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

Don’t Be Racist (or, Haley Wornette’s Thoughts on John Galliano)

Very little about the whole John Galliano mess surprised me – the allegations seemed plausible, and the video was just the proverbial nail in the coffin. Even though I know it’s supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, I also know that where there is smoke there is usually a racist. (That’s the expression, right?)

What did surprise me, and I mean this in the best possible way, was LVMH’s swift and decisive action: immediate suspension, followed by termination. It surprised me because it seemed like such a reasonable response to a terrible situation. Lets be real, the fashion industry is not known for handling these situations reasonably.

In any other profession, just the allegations of offenses like anti-Semitism, racism, sexual assault, or child labour law violations would be enough to get someone fired. Yet when it comes to people in fashion – be they designers like Galliano, editors, stylists, photographers – there seems to be a never-ending stream of people who rush to the guilty party’s defense. It’s all a conspiracy. He’s a sweetheart. He was provoked. She apologized. You’re being too hasty. By far the worst defense I saw was that Galliano could not possibly be racist because “[his] multi-ethnic shows, celebrating the beauty of nomadic worlds, and looking into visual languages of forgotten minorities (from everywhere on this planet), has brilliantly proved it to everyone from collection to collection since years.” Being “inspired” by a culture’s fashion doesn’t mean you can’t hate the people wearing it.

The fashion industry does not get a free pass on bad behaviour just because they happen to create great clothes. It goes without saying that John Galliano is an incredibly talented designer, but he’s an employee of LVMH first. An employee who professes to love Hitler simply cannot remain on the payroll of a responsible corporation. Well played, LVMH – I hope that more businesses follow in your example. Most importantly I hope one day I won’t feel like applauding those who stand up for basic ethics like “don’t be racist.”

- Haley Mlotek

Max Wornette

While it is a great honour to be the first male Wornette, it is also a great responsibility, one which I will not take lightly. I know my historic internship shatters boundaries and I hope I represent my gender well. Although my academic background is in history, I have avidly followed fashion since I was 14 and the glittering world of John Galliano broke up the bleak days of high school. After a Kafkaesque Masters program and a quarter-life existential crisis, I escaped to Ireland where I got to read for fun, make international friends and visit Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Berlin. But, like Dorothy Gale, I’m figuring out that to find happiness, sometimes you need to go no further than your own backyard. I am currently taking journalism classes at Ryerson, pondering the possibilities of freelance writing, and am overjoyed to be involved with a publication for which sorting through my cluttered stacks of old fashion magazines can be considered research.

Current Inspirations

Manish Arora
I just saw this designer, who has been referred to as the John Galliano of Indian fashion on Fashion Television. He spoke about how India, long acknowledged for its incredibly beautiful textiles, has not been traditionally known for interesting shapes, the sari being essentially a large piece of rectangular fabric. I’d love it if Mumbai became the next Milan.

Go Fug Yourself
I have become addicted to this blog written by two smart, sassy women about the (mostly) fashion mistakes that celebrities make. Although their snarkiness is laugh-out-loud funny, deep down you know that they have a sincere fondness for the zany stars and outfits that they lampoon.

Zachary Koski
Zachary Koski is a Toronto-based photographer I just heard about. Some of his photos are fashion-y, others are just simply gorgeous.

Shorpy updates constantly with high-definition old photographs of, among other things, cities, buildings, cars, athletes and well-dressed women. It is so easy to only associate past eras of clothing with their perspective cinematic eras and I’d found it useful to follow this site to see what women who were not movie stars dressed like in the past.

What Would Emma Pillsbury Wear?
This blog is dedicated to the prim fashions of Jayma Mays’s neurotic but sweet teacher character on Glee, which by this point you’re either watching or you’re not. Each era needs its television style icon, and is it too early to suggest cute Miss. Pillsbury as the Carrie Bradshaw for our jittering, anxious times?