Dressed to kill: How the military invaded our closets

Editor’s Note: Timothy Godbold is a fashion journalist and author. This is an edited excerpt from his latest book, “Military Style Invades Fashion,” published by Phaidon.

CNN  — 

Once you begin to notice the extent to which military styles have influenced fashion, it’s impossible to ignore it. Militaria is unmistakable and it is everywhere: worn by men, women and children across the globe.

From high fashion to thrift-store chic, military appropriations are ubiquitous. Luxury fashion houses have long borrowed elements of both ceremonial swagger and utilitarianism from the style sheet of military uniform.

In the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent designed his famous pea coats, igniting a trend for exquisite military-inspired clothing and coats soon followed by designers including Dries Van Noten, Balmain and Givenchy, among many others.

Accessories have also benefited from similar inspiration, evidenced by Tom Ford’s aviator sunglasses and Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage. At the other end of the fashion scale, in the 1960s, hippies wore cargo pants and army jackets as political statements.

Now camouflage prints are visible on anything from Nike athletic shoes to bandages and sticking plasters for children. The military influence even goes beyond clothes to interior design, seen in campaign chairs with leather straps and austere lines, to portable Hermes desks.

Camoflauge-inspired leopard prints took center stage at Versace's Spring-Summer 2016 show.

The genius of military design

I remember my father’s wardrobe in the spare room at home, where his army uniform hung neatly next to his crested blazer from Trinity College, Melbourne. This wardrobe was a constant fascination to me growing up for the way in which its contents represented power, intellect and sophistication.

"Military Style Invades Fashion" by Timothy Godbold

I noticed the nuances of clothing and how what we wear affects how we feel and behave. I also noticed how costumes functioned in movies – how often, for example, the villains’ frightening outfits were derived from extreme military looks, such as those of the SS or the Gestapo.

Gigi Hadid wear a military-inspired look at Tommy Hilfiger's Autumn-Winter 2016 show.

I saw how rock musicians, from the Beatles to Duran Duran and beyond, referenced military clothing in their stage costumes and on their album covers.

I once came across a photograph of Lord Albert Victor in full military regalia. The striking blue and the encrusted gold and silver used in the trimmings and sashes were strong and imperial. They were powerful evidence of the genius that underlay military design. Then I caught sight of myself in a mirror.

Following men’s fashion that year, I was dressed in fatigue cargo pants tucked into leather boots and a loden green sweater. My hair was slicked back as severely as if I had just stepped out of a plane after flying a bombing mission in World War II.

I laughed at myself, of course, but the echoes between the photograph and my own clothes made me determined to explore further. Where does our fascination with military style come from and how far will we take it in the name of fashion?

This book looks at types of military style and how they have been absorbed into the mainstream of fashion. Each chapter reveals a different visual aspect of the military style vocabulary, celebrating its widespread appeal. In other words why, as the cultural critic Troy Patterson observed recently in The New York Times, ‘half the people you see on the street are dressed to kill.’

“Military Style Invades Fashion,” published by Phaidon, is out now.