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The Military Aesthetic

The largest industry in the world is the military; it seems that we humans are very good at spending large amounts of money and energy finding new ways to kill one another. What’s more, some of mankind’s greatest achievements come directly off the back of military development and some might argue that if it were not for World War Two, we might not be where we are technologically today.

In the west it’s near impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the boob tube and not see some sort of military action. Visual reference to the military has become part of everyday life, desert tan and woodland cammo. Is it any wonder then that unknowingly or otherwise, the military aesthetic is creeping into everyday life, in what we wear, drive and ride?

Let’s remove the obvious association with war and look at military equipment from a purely aesthetic and functional point of view. By its very nature equipment designed for the military has to be highly functional. No grace is paid to style or flair, it needs to work, do a job and that’s where it stops; after all, armies are not fighting for fashion stakes. Military designs are free of embellishments, superfluous details and unnecessary trims. In some ways one could regard military design to be the purest form of design, where the strict purpose, functional parameters and the end user are the only important attributes. It is in this very spartan set of parameters though that military design has developed its own sense of ‘function over form’ aesthetic, it’s pure, simple and true. It’s often very aggressive by default. Strangely enough, this extreme version of form follows function has developed into an aesthetic that is now flowing over into the civilian world.

In questioning why this is happening we need to look at what modern products need to achieve in order to be successful, as well as the societies they exist within. More than ever products need to say something about those that buy them or convey a certain feeling of some sort to the purchaser, or the purchaser’s ‘audience’. For many, a product allows a sense of mental escape, even as they sit at their desk in the 9-5. A product purchase, big or small, allows a consumer to mentally escape the world around them, ‘militaryesque’ styling and function caters to these prerequisites at several levels…


Cargo Pants: The most ubiquitous form of militarisation in civilian attire. The cargo pants are a direct copy of that most basic of items in a soldiers attire. One can not attribute their huge success to the loose or casual fit, nor could one say that the civilian versions are the easiest things to care for – with all those added pockets and zippers etc., they look a right wrinkled mess when they come out of the dryer and are an ironing nightmare (if you try to dewrinkle them). Truth be known, the civilian versions are often far more complex than their military counterparts. A walk down any street on the weekend though and you will see men, women and children walking around looking like they just stepped out the back of a Chinook, especially with the current camouflage trend. So why the mass uptake?

Cargo pants represent a form of function that can be associated with sorties into the environment. The pockets, zippers and loops give the impression that the wearer needs to be self sufficient for long periods at a time – each pocket can be jammed with vital supplies or survival equipment. Often the legs zip off, you know, when the weather gets hot and you need to convert your only bit of clothing to allow for the impending hot weather. The appeal is very subliminal but when the wearer puts them on, they are mentally stepping away from society,

even if it is to go down to the shops for a litre of milk. The added trend of camouflage or primarily military type colours such as olive drab only adds to the escapism, though if one thinks about it, the sense of escapism associated with camouflage is not one most people would ever want to be part of.


Carry gear is ripe for military type styling, especially since there are really only two trends, outdoor and quasi military.

A bag, or pack, is the next step up from the cargo pant. Where the cargo pant gives the impression of an outdoor escape, a bag or pack makes one actually feel like they are going on a sortie every time it is picked up. Military styling then adds a certain element to what can normally be a mundane item. Buckles and straps, webbing loops and superfluous pockets make one feel like they are about to jump out of an aircraft while giving the impression to those around you that ‘hey, this person’s serious’.


Hummer: By now not a night goes by without seeing an olive drab or desert tan Hummer, or ‘Humvee’, rolling around some middle eastern country. The boxy, big wheeled vehicles are the military equivalent of McDonald’s.

What though is the attraction of the civilian versions? Unlike any other vehicle on the road, the Humvee transmits a level of aggression to other road users that could only come from a military vehicle. This visual and physical presence comes from not only the association of the vehicle with the military but also from

the sparse utilitarian styling, with very little niceties paid to keeping its civilian market appeased. While mechanically the Humvee might be a superior design, for civilian use there are many for more capable, economical and rationalised alternatives. By buying a Humvee, a consumer is telling the world to not fuck with them in a way that could never be achieved through driving a Toyota or Mitsubishi.

In a more toned down sense, many four wheeled drives and larger SUV type vehicles attain their styling ques from a military aesthetic, especially those coming out of American design styling studios. They portray and aggressive and utility styling of military vehicles, bestowing their owners with a certain outwardly aggressive stance towards other road users. ‘Fuck you, I’m here’ seems to be the tone…

And on it goes. Electronics to foot ware, sun glasses to snow sports, the military aesthetic is creeping in and adding its own element of style and design. Is it right? That comes down to the way you look at the world or the way you want the world to look at you.

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