Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a military daughter, or maybe it’s just that I’ve always been obsessed with dramatically structured garments and novelty hats, but I caught onto the fact that the Army Surplus store is my best friend very early into my journey of fashion-experimentation.
I know that you may have a certain preconceived image, and prejudices, against the Army Surplus store. For starters, I admit that it has a smell – an often overpowering mix of boot polish, mustiness and dirt. It also likely evokes images of green camouflage netting, tin plates, and huge wire baskets full of well worn, black, combat boots. It can be an intimidating place.
However I’m here today to preach that it is well worth your time and energy.
For in each store lies one or two racks of absolute gold – the jacket, blazer and coat section.
Since the age of 17, I’ve not been without an ex-military jacket in my wardrobe.
My very first one, a boy that I had a huge crush on gave to me at the after-party for our seventh form school musical. This was quite an achievement for teenage me, who didn’t actually know how to talk to boys, let alone pilfer their jackets.
With its oversized sleeves, grungy hue of olive green, and extravagant, shiny, brass, buttons – I suddenly walked with a ‘i-don’t-give-a-fuck’ swagger that I didn’t know I was capable of. In it I felt punk, tough, rock and roll, quirky, sassy and immediately, most importantly, I felt like who I’d always wanted to be, but didn’t quite know how to convey through clothing. Somehow this single garment became my ticket to self-expression.
Hmm. Perhaps, in retrospect, that jacket is the greatest, most positive, gift that a love-interest has ever given me?!
Ever since that first jacket, the Army Surplus has a been a regular haunt of mine. At present, my ex-military jacket is a grey-blue New Zealand Air Force blazer. It’s too big for me, but I think that’s why I love it so much. It cost $13 and as soon as I got it, I set about customising it with new buttons, and an embroidered heart on the sleeve. It feels like I’ve owned it forever.
It’s also one of my most worn, and most remarked on, items.
Are you curious about the Surplus-Life, but not quite sure if you’re up to it?
Here’s a few reasons why military jackets are the greatest, in case you needed your arm twisted further:
If you want to own a blazer or jacket with comparable levels of razor-sharp-tailoring and impeccable construction, you’ll be looking at a designer label costing upwards of $1,000.
The lines and pleats on military wares are knife-sharp. The seams so well-forged, and sturdy, that they will never, ever, fail you.
Remember – military garments are designed to be worn in action. They are built for practicality, not fashion. They have to withstand every possible situation, and weather condition, that service throws their way. As a result they are virtually indestructible.
And not only that, there is no profession where one has to be more perfectly presented than in the armed forces. They just don’t do ‘casual’. It’s not an option.
Most military outerwear is made of 100% wool. This makes them warm, breathable, comfortable and able to withstand the rain. Again, if you’re looking to buy a 100% wool jacket or coat, brand-new, in a regular store, you’ll be looking at significantly higher price tags than that at Army Surplus.
Two of my ultimate, wish-list, ‘one day when I’m famous’ designers are Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. It’s my fashion-fantasy to have a wardrobe bustling with their blazers and coats, with their exaggerated shapes and poke-your-eye-out-tailoring. However, until that day comes, my oversized Air Force jacket lets me achieve Westwood-levels of shoulder pads and silhouette.
Don’t be afraid of wearing things that are too big for you. Especially when it comes to tailoring. It’s such an easy way to create AHH-DRAMA!
Whilst my wardrobe is chokka with enough frills, frou-frou, sparkles, flounce and florals to make Liberace weep, I’m seldom going 100% pretty and dainty in my looks. You’ll see that most of the time I wear these hyper-feminine items with oversized statement jewellery, Doc Martens, or a blazer, to take the edge off and stop my look being too cloyingly sweet, or pin-up.
Straight-up-pretty is just not my style.
One of my favourite ways to beef-up a frock is to simply throw my military blazer over the top
Something else that I love? Most of these garments were designed for men. It feels great to take something so steeped in testosterone and pair it with a ridiculous petticoat and a flower crown. Like I’m taking down the patriarchy, a notch or two, every time I leave the house.
The thing I love most about fashion is playing with contrast and juxtaposition, and mixing hi-feminine with hi-masculine pieces just feels too-darn good.
You want pockets in your garments? Are you endlessly complaining that women’s clothing doesn’t have enough pockets?
The answer is simple – just wear men’s clothing.
Even better? Wear military supplies!
My current jacket has two breast pockets, two hip pockets, and two concealed, inside, pockets. Six pockets! And each is wide and deep enough to fit a wallet /keys/ large smart phone.
One of the reasons why I wear this jacket more than any other is because of these pockets. In it I can comfortably carry everything I need (then some), totally eliminating the need for a bag, therefore making it the perfect garment for gigs, parties, festivals, markets or anywhere else where carrying a bag is a pain in the arse (everywhere, everywhere is a pain in the arse)
I know that every few years military style jackets come into fashion and hit the high-street (with good reason, they’re timeless classics, as I’m clearly trying to demonstrate to you here in this post) but frankly it baffles me why you would pay so much money for what is a poorly made, inferior, imitation – one that happens to cost at least triple the price of the real thing.
As I mentioned, my current Air Force jacket cost $13. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $50 for one. What a bargain…
…or you could just follow 17 year old-Lou’s example and get your crush to give you the jacket off their back.
What a bloody legend she was.
Jacket – Army Surplus
Dress – Lindy Bop
Boots – Doc Marten
Hat – ASOS
Lipstick – Too Faced Melted Latex