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A brief history of camo

A brief history of camo

The camo print is nothing if not ironic. Originally, it’s raison d'etre was to conceal, blend in, and protect soldiers. Now, it is worn as a means of standing out from the crowd and making a statement. Oh, the irony. How did we get to this profoundly ironic state, we hear you ask? Well troops, we’ll happily fill you in. Warfare and the highly ranked camo print are inherently linked, but there’s so much more to the pattern than just combative connotations. The next time you don your camo overshirt or even just a pair of camo socks, you’ll be armed with the full backstory.

The original camouflage patterns were hand painted by a team of fine artists who were enrolled as camoufleurs for the French army in WW1. They were enlisted as experts in concealment, and painted equipment and positions to blend in with the ground and sky. Picasso, humble as ever, claimed that the dazzle patterns introduced were in fact cubist; “Yes, it is we who made it, that is cubism,” he supposedly said. Once the word spread about the art of camouflage, other armies got on board. The adoption of camo prints pervaded every subsequent war, and spread to uniforms. Rather darkly, the print determined life or death, and sometimes even friend or foe. 

As is the way of human existence, we rebelled, and men and women far from the trenches began claiming the pattern as part of their wardrobe. No one can quite pinpoint when camo became more than just a military ploy, but some attribute it to when veterans and civilians alike began sporting the print as an ironic message of protest against the Vietnam War. Thus, a counterculture was born. Wearing camo became a way for peace-seekers to subvert warfare by seizing the print and giving it new meaning.

Ever the pop culture commentator, Andy Warhol’s parting piece before his death was his Camouflage series – a comment on the pattern’s paradoxical harmony of identity and disguise, of its ability to stand out and also blend in. Punk groups, like the Clash, re-appropriated military garb alongside politically angled lyrics. And the fashion world soon picked up on the craze, with designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, and Yves Saint Laurent incorporating camouflage in their collections to add edge.

From the 80s onwards, rap and hip-hop artists – including the Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy and Tupac – invited camo into their urban aesthetic. This solidified the print as an emblem of streetwear for all involved in street culture, from the designers and artists to the skaters and rappers. 

This brings us to today, when camoflauge means everything and nothing, and belongs to everyone and no one. It weaves in and out of fashion cycles based on people’s perceptions of it. We’re big fans over here. Worn as the main focus of an outfit, like a coat or trousers, it stands out with confidence. As an accent, it adds a dash of intrigue. From tigerstripe to brushstroke, there’s also a plethora of camo prints to choose from – and we encourage mixing and matching. Try a different colour to make even more of a statement.

Camo is indisputably the chameleon of clothing, consistently misinterpreted and incredibly powerful. Like the camo print, chameleons are associated with disguise for protection. But little known fact: the lizards actually change colour to communicate their mood or state of mind. So troops, we say set aside warfare and take your cues from the chameleon; we can’t think of a better reason to wear camo than to show the world who you are.


Words: Ashiana Pradhan
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Luke McDonald