Fashion surrenders to camouflage trend and if you want to blend into your
surroundings on a city street, there are probably better ways to go about it
than by donning a spaghetti strap red camouflage dress – or a green camouflage
halter top adorned with metallic sequins. But for today’s urban camouflage
wearers, blending into the scenery is most definitely not the point.
According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM, 45% of women say
they like to get noticed for the clothes they wear, an increase of 4.2
percentage points from a year ago. And with the current trend in camouflage,
found in everything from casual to formalwear, the wearer can inevitably count
on being seen. Camouflage, a blotchy, stealthy pattern born to blend into the
background, is grabbing attention all over the urban, style-setting
landscape,” reports Francine Parnes, a style writer for Newsday. “It’s one of
the whimsies of the garment industry that Christian Dior can create a $5,000-
single-shouldered gown in a print that’s more typically reserved for the
clothing of combat.”
The origin of camouflage actually predates war—by about 20 million years, when certain cephalopods varied their pigmentation to match their background. Since then, it has been employed by various members of the animal kingdom. In the late 19th century, an American artist named Abbott Thayer observed that the colouring of many animals graduated from almost dark on their backs to white on their bellies. He concluded that this optic trick “often renders the animal invisible” by breaking up the surface of an object and making the three-dimensional appear flat. This became the principle for military camouflage, as the advent of air warfare and photography rendered conspicuous uniforms obsolete. In World War I, France created a “Camouflage Division,” supervised by a fashionable Parisian portraitist and comprising 20,000 “camoufleurs” (artists). (“Camoufler” means “to blind or veil.”) But not until World War II did camouflage conceal people as well as artillery. Avid collectors of World War II memorabilia can distinguish the camouflage uniforms of different armies but their patterns. Brassey’s Book of Camouflage has over 400 photographs of military camouflage patterns. In the ’70s, hunters adopted camouflage to fool prey.
So that’s the story of the first 21 million years of camouflage, but how to explain its evolution into a fashion fad? One theory is that it can be seen as the logical extension of the trend towards faux snake, tiger, leopard, and zebra prints, all used in the wild as optical illusions to interfere with depth perception and adopted by the fashion world for their beauty. Steven Hardy, design director for Squeeze Jeans, agrees. “Every time the trend comes around I’ve seen it happen the same way: first leopard, zebra and snake prints, then military camouflage.” Squeeze sells camouflage bra tops and belts that go with “army tint” jeans. “Army tint” is Squeeze Jeans’ #1 back- to- school denim colour. “I like the camouflage trend when it’s done very feminine and sexy,” says Hardy. Camouflage is being used in a very sexy way right now,” affirms Jamie Ross, trend analyst for D3, the fashion forecasting division of the Doneger Group. “In St. Tropez, which is a good barometer of what’s happening trendwise, camouflage is huge, but it’s never done in a very military sense. In many ways it’s popular the way leopard print was popular last year—re- coloured and done with lace, for example. There is a feeling of romanticism that has an impact on how the trend is played out.”
But, of course, the trend does owe part of its inspiration to the military. “Anything military surplus is always waiting to be made fashionable,” Tommy Hilfiger told Newsday. Now, “Camouflage is part of the urban scene, whether it is authentic in the true military mode, or just used as a fashion element. I do it [camouflage] in the authentic way because I like its rugged originality and authenticity.”
Julie Messeloff, a media studies student at Queens College, observes that “cammies” were adopted as hip-hop urban streetwear as early as the mid ’90s. Some wore original surplus and some wore camouflage designed by companies such as FUBU. Anna Sui anticipated the current trend with a sequined camouflage cocktail dress as early as 1996. Now the camouflage/sequin combo has become ubiquitous, along with other creative combinations. Camo belts and shirts studded with rhinestones can also be found at vintage/retail chains like Reminiscence alongside original camouflage surplus pants. (According to the Monitor, over 34% of women have shopped at consignment shops, thrift shops, and/or yard sales.). For spring, Miguel Adrover adorned a cream-colored cotton pleated blouse and matching trousers with strips of camouflage material for a hip, upscale look. Of course, the camouflage design is in danger of becoming so omnipresent that women who wear it may find it accidentally fulfilling its original purpose—to conceal. When that time comes, the 45% of female Monitor respondents who say they like to get noticed for the clothes they wear will no doubt have moved on to the next fashion trend.
This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American women’s wear consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.
A long time ago fashion borrowed camouflage from the military. KS wonders
whether fashion will ever give it back.
Camouflage is an adaptation some animals use as protection from predators. An animal that uses camouflage likes to look like things in its environment. “I'm a tree, I'm a rock, I'm not really here, look over there” etcetera. Funnily enough this is why camo should now be called the invisible fashion — it's been revived, renewed, and recoloured so often that it's bordering on style staple. Ironic, isn't it?
In the good ol' days camo consisted of ill-fitting army surplus couture for hippies, anti-Vietnam war protestors and punks, not to mention soldiers and hunters.
Whether roo-shootin', bear- huntin', or bar- trawlin', typically people in uniform and city-soldiers avoid the bright oranges and citrus pinks. Grizzly bears are constantly foiled by camo phones, toilet paper, purses and cars. Camo batteries, pencils, hats and shoelaces keep those naughty warmongers at bay. Although it's everywhere, you can hardly notice it anymore. It is becoming a case of not seeing the camo for the trees.
“I can't say I like the look, it's too easy,” says personal stylist, Rebecca Walsh. “If it's your plan to hide in a crowd, go ahead with camo.”
The fact that camouflage is in so many mainstream stores coyly suggests it's now considered a solid style, not a merely a flash fad. This fad has surpassed the prediction of two years ago that it was merely a slow style cycle, taking time to catch on even though the glossy magazines show it coming in and out of style mixed in with military hardware, detailing and colouring. It's been on the shelves for an age, and it will continue to sell. Ten years ago Ralph Lauren introduced his military range, three years ago Celine had bullet belts, last month DoCoMo's camo phone popped up.
The popularity of camo is just like the seasonal fluctuations of waist-lines, up and down. By the time you work up the nerve to actually purchase something in this print it may be deemed passé. If you have already invested in this trend, keep it handy because it will be hot again before you can say “as if.”
So what's the attraction? Uniform equals strong, and strong equals sexy. Also the broad colour spectrum means you can mix and match with just about anything already in your wardrobe. Camo works particularly well in a block-colour plus camo combo. On the flip side camo on camo is not a great idea unless you are in the armed services and about to commando roll your way across town. Although a personal rule is “More is more”, too much camouflage is a very bad thing. In relation to military style in camo colours, an epaulet here, a pocket there, a badge placed with coordinated abandon and you have struck camo sheik.
“I think it's best to choose one item and leave it for people to find it themselves, don't throw it in their faces,” says Ms Walsh. “A fitted army- green military jacket with super skinny denim jeans and stiletto boots is a look that can't be done wrong, unless it's on the wrong body, that is, an unconfident body. You have to work it. Instant attitude with kick-ass connotations. Make a statement through understatement. That's if people notice you.
Camo can be done if it's done well, and if you want to invest start slow. Maybe it's all beside the point, as one fashionista put it “It's vacation time, nobody has any money to buy anything new. So every-one will be wearing what they already have.” Good luck blending in.