It’s 2018 and the age of fast fashion feels like it’s well and truly crawling towards its demise. With retail chains such as Topshop and H&M falling like an intercontinental line of dominoes, mass produced garments are rapidly falling out of favour. The military jacket however is one garment however that will weather the tide. Ranging from nylon-synthetics to more traditional waxed cotton pieces, the military jacket is a water and weather-resistant staple that can bear the brunt of just about every activity imaginable. Its associations with Ernest Hemingway and his inclination for shooting stuff in Africa – which gave rise to its other name as a field jacket – adds to its credentials for being flexible and hardy enough for almost any situation.
With Sydney’s erratic weather and sudden cold-arse winds, the military jacket’s versatility is a godsend. As transitional outerwear, it can be just as easily worn over just a shirt at midday, as it can over a suit at night. And its softer silhouette and relaxed shape is a stylish alternative to an overcoat.
Hemingway aside, the field jacket also has a fascinating military record. Early jackets were stiff and tight, making them unsuitable for combat in the field. Based on a preexisting civilian windbreaker, the field jacket was designed as a practical alternative to earlier military jackets. The most iconic are the American M-series jackets, first standardised and adopted by the American military in 1940. Initially produced in an olive drab with a cotton poplin outer shell and a flannel lining, they became a symbol of American G.I.s, from World War II through to the Vietnam War.
The field jacket has since left a distinct sartorial footprint in our cultural memory. As a sort of “anti-blazer”, it defied the strict silhouette of the suit which drew on earlier styles of tailored military uniforms. Seen on the likes of John Lennon, Jane Fonda, and John Kerry to name a few, the utilitarian field jacket has remained a symbol of fringe fashion and counterculture. Modern reinterpretations, such as the ‘Kilgore’ jacket from Visvim and the ‘Hanoi’ jacket from Aspesi, hark back to youths of the 1970s and 80s who donned the jacket in protest of war.
High-street fashion houses have also drawn inspiration from punks who re-appropriated the garment to signify their rejection of traditional gender and fashion norms. Indeed, Saint Laurent and even firearms giant Beretta have each come out with their own women’s field jackets to add to the collection. Like the traditional suit, the practicality and aesthetic appeal of the military jacket resonated too with women.
More recently, streetwear brands have produced their own interpretations. Off-White has appropriated the M-81 Woodland camouflage jacket from the 1980s, with patches typical of 70s punk and anti-war jackets. Similarly Alexander Wang’s repurposing of the M-65 exaggerates the original’s features with deliberately oversized collars, dip-dyed motorcross fabric panels, and a hoodie inspired hide-away hood.
Locally Australian designer, Christian Kimber, has launched a ready-to-wear collection that includes a military jacket. Adjusted to our tempestuous climate, it promises a unique take on the garment with its grey overcheck shell and streamlined design. Field jackets, available from Trunk Tailors, Eidos and Stoffa, are more inspired by traditional tailoring. Workwear purists however swear by the painstaking reproductions produced by Buzz Rickson and Real McCoy’s made from vintage deadstock parts.
With the forecast for a cold snap, grabbing a military jacket would hardly go amiss when you’re not in the mood for a blazer. Chances are, you’re likely to find one version or another that you can easily throw on top of anything from pleated trousers to your favourite jeans, for a rugged casual look. And hey, if it’s good enough for the likes of James Dean and Elvis Presley, it’s good enough for me.