Style / December 2017

The Rake's Salute to Military Style

Menswear brands have long drawn inspiration from military dress, from the humble trench to the more sartorial jeep coat. Here, The Rake charts the journey from no man’s land to every man’s wardrobe.   

Elvis served in the U.S. Army for two years and can be seen here fully clad in army fatigues and a cap outside his barracks at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, 1958.

Military-inspired garments are well and truly part of the menswear canon of today, with many specific items forming the foundation of what we think of now as ‘casual’ clothing. Season after season, luxury fashion houses produce collections that are saturated with references, homages and reinterpretations of military style to critical acclaim. In addition to this and the vast amounts of surplus kit available post-war, militarywear’s popularity largely boils down to functionality, as garments worn in the field needed to be designed with performance and function at the forefront of mind. Yet its transition into the contemporary vernacular wasn't without its fair share of eyebrow-raising and head-turning moments. From John Lennon appearing on television in 1971 ironically sporting a U.S. Army fatigue shirt in defiance of America’s involvement in overseas diplomacy; James Dean and Marlon Brando wooing women all over the world in their white T-shirts; to the iconic trench coat in some ways symbolising a horrid scar of the first world war. Nonetheless, militarywear, from land to sea to sky, will forever form a large part of the ever-changing menswear landscape.

Trench warfare was integral to World War One – primarily occurring on the Western Front, it’s estimated that 13 million soldiers lost their lives as a result of relentless bombing, poison gas and daring, almost suicide assaults across no man’s land. Few positives can be drawn from the violence of war, but one, you could say, is the trench coat. Worn by officers, the coat was cut from waterproof cotton gabardine and would reach as far down as the ankles in order to keep the officer’s woollen uniform dry. With wide lapels, a double-breasted fastening, and a belted waist and buckled cuffs, it’s emphatically sartorial. Burberry’s and Aquascutum’s iterations are the most well-known but Grenfell’s Windsor jacket is considerably finer. With shoulder epaulets, raglan sleeves for comfort, a gun flap on the chest and a perfect belted waist, it’s the go-to outerwear piece to be worn with tailoring.

To combat the sludge, troops would have worn sturdy, gripping combat boots. Sadly for them, they wouldn’t have been executed to the standard of Gaziano & Girling’s Urban Commando version in alpine calf leather. Exclusive to The Rake Atelier, it’s been moulded on the shoemaker’s narrowest and most elegant Deco last, and makes a great choice to take on many a metropolis. Jump forward a World War, the Jeep coat, which is a heavy, extremely warm and length garment, has found its way into today’s wardrobe having been sported by American officers in transport during the harsh European winters. Private White V.C.’s version is made from brushed cotton twill that’s been treated with magic-like ECOSEAM spray, which makes it fully waterproof. It’s heavily padded with 100% wool and finished with a shearling collar to warm the neck and face, whilst the double-breasted, belted fastening retains heat. A great weekend coat for when it gets really chilly.

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Contributor

Benedict Browne

Benedict is The Rake's Associate Style Editor.