Military is one of those trends that strikes fear into the heart of many a committed shopper. It’s notoriously difficult to wear and has so many unpleasant associations – the mid 90s, Jodie Marsh, war – that many of us steer clear altogether. But that might prove hard this season, as not since All Saints topped the charts has the khaki colourway been so cool.
WAG’s favourite Balmain marched the look down the runway (left), with brassy detailing and fierce boots, while Max Mara, Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander Wang all showed collections with a distinct utilitarian flavour. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a default move of the fashion pack, to ‘go military’ every few years as a backlash against all the cupcake-cute florals that spring and summer inevitably dish up. But who, apart from Demi Moore and Scary Spice, can really pull it off?
Well, if the high street is to be believed, we all can. This time round the look is less GI Jane and more Little Drummer Boy, with buttons, embellishments and epaulettes adding some glitz to the mix, while shapes are a combination of structured and soft – think cropped jackets with draped jersey trousers and heels. The colours are softer too, with flashes of pink, coral and nude livening up the army tones. And best of all, there’s no camouflage print in sight.
It’s a move away from the purposeful butch of previous military trends, which tended to feel fancy dress if you let your Girl Power mask slip momentarily and squealed, or something. The military woman of 2010 is a hardy sort, make no mistake, but she’s more likely to be knocking back a cocktail than doing a jumping high-kick over a tank. She’s an adventurer. She wears peg-legged khaki trousers with industrial wedges and a softly draped blazer. She goes from the office to the bar without needing to run home and change. She never complains that her feet hurt.
But can we be the military woman? I’m a pacifist, for a start, but then fashion has never been too concerned with the reality of its motifs. Hooker boots? Lolita dresses? You see my point. Besides, the stumbling block for me, as I’m sure with lots of you, is the colours. Khaki and its dirgy cousins, stone, taupe and (shudder) beige have always been style no-gos in my head. They are colours for grown-ups; they feel ‘chic’ rather than fun.
I’ve ventured into the realms of military only once since I was 12, and that was with a parka. Having seen Quadrophenia a few too many times, I thought the mod staple would channel some sixties cool into my festival look, so I wore it for a summer over flowery dresses and blouses. I relegated it to the back of the wardrobe when I realized it made me look like a dumpy Geography teacher on a field trip. And there we have the most crucial rule of military dressing: clothe, do not conceal, your assets.
Those of us blessed with lean, boyish frames can do the parkas, the Breton tops and the braces to their hearts’ content, but my shapelier sisters need to take it in another direction. To embrace your lady lumps while staying utilitarian, try mixing in the underwear as outerwear trend – khaki shorts or trousers with a silky pink camisole is a great place to start. Or you could steer it toward safari and work a shirt dress or playsuit, keeping shoes flat and make-up low key to avoid the Anne Summers Does Solider Girl look.
Or if you’re still unconvinced, there are always accessories. Beaten leather satchels are having a massive moment right now, and wearing one with a cross-body strap is an easy nod to combat style. Likewise aviator sunnies, army boots and jewellery that looks like battle armour. Or failing all else, just put on Never Ever and pretend to be one of the Appletons. The 90s did worse things, after all.