Like most staples of modern menswear, Disruptive Pattern Material (that’s DPM for short—aka camouflage) has serious history.
The hand-crafted camo above (top left) was painted by Eugène Corbin in 1914, when the French military first commissioned artists to experiment with less-visible uniforms (advances in long-range weaponry having deemed the traditional, brightly colored infantry coats utterly obsolete).
To the right of that is an ‘Elm Leaf’ motif first worn by Cuban military advisers. Third over is the distinctive ‘Tigerstripe’ pattern, a Vietnamese version of the French ‘Lizard‘ print. Below those three is a modern twist on traditional British DPM from the ’60s, designed in 2004 by London brand Maharishi—whose founder, Hardy Blechman, literally wrote the book on camouflage.
(Check out Blechman’s detailed history of 25 camo patterns at Complex.com.)
The work of naturalist and painter Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921) influenced the initial creation and implementation of military camouflage in WWI. In his succinctly titled 1909 book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise Through Color and Pattern; Being a Summary of Abbott H. Thayer’s Disclosures, he contended that even ornate animals (like a peacock, above) are well-adapted to blend into their surroundings.
(Much more information on Thayer and his paintings at The Smithsonian.)
Soon Italy, Germany, America and Russia followed France’s lead, innovating and experimenting with camouflage styles of their own. The proliferation of unique patterns was not based on artists’ whims alone, however—this was serious science. Members of the US Engineering Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) became experts in dyestuff chemistry, color science, and spectrometer measurement.
In the ’70s and ’80s, members of underground subcultures like punk and the increasingly political reggae of the time began donning combat gear—not as a fashion statement so much as a symbolic declaration of their own aggressive opposition to violence, injustice, and mainstream society at large.
(The Clash, 1982. Photo by Bob Gruen, via The Selvedge Yard. Click through for many more classic Clash images.)
Today, you don’t have to reject society to wear camouflage—but it does add a rebellious vibe to anything you pair it with (especially a suit). Just bear in mind: Pulled out of their element and placed in the concrete jungle, naturalistic camo patterns do the opposite of what they were invented for—they stand out. Which means even a little camo goes a long way.
(Photo courtesy of the pattern-mixing masters at Street Etiquette.)
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[Photos via Complex, The Smithsonian, The Atlantic, The Selvedge Yard, and Street Etiquette. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]