This spring, camo has become my new navy. I never got into hunting, and the closest I've gotten to anything military was lots of shopping trips to the army-navy store. (And, once, attending a very chic wedding at Valley Forge.) Even so, a camouflage pattern is both familiar and iconic to me. And yes, almost as neutral as navy.
So many of my style references can be traced back to high school, and in 1976, the fast kids would hang out and smoke cigarettes in the school courtyard, which was officially designated as the "smoking permitted" area. (Can you imagine?) For them, the coat of choice was a twill jacket from the army-navy surplus store... often camouflage or just solid olive drab. In the teenage social order, these guys were known as 'hoods', I think probably from 'hoodlum', and this term has evolved quite a bit over time, but this was the Midwest and that was just what we called them! There was the occasional girl hanging around, but overall there was a strong masculine, bad-boy energy in the courtyard. They scared me, although my brothers spent a fair amount of time out there, too. So I think in the deepest recesses of my mind, camouflage represents something a little cool... a little scary... and definitely for the outsider. (I was on the cheerleading squad and these were not my people.) Years later, when I first met Sid, he often wore a camo overshirt that he still wears to this day. I was pretty sure he wasn't a 'hood' by then, but he did indulge in the occasional cigarette, and once you're grown up, you never really know what someone was like in high school... this was also a surplus-store find, and it is so soft and worn that my daughters still take turns nicking it from his closet.
These are personal associations of course, but camouflage is definitely having a moment. Evidenced from the fabric shows we go to twice a year, the print is absolutely a trend - it was EVERYWHERE. Silk, Lycra, cotton, wool, felt, tulle, nylon, linen, leather... you name it... it was done up in camo. We saw camos that were truly camo, and then ones that were rendered in pops of neon or pastel to mix it up. They gave me some flashbacks to the 80s, when the the very cool Stephen Sprouse used this pattern famously and liberally. His neon versions are still burned into every fashion editor's collective memory. At the time, it was so fresh and fantastic. I'm not sure what his high school's policies were on smoking zoning, but come to think of it, his own personal style was a bit 'hood' itself. But trends aside, I am telling you - you may need a little bit of this print in your closet, this season and always. We have always sprinkled camo into the line, but our latest iteration is in the safari shirt jacket. I have been wearing it nonstop since it got here. I wear it more as a shirt tucked in, but it is squarer in shape and can be worn truly as an overshirt à la Sid's. I feel a bit more 'safari' in this one than military (I think it might be due to the paler shades of green in the camo) and the tan one does scream Serengeti. It has the weight of a field jacket in soft cotton, and gives you the feeling that you could travel around in it for months and not wash it once.
And these are the magic words, because I am crazy about all things vaguely safari. I have never actually been to Africa (though I have sent a few of my daughters, who like lots of spoiled children, went to go and work in an orphanage in Tanzania.) I was envious, and thankfully, they were grateful, and I know my time will come. For now, the safari aesthetic is all in my head. I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on Sunday evenings. Marlin Perkins would show up with his chic safari jacket and gentle voice and we would be transported. Even more present in my mental editor-stylist scrapbook are images from the movie Born Free - a sappy animal-interest movie ALSO probably viewed as a family on a Sunday evening. The actress (or was it a true story?) was blond and natural-pretty and so cool in her khaki 'bush' gear. I wanted to be just like her, and even BE her, cuddling Elsa and the rest of the lion cubs.
Recently, I caught the tail end of the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney when I was in New York. I had never seen his huge canvas of camouflage, but it was there in all its iconic glory, right next to the soup cans and all the other Americana pop art that is burned into our psyche. It was spectacular, even in its familiar pattern. As neutral and classic as a gingham.. but edgier... maybe that was what Andy was getting at. Or maybe I am just thinking of the hoods. Who knows. I was too impatient to read the museum placard... better to make my own story up... which, for the record, I think is fine to do as an observer of any art. Of course, it is great to go back and read about it later if it is intriguing... but there is nothing wrong with a plain old wow, I like that.
And so whether it's Warhol, or Mutual of Omaha, or the school-sanctioned smoker's lounge memory in my head, I love this shirt and its solid khaki sister and the way I feel in them. It's been chilly in Atlanta, so I've been wearing them lots with white jeans and suede boots, but I'm looking forward to shifting to sandals when it warms up. It's good for 'weekend' as a jacket over a white tee or tank, and I think it would be awesome over a navy stripe to really get some pattern play going. Again - camo really is a neutral – so you can throw it on with nearly anything. Just take the attitude (but perhaps not the bad habits) of those hoods from Palatine High. Know who you are, and what influences you, and lean into it.