For some, the fascination with G.I. Joe didn’t stop at the toys, the cartoon, or the neighborhood game of war. When it was time for the childish things to be put away, teens looked to the closet for their military fix, and there they found army surplus. At a time when the only uniform most teens could get was a paper hat and a double knit polyester outfit, slipping into an old colonel’s dress greens jacket offered the feeling of authority sans the smell of fry grease.
The United States military surplus became a wardrobe standard for militants, patriots and survivalists, but no other subculture took to it like the teenage rebel. Fascination with army surplus started out as an anti-fashion style for Vietnam War protesters, and was quickly adopted by the skinhead and punk movements of the 70’s and 80’s. Putting an ironic twist on the anti-establishment movement, punk rockers embraced military surplus clothing and supplies as a tongue-in-cheek display of their anti-patriotic political convictions. As punk rock moved from the political rebellion arena to the fashion forefront, fringe groups utilized the cheap, yet fashionable garb from the local surplus stores.
Skinheads adopted the nylon flight jacket to pair with their skinny, stovepipe leg jeans and Army combat boots. Punk rockers preferred leather bomber jackets and fatigues with their combats. New Romantics adorned themselves in Army jackets or navy peacoats, with ration satchels slung across their shoulders for purses. They too stomped around in the staple steel-toed boots.
Anti-fashion moved up the ranks, and Army fashion targeted the mainstream with movies like Stripes and Private Benjamin. No longer for the fringe anymore, clothing companies like Camp Beverly Hills, UFO and I.O.U. created fashion fatigues with their own labels prominently displayed across the chest instead of ‘ARMY.’ Olive drab color and camouflage print surfaced in everything from t-shirts to denim jackets, and dog tag chains replaced nameplate necklaces as the accessory of choice. Breakdancers adopted the combat pant as part of their b-boy uniform, and rap groups like Public Enemy brought urban commando chic to the public eye with black field jackets and combat caps. Day-glo camouflage print surfaced in the early 90's as a favorite of the hip-hop scene, and was quickly borrowed for a twist on the ‘kid’ theme of girl’s baby tees and dresses.
Army surplus is still a staple for the rebellious set, a strong statement of both fashion and anti-fashion. While teens will continue to shop at surplus for all of their defiant needs, military influenced clothing will continue to creep into the mainstream.
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