The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Iconic aviator sunglasses design for the U.S. Army Air Corps evolved into what we know today as Ray-Bans. Source:
SS, nazis, officer, the genteel, david walmsley, hugo boss, fashion, menswear, military, world war II, ww2

Hugo Boss manufactured SS, SA and
Hitler Youth uniforms for the Nazis.
Source: Elle Belgium.

From trench coats and aviators to camouflage and technical innovations, many of the garments we wear today were born in the world wars of the last century. Necessity is often an impetus for invention, and international conflicts such World War I and II have had a resounding impact on fashion design.

The most iconic of these garments is probably the trench coat - aptly named after where it was used: in the trenches. Burberry created the trench coat in its current form for British army officers at the behest of the British War Office in 1914. Requiring a jacket that was functional, lightweight and weather-resistant, the first trench came with gun flaps, rain guards and other technical aspects that still survive today - although they now function as purely decorative.

During the early and mid-20th century, it wasn't uncommon for designers to work directly for military organisations: a well-known relationship was that of Hugo Boss and the Nazi Party. A member of the Nazi Party and financial supporter of the SS, Hugo Ferdinand Boss' namesake company manufactured uniforms for the SS, SA and Hitler Youth. This chapter in the label's history allowed it to flourish after Boss declared bankruptcy in 1931. The company has since apologised for using 180 French and Polish prisoners of war for forced labour during World War II. Despite its dark past, Boss' innovative full-length leather trench coats, tailored pea coats and vulcanised rubber-soled jackboots have been adopted en masse and are still worn today by many men (and occasionally, women).

The ever-popular aviator sunglasses also arose through a military contract - between Bausch & Lomb and the United States Army Air Corps. Aviators protected military pilots from the glare of the sun when flying at high altitudes. In 1937, the sunglasses were made available to the public under their trade name, Ray-Ban - a name that comes from the rather straightforward notion that they "ban" the sun's "rays". With their war-forged history, it's apropos that the look has been heavily used in popular culture to represent servicemen (Tom Cruise in Top Gun) and policemen (Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.). 

An urban streetwear staple, camouflage, arose in the late-1840s. The invention of khaki (from the Hindi word, khak, for dust) has been attributed to Lieutenant Harry Lumsden during the British occupation of India. By incorporating local attire with mud dyes, soldiers could blend in with their, ahem, dusty surroundings. Irregular companies (those not a part of the regular army) such as the Corps of Guides were nicknamed "mudlarks," after their appropriation of the khaki drab garments. Khaki would later be widely used in the Second Boer War, due to its effective camouflage in South Africa and Swaziland, before being adopted into British consumer fashion.

"Olive drab" has been a symbol of American servicemen since World War II. The military-green tone has been used prolifically in the last few years by luxury heritage houses like Burberry and Balmain right down to the fast fashion floor. While khaki has become synonymous with resort collections and everyday basics, olive drab manages to retain a more edgy runway persona, perhaps in association with its confrontational roots. 

acronym, fashion, design, menswear, military, jackets, bags, the genteel, david walmsley

Hyper-functional jacket/bag by
Acronym. Source: Acronym.

More recently, technically proficient design brand, Acronym, has been producing highly technical menswear since 1994. A collaborative effort between Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher, the label has designed for a daunting roster of international brands and companies seeking a utilitarian approach to their apparel.

Acronym's work with the German Special Forces exemplifies just how functional its designs are. Aside from creating some of the most sought-after functional gear on the market, Hugh and Sachenbacher have been contracted by Tilak, Arc'Teryx, Burton, W.L. Gore and Associates (inventors and developers Gore-Tex), Recon and a handful of others, as well as collaborating with Stone Island for the celebrated Shadow Project. Acronym's latest seasonal production video gives a glimpse into just how advanced their design and construction techniques are.

While the modern military industrial complex seems far removed from the catwalk, from the high street to the suburbs and everywhere in between, war and military organisations have left an undeniable mark on fashion. Function becomes paramount during wartime, so it makes sense that wartime inventions would eventually be adopted by the public. Ingenuity arising from aggressive circumstances drives forward much of our political and commercial advancements: allowing us, in this case, to explore both our military history and the concepts of protection and security within the scope of fashion. 



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