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5 Essentials of the Military-Inspired Wardrobe

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Over the years men have gotten more of their wardrobes from the military than any other source of inspiration. With Veteran’s Day on the horizon, we thought we’d pay homage to the styles that have made the leap from the armed services to civilian life.

You can’t open many guys’ closets without finding some relic of a soldier’s outfit. You don’t have to shop at an Army surplus store to find military inspired items either. If you go back far enough you’ll find that just about every item we wear has seen it’s share of the battlefield. Even the most pedestrian items like the necktie (originally worn by Croatian mercenaries to signify their allegiance to France in the Thirty Years’ War) has its roots in fighting.

More recently, the military has inspired men’s style both at work and at play. Here are our top five pieces from the fighting man’s wardrobe.

Originally worn by the British in India, khaki colored cotton pants have been the go-to pants for the semi-casual American man for years. Cargo pants were originally created for paratroopers to carry radios and extra ammunition during WWII. They stayed in men’s closets after the war due to their rugged good looks.
Trench coats, as their name implies, were an integral part of the trench warfare in WWI. After slogging through the muck in them, veterans held on to these coats for their practicality and utility. In the early days of air combat the pilots had little to protect them from the elements except for their trusted leather jackets. When early flyboys returned home they held onto their jackets and the heavy leather with the shearling neck that we know as the bomber became an instant classic.
Napoleon once said that an Army marches on it’s stomach. It’s true, a hungry army isn’t much use, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need good footwear. Enter the combat boot. The original desert boots (aka chukkas) were favorites of British soldiers stationed in North Africa when they were off duty. Modeled after shoes they found in the bazaar in Cairo today you can find desert boots anywhere stylish men are kicking back.
The regimental necktie is so ubiquitous most people don’t realize that they have their origins in the military. Leave it to the Brits to bring us yet another army inspired look. Back in the days when each regiment had its own unique colors officers would wear those colors in thickly striped ties long after they had left the service (some refusing to wear any other colors). Taking a page out of Mother Nature’s book, fighting men have turned to camouflage to elude their enemies for centuries. Camouflage is a relatively new addition to stylish men’s repertoire emerging as acceptable street wear in the Vietnam era.
shadesOn duty and off, perhaps the most useful and stylish part of any soldier’s getup has to be a pair of aviator sunglasses. Originally intended to give pilots a full range of vision when battling enemy fighters and the glaring sun, aviators have been a part of civilian life for almost as long as they’ve been around (the first ones were made for U.S. military pilots in 1936 and went on sale to the public in 1937).

Randolph Engineering Aviator Glasses - Aviators really haven't changed much over the years and that's fine with us. Why mess with a classic? They are appropriate for almost any situation and work with just about every face shape in the book.Now that you’ve been through basic training on the main components of a military inspired wardrobe, tell us how you incorporate this gear into your look. Or, maybe you have another military inspired look? Leave a comment below.

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16 thoughts on “5 Essentials of the Military-Inspired Wardrobe”

  1. Am looking for a recommended guide on exactly how much cuz I have mountains of clothing that I just cannot manage anymore I want to keep everything I have so many clothes I cannot manager how do I limit to bare bone

    1. The Five Essentials stories are devoted to helping you build a trim but versatile and effective wardrobe. How much you purchase is your own choice, but we believe that there are about five essentials of every category of your wardrobe. If you want to pare down, strip to the five most essential items and make sure you are getting the most out of them. That pair of leather pants may have looked badass that night that you fronted a Doors tribute band, but you won’t get nearly as much use out of them as a pair of khaki chinos. It’s time to get rid of the one hit wonders in your closet and keep only the stuff that stands up to the test of time (like the five items above).

  2. I completely agree with finding some military stuff in a man’s closet. Actually you can also find some stuff in women’s closet but there are more in men’s closet. I guess because military stuff or clothings look cool and there is a sense if ruggedness when men wear these stuff.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      You’re right, Wendy. Women’s wear has definitely been influenced by the military as well. Witness the women’s trench.

      Sometimes cool transcends gender.

  3. What is the style number or name of the steve madden boots shown here? My husband really likes them. Thanks!

    1. Those boots are the Trackker from Steve Madden.

      FYI, they also come in black.

  4. How about a long leather coat, like Neo’s? Does it have roots in the military as well?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The long coat worn in The Matrix is a leather version of the classic duster.

      Dusters have their roots in the Wild West. Cowboys wore them to keep dust off of their clothes as they drove cattle. Many Texas Rangers were known to sport them as well, but that’s as close as they came to being a military uniform.

  5. I like what you guys did. Being a Military spouse, I always get a little worried when I see “military inspired.” You guys did a classy job, where as some people think the Marine Corps Uniforms are a fashion statement. I mean the Dress Blues are of course! 😉 Anyway, love the site. Keep up the good work!

    1. Happy we didn’t disappoint, Margo!

  6. Having recently transitioned from the Army to the business world, and being a fan of this website, I find this article interesting. For me cargo pants never went too out of style because of their usefulness. I was a pilot and the Aviator Sunglasses they gave us were horrible! No one wore them, and we joked that we all went out and bought retail ones.

    I do like the boots, but it brings up another odd fashion question. In the military we used to blouse our pants into our boots. Furthermore, I was the 82nd Airborne and we even bloused our dress pants into our dress jump boots.
    To be honest it felt a little weird, but it looked unique.

    Thoughts on blousing those khaki’s into those Steve Madden boots? Too bold?

    1. Glad you’re finding The Compass useful in your transition to civilian life, Sean.

      It’s funny (and kind of sad) that your government issue aviators were such crap.

      As for the boots blousing, doing it with dress slacks would be pretty bold but we can get behind the laid back look of slim fitting khakis slipping into loosely tied (if they’re tied at all) boots.

  7. Great article, and thanks for the history lesson! Just curious, do you happen to know the historical origin of the “military” double chest pockets? Because they look damn fine for a snappy casual look.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We looked into it, Matt, and there’s not much of a story behind the pockets. In general, a soldier can’t have too many pockets.

      Many of today’s uniforms have slanted velcro pockets on the chest. Don’t look for that style to make the leap over to civilian wear.

  8. No love for the field jacket or peacoat?

    1. We’ve got plenty of love for both of those jacket options, Daniel! We probably could have done a whole piece on military-inspired jackets, but ultimately we decided to cover more areas of the wardrobe and focused on just the trench and the bomber.

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