Wardrobe veterans: why military style has enduring appeal in menswear
“All the iconic pieces in the male wardrobe derive from the military,” says Massimo Pigozzo, creative director at the Venice-based label Barena, referring to the naval pea coats, pilot’s bomber jackets, trench coats and pocketed trousers that have long infused the civilian male closet since being invented for use on the battlefield.
Pigozzo, like many menswear designers, draws endless inspiration from the distinct silhouettes, trappings and colour palettes of military garments — but makes them new for the modern man. This season, Barena offers tailored chinos and button-up overshirts with boxy cargo pockets, and flak jackets rendered in a fuzzy fleece — with a crisp shirt-style collar that makes it feel more weekend in the countryside than at war.
So inspired by the military is East Harbour Surplus (EHS), that the South Korean brand drew its name from it; these are not like the pieces frequently found in surplus shops, however. Button-up shirt-jackets are crafted from rich and sturdy wools, while the wide-leg cotton-twill chino trousers are inspired by vintage officer’s trousers. “Sometimes military is expressed overall in pockets, collars or silhouettes; sometimes it’s just the fabric and its texture,” says EHS’s co-founder Taemin Han. “It means even if the products are elegant, they feel very masculine.” The brand produces all its garments with artisanal workshops across Italy.
Aspesi also offers pieces for the more sophisticated soldier; its single-breasted Vodka II coat, in navy or light beige, blends casual fabrication with a more formal military jacket silhouette — it’s perhaps named after the Russian army’s tipple of choice in the trenches during World War II. Its field jacket, meanwhile, with four utilitarian front pockets, epaulettes and a hood hidden in the collar, is a remake of a 1970s original design. The military pieces we stock at Trunk are anything but rugged, however; the structured silhouette and elegant fabrication of each garment makes each jacket, shirt or trouser able to be styled with both boots and sneakers.
“We pick refined military products,” says Keita, our buyer. “Each have functional details, but with modern silhouettes that makes them very easy to wear. I have dozens of military pieces myself, and I really like to combine a them with tailoring. My perfect work-to-weekend outfit for autumn would be the Trunk Enford wool field jacket — which is a take on the classic M-65 coat worn by the US military — worn on top of our Wigmore blazer in Prince of Wales check. I’d wear it with a turtleneck, and East Harbour Surplus’ wide chinos in off-white. Alden’s Indy boots in a brown would finish the look off nicely.”
As with everything at Trunk, function is key. “Aspesi’s jackets are water-resistant and have a technical padding called Thermore, which is a useful, detachable lining for colder days,” says Keita, who also works on product development for Trunk’s in-house label. “Our Trunk Enford jacket is 100% wool but it is finished with a water-resistant treatment — we improved our design to include this as so many of our customers asked for it.” The ripstop fabric used by Barena for its overshirts, meanwhile, is ordinarily used for tents and other performance items as the fabric is impossible to tear; “it has a subtle pattern that gives a nice texture on the fabric, so the shirt would look nice paired with a Shetland jumper,” says Keita.
Heimat Textil’s knitted deck hats, which come in olive and navy as well as mustard yellow, are the very same as those worn by naval officers around the globe during night duty on ship; the rolled cuff can be worn up or down to protect your ears from the cold. Its breton striped Mariner sweater, meanwhile — in navy or ecru — is crafted from a chunky wool that will keep you warm whatever the weather. “The stripes were added [to the crew’s uniforms] to make it easier to spot a seaman in case of a man overboard situation,” says Heimat’s founder Christian Hofmann. It is here where fashion and function combine.
Keita thinks that military-inspired garments are utilitarian in other ways, too. "Many guys don’t like to carry a bag,” he says. “The big pockets on the jacket or trousers allow you to store everything you need, from your sunglasses to your wallet, a pen or even a small book or notepad.”