Growing up as the daughter of a former army man who fought in the Vietnam war and the granddaughter of a former Navy man who served in the second world war, I always viewed the military uniform as a sign of conflict. It was the clothing I'd see in family photos from an era before I was born or hanging in the closet of things my dad never wore. Serious clothing for seriously fraught times. A uniform meant to express power and, if all went to plan, world domination.
And then as a young college graduate freshly moved to New York, those same pieces became the backbone of my city wardrobe. I used military as streetwear to dress down my vampy tendencies: an MA-1 bomber jacket to add androgyny to an embarrassingly glittery body-con dress, for example, or an army utility shirt to wear with the tiniest leather shorts (I was 21!).
But as an editor seeing military references on a Paris runway for the eighth consecutive year in March, I had to rethink my entire life's worth of associations with the uniform. Yes, the streetwear element was still there, but at the opposite end of the trend spectrum was a sense of lightness and frivolity. As the looks walked on and off the runway, all the arguments I had ever read about the uniform as a means to 'power up' and 'soldier on' went out the window too.
There was my father's khaki brass buttoned jacket reimagined as a hybrid skirt-suit at Maison Martin Margiela. It was fabulously fanciful and gloriously impractical – as were the officers' jackets at Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy and Roberto Cavalli, decorated to Michael Jackson levels of gilded pomp and regalia.
Meanwhile, Burberry and Mulberry took the more useful route, but their interpretations of military – a shock of lime faux fur, for example, along with strips of red topstitching and rock star studs – were no less slick and playful. The same goes for the high street where Topshop's army green wrap skirt and silk jumpsuit is more martini-after-work than whisky-in-the-trenches. Whereas in years past, the military piece was the practical piece you used to dress down, it's now become the thing that dresses you up.
'I'm definitely into the contrast of "decorated" military – the idea of maximalist brooches, or brocade, or embroidery on stiff utilitarian fabrics. I like how it changes something that could be so classic into something more fun,' says longtime street style muse and Tank Magazine Fashion Director, Caroline Issa. She admits the military piece that gets the most wear in her wardrobe is also the most playful: 'I own an old pair of Valentino x Gap military green combat trousers, with frills! I live them,' she says.
'Military for me has always had a casual take,' says Laura Larbalestier, Womenswear Buying Director of Browns. 'But as we get into autumn/winter, it's become a new option for night-time dressing, something new to wear to an event.' Meanwhile, Lisa Aiken, Retail Fashion Director at Net-a-Porter says, the 'new decorative additions are the perfect way to turn a classic item into a trophy piece. Givenchy's red military velvet jacket is at the top of my wish list. I'll be throwing it over anything from a full Gucci ensemble to a pair of jeans for the weekend. '
Yes, the world is still at war. But the new trendy military is pure escapism. Autumn/winter's soldier has gone AWOL and run off to live her best life somewhere – one that ideally doesn't have Wi-Fi, all the better to tune out all those news alerts of the latest conflicts. If reality is all sobering news headlines, fashion resolutely remains the conduit to the dream.