Five Menswear Staples with Old-School Military History

Take some style cues from the utility-driven history of these pieces.

To say clothing with a military influence is popular in modern-day menswear is an understatement. But it's not just recent designs that use the armed forces as a reference point.

Nearly all modern men’s clothing, both informal and formal, has a lineage that can be traced back to utilitarian roots, and the armed services are a key factor. Case in point: these five military menswear pieces that have been taken out of the war zone and into civilian style.


M-65 Jackets

Developed in the mid-'60s (the clue is in the name), the M-65 Field Jacket was an essential uniform component for American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Infantrymen on the frontline needed a jacket that was lightweight and durable, but would also keep them warm during the monsoon period, when the climate changed severely.

So the M-65 was born. The innovative design included a roll-away hood, velcro cuff fasteners, and most importantly, a detachable insulating liner for cold weather. If you want one of your own, look for one that's fitted with a drawstring waist, which lets you easily slim the torso down for a less military, more modern silhouette. Its enduring civilian popularity most likely comes from a mix of its army style and straight-up practicality. Wear one, and you'll look tough, stay safe from changing weather, and have more pockets than you know what to do with.


T-Shirts

For arguably the most popular – but also the simplest – garment the menswear lexicon, it’s strange to think that the T-shirt even has a history. It’s so ubiquitous that it feels like it’s been around forever.

The modern tee as we know it was issued as an undergarment by the US Navy around 1913, to keep soldiers' sweat off of the more expensive pieces of uniform. The name, in case you hadn't already figured this out, comes from the simple "T" shape design of the body and short sleeves. And although the style was issued by the military, it quickly became the symbol of youthful rebellion when adopted by soldiers returning to civilian life in their blue-collar jobs.

Icons of 1950s teenage angst Marlon Brando and James Dean elevated the simple cotton number into an indicator of sexuality and danger, at a time when wearing something so simple and revealing was a major statement.


Combat Boots

There are so many types of these out there, it’s impossible give a succinct round up of each. For every army, there’s a boot. So let’s just say since recordings of combat, there has been a combat boot – even the Romans used a hobnail boot, or "caligae," when marching.

Let's stick to the modern day, though. Much like the t-shirt, the combat boot turned from a piece of military gear to a statement of anti-authoritarian intent as it was picked up by various fashion subcultures. Like British skinheads in the 1960s, who paired them with turned-up denim and braces, or the 1970s punks, who threw them on with anything.

The greatest quality of leather combat boots is they get better with age: the more scuffs and scratches they pick up, the more life they seem to acquire.


Bomber Jackets

Also known as the flight jacket. This style was introduced as the Type A-1 Flying Jacket for pilots in WWI, but it wasn’t until WWII that the shorter-fitting A-2 Jacket was introduced. That was subsequently refined with the shearling collared G-1 Jacket that are still in use today, which you might recognize from a little movie called Top Gun.

Even if you're not a fighter pilot, the style is a strong choice for a leather jacket, with its comfortable knit ribbing and a fold-down collar that's itching to be flipped up.

In the Korean War, the design pivoted by eschewing bulky leather and the folding collar in favor of a simpler nylon design, creating the MA-1 Jacket. The pared-down, jet-age design has carried into low-key civilian style as a lightweight piece of casual outerwear, with all kinds of slim and street-ready renditions.


Cargo Pants

As anyone who (regrettably) dove headfirst into the skate and nu-metal scene in the late '90s can attest, the cargo pant holds a special place in the menswear history books, locked away in a metaphorical memory-file labeled "awful." But forward-thinking designers have been doing their damnedest to resurrect the style.

The original bulky design, introduced in 1938 by the British Armed Forces, provided large pockets to stash essentials while on the move: medical supplies, maps, and tools. That was extra helpful while on the go, and the functionality then carried over to the homefront.

It should be noted that the new-school cargo pants you want have a modern, extra slim leg. That gives them a much more flattering cut that can work with almost everything – from a denim jacket to a tweed blazer – so long as you leave your '90s nostalgia behind.

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