Salute to Style: The Military's Influence on Fashion

Fashion has always championed individualism and self-expression. In contrast, the military has devoted itself to uniformity. Despite contrasting aesthetics, military-wear has had a profound influence on wardrobes everywhere.

Story by Myah Taylor

A Brief History

Often utilized to make political statements or convey coolness with its functionality and utilitarian aesthetic, the military’s influence on fashion has been visible for decades.

In the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent conceptualized a sort of “soldier chic” with the engineering of his famous military-inspired peacoat. Pea coats were originally worn by members of the navy, but today, there is no need to sail the seas to rock one of these chic jackets.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Hippies and young people protesting the Vietnam War sported army-inspired cargo pants as well as bomber jackets inspired by the “flight jackets” worn by Air Force crew members during the World Wars.

Photo courtesy of Curtin/AP via The Washington Post.

High school sports culture adopted this style through the use of letterman jackets, and scooter boys wore version of these jackets as they cruised through the streets in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Photo courtesy of The CW.

These jackets have since evolved into styles that are seen today. Some styles are more influenced by street style and hip hop culture, while others, like the one pictured below, mirror the aesthetic of the classic flight jackets worn by Air Force pilots.

Photo courtesy of Overland.

Activist groups, like the Black Panthers, used military inspired uniforms to communicate unity and empowerment. Their "urban militant" look consisted of a black leather jacket, black pants, and black sunglasses. The most influential piece of their uniform was a beret, first worn by European militias centuries ago and currently worn by members of the US Army. To the Panthers, the beret was the international hat for the revolutionary.

Photo courtesy of CBS News.

Flight Training School or Fashion Statement?

Every great outfit needs accessories, and people typically look for a nice pair of sunglasses to top off their look. Enter aviators. These glasses were first worn by Air Force pilots, and they were later popularized by the likes of Tom Ford and his contemporaries. Aviator sunglasses have allowed people to fly high-in style.

Photo courtesy of Tom Ford.

Blending in or Standing Out?

When people think of the military, they usually think of camouflage. There is no doubt that this pattern has infiltrated trends everywhere. Camouflage was created so that soldiers would blend in with their environments, but in the fashion world, camouflage will make anyone stand out.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Conrad.

Boot Camp

Combat boots were, and still are, used by soldiers when combating enemies, but now they are used by civilians to grunge up an outfit or combat the cold.

Photo courtesy of Citizen Couture/ Getty Images via

From Identification to Jewelry

Dog tags were initially worn as a form of identification for military members, but their role has since evolved. Today, it’s common to see people sporting them as necklaces.

Photo courtesy of Flail.

Marching to the Beat

Famous artists have not shied away from embracing a military aesthetic during public appearances or performances.

When Michael Jackson won a record eight Grammys in one night at the 1984 ceremony, he was rocking a pair of aviators and a jacket with military inspired embellishments. He was the King of Pop, but that night, Jackson looked like a high-ranking officer.

Photo courtesy of Ron Galella/WireImage via

During Britney Spears’s Circus Tour she was often dressed like a soldier with caps, embellishments, and the like. Spears’s album Circus was a comeback project following her tumultuous 2007, and she returned with a bang. In the title track “,Circus,” Britney sings, “I’m like a ringleader, I call the shots.” Through her use of military inspired costumes, she matched the bravado of her lyrics, looking like a woman in command.

Photo courtesy of Picssr.

And finally, during the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show, Beyoncé and dozens of dancers took to the field clad in strappy ensembles reminiscent of Black Panther uniforms. Super Bowl 50’s headliners were British band Coldplay. The attention should have been on the band, but when Beyoncé stepped onto the field, it was her show. Her performance of her single “Formation” coupled with her militant costume celebrating black power garnered controversy, but what’s a fashion statement if a few feathers aren’t ruffled?

Photo courtesy of Essence.

There is a lot that society can thank the military for and its contributions to fashion are among them.

Photo courtesy of Giphy,

Photo courtesy of Giphy,