In 1896 the American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “form (ever) follows function” when describing his approach to designing some of the earliest skyscrapers in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century. It could be argued that some of the most effective menswear of the last century was also designed using this mantra. Garments that are routinely categorised as staple items today, including the peacoat, the chino trouser and the bomber jacket, all served a purpose once upon a time.
Many of these items were born of the military, a profession in which purposeful design is paramount. When one thinks of functional clothing, one of the first garments that comes to mind may be the field jacket. There were many forms of the U.S. Army field jacket, but it’s commonly thought the original was something of a failure. It was too short in the body and was made from the same olive drab cotton used for shirting, so its insulation properties were poor. It’s successor was the result of years of development by the U.S. Army Quartermaster, and it would go on to provide the blueprint for functional outerwear for decades to come. Named the M-1943 field jacket, it underwent one of the most painstaking development periods of any WWII field clothing.
For the new uniform, the Military Planning Division turned to layering technology, which made use of warm air trapped between multiple garments, resulting in an adaptable jacket that could be worn as a lone outer layer during mild weather or combined with pile garments underneath for more severe climates. In effect, the Military Planning Division of the early 1940s predicted an overarching theme of contemporary menswear: that of layering, or combining multiple lightweight garments to create a textured look and one that is adaptable depending on the time of day, the temperature and one’s locale.
The M-1943 Field Uniform consisted of the aforementioned jacket, a herringbone twill shirt with twin chest pockets, a high-neck knitted jumper and an oversized rain poncho, which could be worn over the top of everything. In contrast to U.S. army gear of the first world war, the M-1943 Field Uniform’s new layering system meant that each garment complemented the next. The idea was for soldiers to be able to effortlessly adjust to different temperatures by removing or adding lightweight layers underneath the generously sized M-43 jacket, rather than carry multiple coats or jackets as was the case before. Like many of the most successful military garments, everything on the M-43 jacket was there for a reason. Adjustable tie cords at the wrists, waist and throat were added to protect against wind; four large flap pockets increased carrying capacity tenfold; a buttoned neck flap across the throat gave added warmth; and a hood was added a year later.