Who among us is not fatigued by militia members, the odd military wannabe – and now a significant number of the Capitol riot mob – running around at various events dressed in full camouflage military uniforms, when it is clear the last military maneuver many executed was a full-scale attack on the buffet line.
Known as “fatigues,” the work or utility uniform is what soldiers dress in for battle. In the 21st century armed forces, most fatigues are camouflage in tan or green patterns.
Whether it’s the Woodland battle dress uniform, introduced in 1981, or the tan-heavy Desert camouflage uniform, authorized in 1992, it’s clear today’s military camouflage uniform has been co-opted by groups with agendas that are far different from those the armed services intended.
After all, the camouflage uniform has a relatively short history as the wardrobe of choice for the entire military. Using camo started in select cases in World War I and spread to the Pacific theater in World War II. In Vietnam, “jungle fatigues” were worn by Green Beret Special Forces, Navy Seals and other elite teams.
Before that, everyone was green. To be more accurate, olive drab.
Here’s a simple proposal, let’s go back to what fashion writers could call a “classic collection” – the simple, olive drab, all-one-color utility uniform known to every veteran who served prior to the 1980s as, simply, “fatigues.” By going back to the basics, the military would save money, eliminate the competitive instinct among services to have “their own” camo and return camouflage clothing to those who use it responsibly – hunters.
Let’s face it, unless you are a 6’ 4”, 190-pound guy, camouflage fatigues just don’t look very good. If Vogue editor Anna Wintour or her fictional doppelganger the devilishly-wearing-Prada Miranda Priestly were describing camo uniforms, the word “dumpy” would no doubt be included in the first sentence.
Just recall a couple recent news events. Last month Army general Gus Perna briefed reporters on Operation Warp Speed, wearing camo. In June, Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wore camo during President Trump’s ill-considered “Bible photo op,” a fashion faux-pas he later apologized for. More importantly, both officers would have looked better wearing potato sacks than the loose, lumpy camos.
The classic olive-drab uniform looks great on almost everybody and, if the wearer uses starch judiciously, it can sometimes outshine the “dress” uniforms worn by troops on more formal occasions. The same goes for the classic all-khaki uniforms used in warmer climates.
A simple Google image search of soldiers from World War II, Korea and Vietnam reveals a better-looking uniform.
In addition, modern warfare often takes place in areas where camo is not needed. Desert locales and convoy roads hardly inspire patterns that troops can utilize to blend in with their surroundings. And meanwhile the growing use of drones and remote weapons often means soldiers could in theory dress in bathrobes to win a battle.
A case could be made that the Woodland camo pattern is of use in jungle and forest environments, and the special forces elite units should be allowed to retain their camouflage uniforms to handle those situations.
For the others: While no one wants to wear something that has “drab”in its color description, Coco Chanel got it right: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
US Air Force veteran John Wall is the author of Streamliner, a biography of designer Raymond Loewy.