You can get a pretty good sense of the overall mental health of America based on the amount of camouflage being worn — outside of on-duty military personnel and hunters of course — at any given time.
Camouflage as ironic leisurewear for the elite took off in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a protest against the Vietnam War. As Tom Wolfe wrote in his epochal 1976 article “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” the New Left students of the 1960s “lived in communes that were much like the hippies’, except that the costumery tended to be semimilitary: the noncom officers’ shirts, combat boots, commando berets — worn in combination with blue jeans or a turtleneck jersey, however, to show that one was not a uniform freak.”
By the mid-1970s, the post-Watergate left had slashed America’s defense spending in Vietnam, and prohibited President Gerald Ford from retaliating against what would result in the NVA’s final push against South Vietnam. Having snatched American defeat in Vietnam from victory, that long war began to fade from American memory, and camouflage from college campuses.
But around 1978 and 1979, the Southern Californian-based skateboard culture embraced L.A.’s burgeoning punk rock scene. As photos in Skateboarder magazine illustrated, in the space of about six months, professional skaters decided they’d rather wear punk-inspired reactionary crew cuts than the flowing curly locks inspired by mid-‘70s rockers such as Peter Frampton, Roger Daltrey, and Jimmy Page.
In the early 1980s, England’s Clash embraced a paramilitary look and an album titled Combat Rock. Simultaneously in L.A., the Powell-Peralta Skateboarding Company, which for several years had been selling urethane skateboard wheels called “Bones,” branded their pro skaters the “Bones Brigade,” a sort of paramilitary-styled proto-A-Team of skateboarding, and dressed them in camouflage T-shirts. Concurrently, manufacturers of knee and elbow pads and padded nylon skateboarding shorts began selling their protective wares in olive and tan camouflage colors. (These days, Tony Hawk, an early Bones Brigade member, shills Obamacare, removing the irony from the skate team’s early paramilitary look and bringing it full-circle into socialism.)
By the mid-1980s, the last vestiges of Carter-era American malaise had given way to an American rebirth under the popular and confident President Reagan, whose common-sense motto was “Peace Through Strength.” Punk Rock had largely dissipated. Professional skateboarding had collapsed into an underground sport, and camouflage seemed to fade into oblivion, replaced in the fashion world and pop culture inspired by preppy clothes, Wall Street’s navy blue pinstripes, and Miami Vice pastels.
Flash-forward to 2014. With Barack Obama working diligently in Carter-esque fashion to once again weaken American military strength, American fashion mavens have sadly discovered camouflage once again. Browsing through the Website that sells Ralph Lauren’s once-swank Polo line now produces unfortunate designs such as this:
Who on earth is buying these items? What sort of man would wear a camouflage bowtie? And where would he wear it? And why waste your hard-earned money on something that risks quickly going out of style?
Of course, if you really want to waste your money, why not camouflage footwear? Ralph Lauren sells a pair of camouflage driving shoes for $419.00. For about half that price, a pair of these Cole-Haan suede wingtips in either Desert Storm or Vietnam-era American camouflage can be yours:
You can do anything but lay off of my camouflage wingtips? Elvis and Carl Perkins weep.
As do I. The fashion world embracing camouflage does not bode well for the republic. The ebbs and flows of camouflage as a style trend seem to have a direct correlation between American dissipation and rebirth. Regarding the possibility of the latter, I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t see the second coming of President Reagan on the horizon for 2016. All the more reason why reliving the visual semiotics of the Carter Era does not make one hopeful for the nation’s future.
Update: I take it all back. Camo looks wonderful compared to this. As the old saying goes, the problem with nudist colonies is that they rarely contain people you want to see naked.