In-depth look: Camo in history and fashion
Of all the textile patterns found in fashion today, one of the most recognizable is the camo print. Originating in military uniforms during the 20th century, camo can now can be found on anything at all — including jackets, miniskirts, boxer shorts, and every type of accessory. Camo pieces are often lauded as an effortless way to elevate a look and, ironically, to make an outfit stand out.
Camo versions of our jackets are highly popular among style- and function-conscious wearers alike, which is why we’re bringing back the Alpha M-65 Field Coat in woodland camo, a classic print that was used in the military for decades and quickly emerged as a street fashion staple.
So how did camo make its way from the battlefield to our wardrobes?
Variations in camouflage styles
Up to the turn of the 19th century, it was common for troops to dress in bright, bold colors, such as blue or the prominent British red, which boosted morale and national pride during combat and in marches. As technology and warfare tactics advanced, military forces were compelled to find ways to decrease combatants’ visibility on the battlefield, including adopting uniforms in more more subdued shades like khaki and “olive-drab”. During WWI, different types of camouflage were used on equipment, hideouts, and submarines, mainly in the form of painted patterns that made the objects blend in with their surroundings.
However, the classic army print we know of today has gone through a few iterations. After the five-color “frog print” found on Marine uniforms in WWII emerged the tiger stripe pattern, which was especially useful to blending in with the jungle surroundings in Vietnam. In 1948, the US Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) produced what came to be known as the ERDL or “leaf” pattern, which was also in use throughout the end of the Vietnam War. This pattern featured large, organic shapes in mid-green and brown, black, and light green or tan.
A standardized battle dress uniform (BDU) was issued in 1981 that featured, for the first time, the woodland camo that’s now so widely-recognized. This was produced by enlarging the previous ERDL pattern, making it more visible at closer ranges, and rendered the irregular shapes in sand, green, brown, and black.
Since then, the US military has adopted several different camo patterns on uniforms, including the pixelated “digital camo”, or UCP, and patterns for operations in desert and urban environments.
A conspicuous new style
The emergence of camo into the world of street fashion began as part of a post-Vietnam counterculture movement and was then popularized by hip-hop culture in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Rappers and hip-hop fans could be seen sporting camo jackets and pants bought cheap from army surplus stores, and the trend quickly took off. This distinguished new style represented a sort of “toughness”, a combination of national pride with street-savvy ruggedness that quickly permeated every aspect of mainstream fashion.
Even today, camo has yet to go out of style. Our dedication to honoring our military heritage has inspired the use of this eye-catching print on many of our jackets, including the Alpha M-65 Field Coat and the M-65 Defender Liner, which is onion-quilted and can be worn on its own or buttoned into the field coat for an added layer of warmth. The liner is also available in black camo, which is a version of the woodland print in shades of black and gray.
You can also find different historic variations of camo on Alpha-exclusive pieces such as the MA-1 Coalition Blood Chit Jacket. This jacket features the tiger stripe camo pattern that was used during the Vietnam War, while the reverse side comes in orange with the prominent blood chit flag sewn in. It is also available in a striking golden yellow shade, with the tiger stripe print on the reverse side.
The MA-1 Slim Fit jacket, a popular variation on the traditional flight jacket, is also available in woodland camo, tiger stripe camo, and black camo. This jacket varies from the MA-1 only in that it features a slimmer fit, resulting in a more modern silhouette. It is also available in a variety of solid colors besides the camo patterns, including maroon, sage green, mauve, white, and gunmetal.
Another one of our bestselling camo pieces is the ECWCS (Extreme Cold Weather Conditions System) Parka. Though the military’s original ECWCS jacket was designed (as the name reveals) for more severe weather conditions, our version is a more lightweight mod, keeping the classic look and rendering it more comfortable for everyday use. This jacket comes in the tiger camo print as well as in black and coyote brown.
Any one of these jackets in camo makes for a great standout piece with the added benefit of durability and warmth for winters to come, proving that form is best when combined with function and that camo, with its long history and wide appeal, is here to stay.
Written by: Aiya Madarang