A Pattern in Disguise

10 things you never knew you needed to know about camouflage

For a pattern, camouflage carries a loaded history. It was invented to trick enemy eyes and its ability to break up a silhouette, be it human or artillery, made it the difference between life and death. In its early days, camouflage was an emblem of military might.

But like a chameleon, camo took on other identities. Remove it from war and camo is at attention, fit for punks and protesters. Remove the politics and camo is on runways, seen on the designs of Gaultier and Galliano.

For something that’s not meant to be seen, camo is everywhere.

1 // Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Camouflage takes its name from the French word camouflet, the act of maliciously blowing smoke into someone’s face to distort them.

2 // Sticks And Stones
The first recorded professionals in disguise were hunters. Their outfits were fashioned out of nature’s material: foliage, twigs, and a musky scent to go. Scottish gamekeepers took it up a notch and added burlap and netting to create the Ghillie Suit, turning men into walking shrubs.

3 // For the Birds (And the Rodents, and the…)
Early camouflage enthusiast Abbott Thayer was an American artist and natural historian. While analyzing the animals’ ability to disguise themselves with protective colouration, he came up with this crazy theory that the military should adopt this technique. Governments scoffed at his idea.

4 // Heavy Machinery
The disruptive patterns were eventually put to good use on artillery, tanks, aircrafts and ships during the First World War.

5 // Art Stars
One day, Pablo Picasso strolled the streets of Paris, and he spotted a camouflaged cannon. Upon recognizing the parallels with his Cubist art, he exclaimed, “It is we who created that!” (But, you know, in French.)

6 // Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle
Camo met costume in 1919 at the famous Dazzle Balls of London’s Chelsea Arts Club. The outlandish costumes featured abstract geometric shapes, bold stripes, and disruptive colours that broke up the silhouette. Created by British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, dazzle’s actual purpose was to cover huge battleships during WWI.

7 // Can You See Me Now?
When camouflage appeared on combat gear in the Second World War, soldiers complained that it exposed them. When the Vietnam War broke out, camo was clearly working for the enemy, and American soldiers came around.

8 // Know Your Stripes

Tiger Stripes > Overlapping horizontals in olive greens and browns. Worn by Americans during the Vietnam War. It evolved from the lizard stripes worn by the French.

U.S. Woodland > Large splotches of brown, green, and black on a khaki background. This is the camouflage we typically think of. Released in 1967, and still used by the U.S. military today.

Desert Storm > Features black and white pebble-like clusters on a beige and brown backdrop. Developed in 1962 and used during the Gulf and Iraq wars. Also called the “chocolate chip.”

Frog Skin > A reversible pattern displaying spots of green colours on one side and tan on the other. Created by Norvell Gillespie, inspired by amphibians.

Digital Camouflage > Pixilated patches in shades of green and tan. Also called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP). Marine Patterns (MARPAT) is a variation that incorporates blacks. Adopted by the Canadian military in the late ’90s.

Splittermuster > Composed of green and brown angular shapes on a tan background, with rain-like green lines on top. First issued to the German army in 1931.

9 // For the People
On the political battlefields, camo was a motif of ironic sorts among anti-war protesters in the ’60s, punks in the ’70s, and hip hop artists in the ’80s. Public Enemy made their public image a black and white version of the U.S. Woodland.

10 // Walk, Walk, Fashion Baby
By the 1990s, camo found itself all over fashion week. Gaultier created camo chiffon gowns while Galliano put the print on silk evening dresses. No label utilized the print more than the London brand Maharishi. Its designer Hardy Blechman once said: “[Camouflage] was no longer about concealment, but became a symbol. It has become for many, unconsciously, a first step towards spiritual renewal.”

further reading // Camouflage by Tim Newark

illustration // Andrea Manica

Crushing on Shi Wisdom

Heads up: this interview may inspire you to invest in a jumpsuit

Before even hearing Shi Wisdom‘s voice, she had me at her two-tone jumpsuit. I first saw the R&B songstress perform back in February. Her stage presence dazzled, both by her incredible talent as well as her vibrant style. An understated force in the Toronto music scene, she has collaborated with Drake, Kardinal Offishall, and JD Era. This past July, Shi released her debut album LVSPK. She spoke to me about her trademark look, the hypersexualization of black women, and the awesomeness that is Prince.

If you could define your style in one sentence, what would it be?
“I wear what I want, if it fits and flows.”

How did you dress as a kid?
As a kid, I bounced from really girly stuff to kind of tomboyish stuff. I didn’t have one set style. My mom has always had a dope sense of fashion and always hooked me up!

What else did your mom teach you about clothing and style?
She’s always taught me about wearing my size. She also taught me about when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to wear certain things. Those lessons have served me well throughout my life. What a woman wears and how she wears it has a great deal of influence on how she is treated. Especially being a black woman.

Mainstream hip hop has a history of ramping up the sex appeal of female musicians, to sell records or what have you. Have you experienced any pressure to look a particular way?
I’m a singer, but being a woman is the same in either genre. There’s always pressure to over-sexualize women, especially women of colour. I have no qualms with being sexy at all. My issues lie in the fucked up beauty perceptions that are continuously forced on Black women. I’m a brown-skinned, plus-sized woman. There will always be that voice from The Man that tells me to be lighter in shade and in weight. I definitely don’t counter losing a few pounds for the sake of a healthier lifestyle, but the skin lightening will NEVER happen. I’m a proud Black woman who is not afraid to be sexy, but not willing to sell my body in order to make the people hear what I have to say.

In what way does the music industry influence your look?
The music industry introduced me to consistency in style. Consistent style is a major part of branding. The more people recognize you for the little things, the better.

Is there a difference between a brand and a style?
Branding differs from style simply because a brand has to remain consistent, where style can change like the weather.

So your trademark septum ring would be part of your brand.
My horseshoe septum ring was just something I got because I loved the way it looked. At the time, I didn’t see many Black women in Toronto really rocking it, which drew me to it even more. It eventually became something that many people remembered me by. It became a part of my look. Now, it’s even a part of my logo. It’s totally me!

Is it true you may get signed on to a major label? Are you concerned about having to conform to a specific mold to sell records?
Anything is possible at the present moment in terms of signing to a major label. There are options there that I’m weighing. I’m certainly not concerned with having to conform to a specific mold to sell records. If my records don’t sell themselves, my style is not the issue at hand.

Your showy stage outfits are such a treat for fans. But how much of what you wear on stage affects your presence and mood?
The better I’m dressed, the more confident I feel. My outfits, while performing and in life in general, have a lot to do with how I feel in that moment (for the most part).

I still remember that flashy red and orange jumpsuit you wore. Where do you get all your fashion finds in Toronto? Do you ever make your own clothes?
That’s one of my favourite pieces! Love it! Unfortunately, I don’t make my own clothes. But, I will any day now. I have intentions of taking a few sewing classes.

I love thrift stores for the simple fact that what you find there, you’ll never find anywhere else. Also, the vintage stuff is made so well! Hence why those clothes stand the test of time and can still be worn today with confidence. They’re not making clothes like that anymore. They’re not making timeless clothes that last. Everything new I’ve bought likely won’t even last a year. It’s a shame, really.

You talk about taking musical inspirations from the likes of Prince, Bob Marley, and Amy Winehouse. Do you take any style inspirations from them too?
I wouldn’t say that I’m inspired by Amy or Bob’s style. Prince, though, inspires me to wear whatever I want to wear. He just did his thing and didn’t give a fuck!

OMG, Prince! He’s a fashion GAWD. What was your favourite ensemble?
It would be nearly impossible for me to pick my favourite Prince get-up. But here’s an awesome picture of him (one of many). I love what he’s wearing there!

Shi Wisdom’s Top Five Musical Style Icons

Erykah Badu > She’s totally in her own world and I love that.

Janelle Monae > She doesn’t switch it up often, but her look is classic and consistent.

Solange > Her style is colourful and playful and just UGH!

Beyonce > Always on point no matter what the outfit. She can do no wrong!

Kelly Rowland > She always wears such flattering, beautiful clothing.

photography // Brittany Lucas

A Checkered Past

Why tartan was banned in 1746, and nine other things you never knew about plaid

Tartan (or plaid in North American speak) is instantly recognizable by its mesmerizing, layered lines. We know it as the swatch of choice for schoolgirls and suburban dads, but long before that it was (and still is) a symbol of all things Scottish. Tartan has transcended tradition, going from a humble cloth of the Scottish Highlands to a timeless print with far-reaching appeal and a place in nearly every Canadian’s closet.

Back to school bonus point: there were fifty-three different kinds of plaid used in Clueless. See how many you can count on Cher in one of our favorite WORN supercuts here.

1 // Crisscrossing Languages
Tartan’s linguistic roots come from more than one language. Tiretaine (French) and tiritana (Spanish) both mean a blend of linen and wool. It’s also rooted in the Gaelic word breacan, which means plaid, speckled, or checkered.

2 // Strength in Number (of Fabrics)
Tartan is traditionally made out of two fibers – linen and wool. When woven with warp and weft, this binary composition gives tartan its supreme resistance. This material also goes by (fun word alert) “linsey-woolsey.”

3 // We are Family
Among Scottish clans, the lines of tartan run deeper than wool. Members of a family would wear a specific pattern to show others who their allegiance was to. The pattern could appear on a traditional Highland dress, a kilt, or a scarf. Consider it the classier answer to wearing an “I’m with them” shirt.

4 // Rebel Rebel
Thanks to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Scottish clansmen, tartan was banned in 1746 after they unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the British throne. Under the Act of Proscription, authorities believed tartan was an uncontrollable force of rebellion. Luckily for Scots and the fashion world alike, tartan returned from exile in 1782.

5 // Highland High
Ever wonder why tartan is ubiquitous on school uniforms? It goes back to 1851, when Queen Victoria brought her fashionable sons to the opening of the Great Exhibition. Her boys were clad in full Highland dress and it caused a sensation of Bieber proportions. Ever since, tartan has become a staple for private school dress.

6 // Slash and Burn
The British had it right. Tartan is a rebel. In the late ’70s, it became a staple among punks, thanks (in large part) to Vivienne Westwood. She and Malcolm McLaren of the Sex Pistols launched a London boutique called Seditionaries, specializing in punk clothes that defied the status quo. And it sure did. Westwood took scissors, chains, safety pins, and bin liners to the Scot’s swatch, turning tradition on its head.

7 // Springsteen Approves
Tartan is the unofficial fabric of American blue-collar worker. Paired with jeans, it has become synonymous with the hard working American. It became popular in the ’50s and ’60s after the manufacturing company Pendleton introduced the world to the plaid shirt, now a staple at stores like Mark’s Work Warehouse.

8 // Beauty is Only Skin Deep…
Designers the world over are intrigued by the criss-crossing lines – Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and Jean-Paul Gaultier have all tackled tartan, as have Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Jun Takahashi. The latter once had his models painted plaid from head to toe for a runway show.

9 // Cunningham Reports:
Following September 11, fashion photographer Bill Cunningham saw a surge in tartan among New Yorkers. He wrote in The New York Times: “Scottish tartans, plaid, checks, and tattersalls are a sign of fashion’s change of mood since September 11, a time when exaggerated silhouettes and theatrical flourishes have seemed out of touch. Many women reached into their closets for the toned-down style of plaids, which suggest the security of tradition.”

10 // Check Your Checks
It’s getting hard to keep up with the endless variations of tartan, so in 2008 the Scottish Parliament established the Register of Tartans, an online database that tracks every tartan ever registered. Just about everything has a tartan, from provinces (all but Nunavut have one) to organizations (Canadian Dental Association), from royalty (Princess Diana) to cute felines (Hello Kitty).

further reading // Tartan by Jonathan Faiers

illustration // Andrea Manica

Book Review: The Flight Attendant’s Shoe

It’s hard to picture a time when people would put on their mink coats and white gloves just to go flying. I don’t know about you, but for me, airplane attire is a ratty hoodie and slouchy sweats. But Prudence Black’s The Flight Attendant’s Shoe takes me back to a time when flying was a spectacular occasion that was nothing short of glamorous. Black chronicles the uniforms worn by flight hostesses of Australia’s international airline, Qantas, from 1948 to 2003.

Uniforms could seem like the antithesis of fashion—wearers are bound by restrictions, stripped of individuality, and awash in homogeny. But after the Second World War, becoming a stewardess was a dream career due to its chic allure, and The Flight Attendant’s Shoe quickly reveals that a relationship between utilitarian uniforms and high fashion does exist. Black contextualizes the subject within crucial events—changes to the flight attendant’s uniform echoed changes to the broader landscape of Australia’s social, industrial, and economic history.
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