Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Having a Fit over Military Looks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Having a Fit over Military Looks

Article excerpt

EPAULETTES WERE born to reinforce the shoulders of military uniforms at a time when men fighting hand-to-hand with sabers faced a clear and present danger of being (literally) disarmed.

As guns replaced swords, the shoulder protectors evolved into de corative shoulderpieces dripping with gold spaghetti. And now, in vestigial form - those official-looking tabs that button down onto the shoulders of military shirts - they're showing up on a startling number of fall dresses, shirts, coats and jackets.

Startling because, from the Franco-Prussian War through World War II, military details and silhouettes have tended to filter into civilian fashion in times of war: Folks on the home front adopted brass buttons and braid or nipped waists and soldierly shoulders almost as part of the war effort, a way to identify with the men (and more recently women) in the real uniforms.

So why now? The Cold War's over, and peace is threatening to break out from Bosnia to the Middle East. How come Seventh Avenue is up to its eyebrows in epaulettes?

It looks suspiciously like one more rerun. Fashion has pretty well used up the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s. We've seen Barbie dolls and rich hippies, UPS men and Jackie clones, monks and nuns, as well as plaid-kilted schoolgirls and motorcycle outlaws. Military uniforms could be one more costume dragged out of the attic by an industry bereft of new ideas.

But Richard Martin thinks there's more to it than that. Martin, director of the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute in New York, curated a show last year that focused - presciently - on the history of military influence on fashion. In his view, designers' present interest in uniforms is part of a long, slow pendulum swing away from the excess and bigness of the 1980s.

He thinks there are two things going on. The fashion Zeitgeist, fleeing the flashy, poufy, big-buttoned, designer-logoed conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, has latched onto the military aesthetic in pursuit of what Martin calls "a disciplined style of dressing. …

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