How Many Can You Find in Your Closet?
Happy day, reader dear!
Today, November 11, is known Veterans Day here in the US, and Armistice Day in Europe. The official end of WWI may have occurred at 11:00 AM that day, but the effects of that war are still felt throughout the world today, 101 years later. How does that fit with style and fashion? Well… It seems a fortuitous time to address the sartorial influence military uniforms have on our wardrobes and our everyday clothing choices. This is certainly NOT a complete listing, merely seven of the most familiar!
Bausch and Lomb patented a pair of lightweight anti-glare sunglasses in 1937 that became the standard for pilots and sportsmen. When General Douglas MacArthur was photographed after landing on a beach in the Philippines wearing a pair of Ray-Bans, the world took notice. Often imitated, and rediscovered by every generation, aviators are not disappearing anytime soon!
If necessity is the mother of invention, WWII was certainly a sartorial mother. The bomber (or Jacket, Flight), a short zipped jacket with ribbed cuffs and waistband was originally designed for wear in the frigid open cockpits of military aircraft. The tough leather jacket with (originally) woolly cuffs and collar was short to create more room in cramped spaces for a parachute. Later versions moved to ribbing at the waist and cuffs to keep in the warmth. Its popularity exploded in the 1960’s and has been around every decade since, designed in every material from leather, to silk and satin, to neoprene. The ubiquitous Member’s Only jackets from the 1980’s, varsity jackets, and the satin jacket we associate with 1950’s “gangs” are all variations of the practical bomber.
The chino sartorial rabbit hole was fun to research! I have always wondered about the name Chino and from whence it came… Since chinos are so similar to Khakis (of British/Indian) origin, from where did the name with a decidedly Spanish root come? I geek out on this stuff, as both a linguist and a stylist! Come on down the hole with me…
Let’s throw back to an earlier war… The Spanish American War to be precise. US Army troops in the Philippines needed very lightweight trousers for the humid tropical climate. The fabric was sourced from nearby China, and pantalones chinos (Chinese pants) became the uniform of the day. Over time the name simply shortened to chinos . There you go.
After WWII when production slowed and military surplus stores began selling leftover stock at low cost, chinos became popular with college students. Especially those in the Northeast. Paired with a blazer. And preppy style was born!
Chukka (or Desert) Boot
What’s the difference? They both originate from British WWII military uniforms. A chukka boot is a short laced leather boot designed for riding. The desert boot is a variation of the chukka but fashioned from suede with a crepe rubber sole for more flexibility for walking on sand (desert), based on boots found in a Cairo bazaar. When Clark’s began manufacturing them for civilian wear in 1949, they took off and have been in production ever since.
So the big question is always, “Why Pea?” Funny you should ask! These toasty warm coats have been around since the 1800’s. The overlapping front of a double breasted coat provides extra warmth in the cold of the ocean air. The design was originally Dutch, but was popularized by the British Navy. The name Pea is a corruption of the Dutch word Pije. Slit pockets gave sailors a place to warm their hands, and the wide collar could be turned up high and buttoned to keep the neck and lower face warm in the wind. Most importantly, the short length covered the body, but left the legs uncovered to climb rigging and avoid tangling in the ship’s lines. (Officers wore long coats, since climbing was not their problem…)
The classic white tee became standard military issue for all services during WWII. The tee was based on undergarments worn by sailors in earlier decades. You can find white tees at every price point, from 6 packs at your favorite big box store to luxury versions costing well over $100. You choose. If you are in need of some ways to style it, here’s the 5 Ways to Style a White Tee and Jeans post I wrote for my daughter-in-law, Megan. And the follow on post that styles a white tee without jeans!
The ever popular trench coat appeared in the late 1800’s as a sporting coat for privileged men. But it wasn’t until WWI and trench warfare that it earned its modern name. It was short enough to not drag in the mud, shed water, and the belt could hold your sidearm and ammunition pouches.
Do you have any of these seven in your wardrobe? I’d be surprised if the answer is no! Which are your favorites and why? Which do you eschew? Do let me know in the comments below, and please take a quiet moment today to appreciate the enormous sacrifice made by so many. Or as Winston Churchill said: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
Thank you for visiting with me today.