebel uniforms by Marlon Brando and James Dean, which made them all the more welcome.

The newly emerging youth subcultures now also picked up elements from military clothing - in order to bring about style breaks. The first to brush the military fund against the grain were the "teddy boys", Teds for short, boys from the English working class, who provoked their parents and social higher-ups with a provocatively dandy - that is, associated with the upper class - elevator which they wore army parkas.

In the anti-war movement at the end of the sixties it was common practice to convert parts of military equipment into the opposite: parkas, field green bags and trousers from the Army Surplus store were decorated with the peace sign and worn with long hair, Jesus slippers, and colorful Indian robes - So to everything that was contrary to the shorn heads, boots and male-functional clothing of the army. The distance to the war was formulated in the ironic break.

Survive the jungle

Martin Wuttke, Berlin designer and style advisor from the NextguruNow label, sees the roots of the military trend in the current street fashion of the punk movement. “Every few years, military themes become all the rage in fashion. Since the punks they have been an integral part of the outfits, especially of young people who make their way through the urban jungle. "

“Surviving the urban jungle” was the catchphrase from New York to London to Tokyo. The punk movement, more aggressive and out of provocation, arose in 1975 in London around the legendary store "Seditionaries" by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Their most radical representatives, like the skinheads, mostly came from the working class and could not fall back on any privileges based on their origin. Her outfit not only included mesh shirts, safety pins, leather jackets and intentionally tattered clothing, but also clothes from army stocks.

There were practical reasons for this. Work and discarded military clothing is cheap, durable and has many useful details. "Your ID card just fits in a flat pocket," says Wuttke. “You can put all sorts of things in a bellows pocket that opens like an accordion.” These advantages were also appreciated by the young people who moved through the big cities after the punks, from the peace movement to the street fighters to the ravers.

Many of these details also entered the mainstream - whether Jean Paul Gaultier created a haute couture collection from them or H & M made the new style accessible to everyone. Cargo pants, jackets with many pockets, and sturdy boots are valued as casual wear because they are functional. The modern shoulder bags are probably also modeled on the military messenger bags. In this respect, the trend towards details from military clothing is more related to the need for more and more functionality than to changes in viewing habits.

It is different with purely aesthetic style elements such as the camouflage pattern. Camouflage is a fashionable favorite. Franks ’predecessor in the last Gulf War, Norman Schwarzkopf, also competed in camouflage combat suit, albeit in green that was unsuitable for the desert. The style has refined, as has the visual message. It now reads: “I am part of the troop.” And even if Franks did not travel to Iraq until after the conquest of Baghdad - the world will remember the impression of desert dust and sweat from the press conferences.

Even the most radical fashion statements usually lose their provocation power as soon as they are socially accepted. Corset-free clothing? Pants for women? Bare breasts? All ancient hats, only recognizable as a provocation from the historical context. Camouflage patterns, on the other hand, originally designed to make the wearer invisible, have been eye-catching for thirty years: it is a visual signal that one sees again and again in connection with warring parties and frightened civilians, on tight-cut blouses, bikini tops and mini skirts to find again. Some find it tasteless, others appreciate the ironic break that can be brought about this way: “When I go out on the street as a conscientious objector in camouflage pants and a pink T-shirt, the story of my pants remains a warlike one, but because of the wearer and the rest of it Outfit is being reinterpreted, ”says Wuttke.

Camouflage patterns automatically attract glances in a non-military context. Does the wearer want to signal defensibility or is the opposite meant? Is a dove of peace sewn onto the brown-green pattern or does the wearer of a tight camouflage blouse simply like the contrast between the sexy cut and the martial surface design? The signs have become ambiguous.

At the streetwear fair “Bread and Butter” in January, the almost 300 exhibitors had a large number of military-style details on offer. “The whole industry was fed up: How much Army should we order?” Says Wuttke. There was no need to worry. In a quick poll by the trade journal “Textilwirtschaft”, German retailers see no end to the trend because of the Gulf War: “I feared much greater declines, but people don't associate the look with the war at all. They see it as a fashion statement or, if so, then more as a provocation against the war, ”says a retailer from Munich.

It is also not seen as a contradiction in terms of decorating your shop windows with the peace sign and selling camouflage cargos inside. The message of military clothing is only clear if the outfit is complete and the context is clear - as in the US headquarters on the Persian Gulf.

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