Camouflage fashion: why the army and navy’s patterns are back on the high street

Like content management systems. Or Dropbox. Or the fact that your Twitter app, defiantly out-bro-ing you, has just sent you a message saying “the request has been understood, but it has been refused”. You wimps.

Don’t worry, though – fashion, of course, has the answer: a huge variety of new clothing for spring 2013 that plays with that most masculine, rugged and ready-for-duty print, camouflage, promises to put a little bit of manly swagger in your step as you tiptoe back and forth between your comfy chair and the Nespresso machine this February.

The camo trend started, as they tend to, in Paris last June, where brands such as Valentino, Kenzo and Dries Van Noten fielded the pattern in a plethora of weird and wonderful varieties, exotically riffing on different archive examples and straying dramatically from the traditional. And this is the reason why the camo comeback, now it’s filtered down and become pretty much ubiquitous, is not just another lazy 1990s re-hash (though those are most definitely on-trend too).

“The difference with camouflage this season versus how it has been worn in the past is that designers have experimented with lots of variations of colour and moved away from traditional blacks and greens,” says Toby Bateman, buying director of premium men’s e-tailer

“There’s been pink and blue on blue and this moves it far away from military influences.” Of course, in a fashion context, camo is essentially pretty far away from the barracks anyway, as stylist and fashion consultant Stephen Mann neatly points out. “In fashion the pattern is always performing the opposite of its designed purpose,” he says. “It’s making the wearer stand out rather than cloaking them, as it does in the field.”

Pink camo? Standing out? Doesn’t sound very menswear does it? That’s why there’s a bit of a handle-with-caution label on this look. Given that you can get a camo backpack at River Island, a matching cap at Kenzo, an abstracted camo safari jacket at A.P.C. and zany kimono camo shirt from Gitman Bros, you could easily max yourself out in the stuff, in every colour imaginable. But you shouldn’t.

“If you treat camouflage as you would any other print then this immediately makes it more grown-up,” says Bateman. “It should be a highlight or a ‘pop’ of an outfit to be teamed with classic items – the subversive nature of camouflage adds impact to a classic look.”

Other tips and tricks? Try picking out individual colours from a camo print, as Dries Van Noten did at his spring 2013 show, and coordinate with a tonal shirt or jacket. Finally, though Mann is absolutely right when he says that camo is about “adding a touch of flair or fun” to an outfit, you should really go for shoes or a bag rather than yet another funky iPad case. That’s not the point.

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