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Brocade Cargo Pants: Did The Military Build My Wardrobe?

Brocade Cargo Pants: Did The Military Build My Wardrobe?

Today’s Post: A recent sewing project with a dash of fashion history

When “cool” comes up in the context of fashion, it certainly conjures an image. The concept is effortless structure waning neither too far to the side of restriction or sloppiness. When you think of the “coolest” style icons from the past hundred years I think it’s safe to guess that many of the following pieces were in their style arsenal:

Aviator Sunglasses. Bomber Jackets. Combat Boots. Trench Coats. Cargo Pants. 

What do all of those articles have in common? 

Yep. You got it. 


Designers can go on about the influences of nature and art in their work, but the truth is that everyone from teens to watchmakers go back to drawing inspiration from the military each season.  I’m not a political person but it doesn’t take much to see that almost everything in culture can be boiled down to social politics. Whether it’s art or activism or both, backlash and overcompensation in social change create trends across any medium.

Fashion didn’t transition from her eight-foot circumference hoop skirts into flimsy little flapper numbers because she wanted to be more beautiful. Likewise, the boxy, conservative looks from the 40’s weren’t replaced by Dior’s hour-glass “New Look” for the sake of appearance. These were social, political responses to what was happening in the world at the times. 

War, in terms of politics, has been wildly instrumental in changing fashion history. But today, war in terms of military costume seems to be the more prevalent and relevant influence over fashion. 

A New York Times Article, “INFLUENCE; Soldiers of Fashion" writes that “By appropriating elements of military style, designers can often co-opt the considerable bravery, authority and glamour still associated with five-star generals.”

Military fashion has been designed on the basis of practicality and uniformity. Every article must serve a purpose. Military costume has led to the innovation of some of our “coolest” articles in fashion, but also to many of our most practical everyday wears.

The New York Times (NYT) article attributes the birth of the necktie to the Thirty Years War when “Croatian mercenaries arrived in Paris dressed for battle with bright scarves tied so tightly around their necks that the men often fainted during maneuvers. The French, naturally, adapted the look, looping the scarves rather more loosely.” 

Likewise, The Crimean War has been given credit for both the cardigan and the raglan sleeve. The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon wearing the first “Wellies,” and the Revolutionary War brought on the first khakis that would later develop the khaki trench coat issued to Brisish fighters during WWI. 

The early days of the “White T Shirt” —  Photo:    houseoffraser

The early days of the “White T Shirt” — Photo: houseoffraser

Go read the full article HERE

A HIGHSNOBIETY article titled “The Military Influence on Fashion” has a similar compilation of examples to the NYT article including the innovation of the white T-shirt. According to the article, the white T-shirt became an official part of the U.S. Naval uniform in 1913 “as a means to both beat the heat in tropical climates and aboard submarines, and to avoid soiling their uniform while doing dirty jobs.”

Next came cargo pants.

British military personnel wore them first in 1938, and the U.S. military integrated them into their uniforms in the early forties. According to the article, “The Military Influence on Fashion” the side pockets initially were only on paratroopers’ uniforms, providing them with easy access to ammunition and radios.

So how does all of this affect us today?

I’ve never really considered my style to be influenced by military fashion, but now that I’ve read up a bit I think I could tie almost anything in my closet to military roots. I’ve always been drawn to military browns and greens without even realizing it. Olive green makes up about 40% of what I have. I’ve never paid more for anything than I was willing to dish out for my Frye combat boots and Jakett leather moto. Not to mention the aviator sunglasses I wear 362 days of the year or the fact that I wear t-shirts and cardigans every single day. If I gave a DNA test to everything in my closet, especially the pieces that I feel most “cool” in, they would definitely all test positive to military heritage.

And now… I have my very own pair of cargo pants. And they are COOL.


Cargo pants have been hyped up a lot this year. A Wall Street Journal Article from May called “Cargo Pants: The Most Hotly Contested Trend for Women” shares a take from Marina Larroude, the fashion director of Barneys New York, saying “Women really gravitate toward cargo pants. They love to wear something that’s practical for their everyday life but still fashion-y.” The article says that Barneys currently counts women’s cargo pants among its hottest items, with over 30 styles available on its website. “You can wear them with a bootie or sneakers if you’re walking around, and then if you do it with a sandal and a beautiful top, you’re ready for cocktail hour,” Larroude says.

They are honesty almost as easy to style as jeans and depending how the jeans gods have blessed you (or not), they are probably more comfortable. A lot of people in “serious fashion” hate cargo pants because they have pockets where your hips are supposed to be hiding and if they have elastic in the bottom they might make your legs look shorter, i.e. the second half of the “Cargo Pants: The Most Hotly Contested Trend for Women” article.

Nonetheless, I wanted me a pair. 

I bought the navy brocade fabric three years ago in New York’s garment district when my friend Brenda Broadbent was with me. I finally sat down and stitched them up last week. Sad, I know, but hey, I did it and I am so in love. The fabric is what makes these pants pop for me. I love juxtaposing fabrics and designs for garments that don’t usually go together. I want to put wool in an evening dress and floral brocade in army pants. 

I used my basic straight leg-pant sloper based on my measurements and designed pockets, waistband, and a fly zip based off of some fashion cargo pants I saw online and some historical photos from paratrooper cargo pants. 

World War II, U.s. Paratroopers inspecting parachutes before taking off on maneuvers in England, circa 1942.

World War II, U.s. Paratroopers inspecting parachutes before taking off on maneuvers in England, circa 1942.

I was nervous about making them a capri length with elastic because the little Tim Gun angel on my shoulder was quoting his contempt for cargo capri pants from his book, Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet the whole time I was sewing. According to His Majesty, capris make you look shorter and squatter which is not what a petite person wants to go for, but I attribute his pain to the horrible cargo/capri creations of the 90’s. So I brushed him off and tried to come up with a pair of cargos that feel entirely feminine and empowering to me.

So here they are!

Here is my new favorite outfit and a little more knowledge about fashion history than you may have woken up with this morning. Let me know your favorite military-inspired bits of fashion in the comments below! Who’s your favorite “cool” style icon?

Navy Brocade Cargo Pants Outfit

***Shoutout to Alex for snapping these iPhone pictures on the way to pick up Indian Takeout and look at kids books at the Book Bin!

The Look

Jacket: Jakett: Vegan Leather Moto Jacket // Top: ASOS DESIGN: Petite turtleneck long sleeve top // Pants: Navy Brocade Capri Cargo Pants by yours truly // Shoes: TUK: Black Suede Viva Mondo Creepers


More Cargo Pants Inspiration

Fall is for Floral and I Cannot Swim

Fall is for Floral and I Cannot Swim