Unexpected Layering: The Vintage BDU Camo Army Jacket

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Never thought I’d be a guy who wore camo, but I definitely caved.  It’s now one of my favorite pieces to wear!

Menswear gets a lot of its cues (especially jackets and coats) from miltary clothing.  While nothing beats a field jacket in olive green or a military trench in faded khaki, most of us agree that camo is the ugly duckling. It’s much more “army” than any of the plain greens, browns, and “pinks” that most garments are.  We’ve seen it tried to come back into menswear as button up shirts  and pants  though you might argue that it’s a much more streetwear vibe with no ties to classic menswear.  But that’s not the case anymore.

Ever since I saw the picture above (from Brycelands Co. in Japan) a little while ago, I was intrigued.  A vintage army jacket in camo  with tailoring? The mix of rugged and loose from the army jacket was contrasted by the cleaner, subtler colors of the waistcoat and tee (sweater?).  It’s hard to tell what a coherent outfit would have looked like, so I decided to study further.

Alessandro Squarzi is a bit of a menswear icon, due to his love of tailoring and American vintage clothing.  His vintage choices are more workwear/military instead of sartorial, but I think he wears it very well.  It seems that taking a page out of “casual military” style and wearing a camo army jacket with chinos and sneakers is a great way to make a better outfit that doesn’t have any overt military vibes.

This is an outfit by Anthony Madsen-Sylvester (toneloki) that also plays with a vintage camo military jacket. It’s less casual thanks to the use of loafers instead of  converse, but it gets the right vibes. Pairing it this way is less “neckbeard/junta enthusiast” and more slouchy, American  vintage-inspired.   It could be seen as the concept of sprezzatura: making something intentional look effortless and easy.  I’m sure most people would be wary of incorporating such a bold jacket into their outfit, but it looks so natural here.

Anthony wears the same jacket here, except he dresses it a bit further with a vintage sportshirt and adds the menswear beret.   It’s a bold look that I definitely like but can’t bring myself to replicated.  I’m not that deep into vintage workwear, so I kept searching until I found a look that I could get behind.

That’s when Kenji Cheung, owner of Brycelands Co, stepped up to the plate.

I feel like Kenji (and Ethan Newton as well) and I would get along, since we both have a deep appreciation for vintage, vintage-inspired, and contemporary classic menswear.  Here he is wearing his vintage BDU camo jcaket with a simple combination: a polo, pleated high rise chinos, and sockless loafers.  Like the looks of Alessandro and Anthony, it’s understated and doesn’t pull too hard in the military camp.

Kenji takes it a step further here by adding a nice OCBD (with a big collar) and a black tie.  Still understated and simple, but just enough additions to make it stand out.  I honestly compare this look to the field jacket, as it’s interesting enough to replace a suit jacket or sportcoat as a top layer.  Obviously it’s casual, so pairing it with chinos or flannels seems to be the right choice.

But here’s the real kicker: wearing it with 2/3 pieces of a chalkstripe suit.  It’s such a baller move that isn’t for regular guys, especially if you adhere to the either the vintage or the contemporary side of classic menswear.  Like this blog, the outfit worn by Kenji is somewhere in between.  Plus, the way he’s able to pair it with different outfits is nothing short of masterful sprezzatura.   So easy, yet it’s a move that’s definitely not for beginners.

It kinda reminds me if someone wore overalls, except this time the overalls were made from a suiting cloth instead of denim.  Either way, this was a look I could get behind.  I mean, it’s such a cool way to be a little bit different right? We’ve already looked at field jackets and chore coats with tailoring and I finally decided that it was time to add a camo jacket to this list.

EDIT:  Apparently, these jackets are the Tropical Combat ones , commonly seen on Vietnam era jackets.  They are characterized by their slanted pockets.  I definitely like them better than mine but hey, who cares; my camo BDU is still pretty cool.

My Jacket

I found this jacket for $15 at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, one of the biggest flea markets in the world.  It was sold by the same guys who sold me the chore coat when I was at Inspiration LA early this year! It was in pretty stellar condition (apart from a few frays and small holes at the pockets) and is a really great length for use as a casual jacket.  For such a small investment, I knew that it was worth it in order to try out a new look.
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Military stuff (and even workwear) is definitely not my strong suit, so I have to thank my pals on Facebook for the info.  This is a 1981 BDU (battle dress uniform) that is 100% cotton.  Unlike my weighty field jacket, this one is lightweight and functions like a shell.  It’s a little bit big, but military clothing isn’t supposed to be closely tailored.  The jacket is perfect to throw on with a tee shirt or sweater and can even be used as protection against a light rain.

You’ll notice that while the pockets “pouch out”, they aren’t as bellow-y as the ones you saw above.  Also, note that my breast pockets are straight while the one worn by Kenji are slanted. That’s because his is an older model (60s-70s, Vietnam era) while mine is more modern.

If you’re wondering, yes; I had it washed immediately after taking it home.

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Four flapped patch pockets and elbow patch.

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Button tab for fit adjustments.

These were the two labels found within the jacket and how my Facebook friends were able to tell me more about it. If you look closely, you’ll see that American Apparel made this jacket, which I think is crazy!  Though come to think of it, the military could have contracted a bunch of different makers to produce clothing. Under “pattern: combat” you can see a serial number of sorts, which says “DLA100-89”. Apparently the number after the dash is the manufacturer year!  Even though it isn’t super vintage like the Vietnam era ones, it’s still a cool piece that I couldn’t wait to style.

Casual Cool

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My first time wearing the jacket out was just as a simple outfit for after work hang outs.  Before I got off, I was wearing an Ethan Combo (grey trousers, blue jacket) with black tassel loafers. To prevent any complicated changes after work, I just packed a jersey knit pocket tee and my 501CTs.  To me the combo has some workwear vibes, but I know it’s not exact (though the grey + camo is in the first inspo picture).  Perhaps a white tee and chinos would’ve been better?

I love how easy the camo jacket works with the other, plain pieces. It’s not trying too hard to be military (which reminds me of cosplayers tbh) or something that’s crazy Japanese styled.   It’s just simple and slightly interesting.  The jacket isn’t fitted or tailored, but I think that’s all apart of the charm.  The rolled sleeves are because the regular length is too long for it to be wearable; I do the same thing with my chore coats!   IMG_2836

The BDU jacket is loose and casual, with patch pockets ready to hold anything you might need.  I could definitely see this as my go-to photographer jacket, though I wish it had interior pockets so I could hold more!

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So, on one random weekend, I did wear them in a photographer fit!  I’ve been checking out the LA photography scene with my friend Andrew and MJ and I thought that it would be a great opportunity to break out the jacket.  I didn’t bring a bag with me and simply put my chargers, cables, and extra batteries in the pockets of the jacket.  Again, this jacket isn’t as hefty or as “rare” as my M-43, so this piece is perfect as a “fuck it” jacket.

I will say that I think it goes really well with this casual outfit.

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Obviously I’m not going to wear a suit to a photography meet (especially if it isn’t a fashion one), but I did want to keep things nice, as photographers in LA seldom have style.  I put on a short sleeve sportshirt and my light wash levis (which need their own blog post) in order to have a super casual vibe.  The chukkas give it a classic menswear vibe, but converse (or another plain trainer) would have been a good choice as well.

Overall, I was really inspired by GQ streetstyle photographer Robert Spangle who is quite the dresser himself.   He’s a military man, so naturally his style really blends his interests together.  If you look at this outfit below, you can see where my inspiration came from.  Can all LA photographers please dress nicely?

Tailoring

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This next outfit is (quite obviously) directly inspired by Kenji’s outfit.  I put the BDU jacket over two pieces of my 1960’s sack suit and added my trademark blue stripe spearpoint pinned with a brown mohair tie.  I think my look is more rugged than Kenji’s, as he opts for an elegant look thanks to this club collar, silk tie, and pinstripe suit.  My use of textures (mohair tie, flannel suit) definitely help “dress it down” and is probably the way I’d recommend you do it if you wanted to incorporate the BDU with tailoring.
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Honestly, this was just worn as an experiment and isn’t really a true outfit.  I’d probably keep the BDU in my car and swap out my actual suit jacket if I was going somewhere that didn’t need a 3PC.  Honestly the whole look is slightly affected and I’m really not confident in my own version of it to really feel like it’s something I’d normally wear.  However, it’s still a great casual (and thin) outer layer to throw on.  If I was shooting a menswear street style event, you can bet your ass that I’d rock this combo.   IMG_8224

My second attempt to pair the BDU with tailoring is a much better one, since it goes for a less formal look.  Again, this is something influenced by Kenji, which definitely has a more Americana/Japanese vibe.  I ditched the spearpoint and went with a J. Crew Factory chambray shirt and pleated khaki chinos; the tie is another 1930’s summer one but in a darker brown.  The Americana/Japanese vibes come with the classic chambray + chino combo and I feel like I’ve probably seen outfits similar to this at Inspiration LA or any of the Japanese magazines.  I’m not nearly as good as those guys though.

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Honestly, the BDU camo jacket feel much more at home with non-suit pieces, like the chambray and chino.  It doesn’t feel like I’m trying too hard to mix casual and formal, and the color palette is much better.  For the future, I’d probably ditch the tie.

Also, as I finish the post, I think that a good OCBD would be another great alternative to the chambray workshirt (along with denim and maybe linen, in the summer).

Conclusion

I never thought I’d be a guy to own anything camo, but that BDU jacket was too cool to pass on!  Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from workwear/Americana accounts instead of sartorial pages, and it clearly shows.  I’m not an expert on vintage workwear/military clothing and this jacket isn’t nearly as cool or rare as some of the stuff I’ve seen on Instagram, but I this camo BDU jacket is a good stepping stone for me to try something new.

It’s only been pretty warm here in Southern California (please pray for the current fires and help out if you can) so it’s an easy replacement for my M-43, which is much heavier.  So far, I’ve been wearing it pretty casually, akin to my first outfit (tee shirt and denim) in this blog post.  While I do like the challenge of wearing them with sartorial pieces, I don’t think it’s a look that I’m going to repeat.  I will admit that they look great with chinos, which is probably the furthest I’ll go with that look.

Hope you enjoyed this article and reading about my latest addition to my wardrobe!

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

@ethanmwong 

Street x Sprezza

Photography by Ethan W. and M.J K. 

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