Richard Gere, looking more pretty than warlike, sums up fashion’s continuing interest in military dress. It’s one that crops up every few seasons, but now it is being given a fresh look by being merged with utility (or workwear), the current catch-all phrase for fashionistas. Designers love dangly bits, and the military/utility look is awash with them.
Think dungarees, painters’ overalls, parkas and cargo pants. Add zips, Velcro fastenings and a few unconnected elastic belts, and you have a look that is as contrived and confused as anything could be, while masquerading as modern dress.
And we love it. Guys buy into it because it makes them feel like John Wayne or Action Man. Women wear it because, like the men’s suits they’ve been wearing for 20 years, it makes them feel in charge.
Ever since 18th-century soldiers entranced virgins on the village green, the military have had a power that transcends that of other men. Dress uniforms – all frogged jackets, tight pants and shiny knee boots – have had an aphrodisiac effect on women, and even men, for more than two centuries.
In these post-Vietnam days, military dress represents protest and nonparticipation for young people worldwide. But whereas the kids on the street wear the utility look with trainers, designers send them down the catwalks with strappy, stiletto sandals. Are they thinking of an entirely different war, or is it just that old habits die hard?
(First published January 2003)

Picture Source. Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman