A surfeit of dystopian apparel was evident on the menswear runways this year.
Junya Watanabe showed nylon anoraks, wool lumberjack jackets and firefighter coats adorned with the kind of bright reflective tape usually seen on school crossing guards.
Prada trotted out padded nylon vests that look like they could repel bullets and oversize rain suits that looked like they could protect against nuclear fallout.
And for his Calvin Klein Collection show in February, Raf Simons, the creative director, dressed the male models in safety-cone-orange jumpsuits, knee-high waders and knit balaclavas, all of which gave new meaning to the term “fashion emergency.”
If fashion is reflecting our anxious times, the most alarmist trend these days is the rise of military-inspired clothing and other utilitarian garb normally reserved for emergency responders, security guards and doomsday preppers.
Style arbiters, including Vogue magazine, have taken to calling it “war-core.”
“Fashion ideates what’s going on around it,” said Francesca Granata, an assistant professor of fashion studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York. And these days, she said, it is “making sense of societal anxieties or fears.”
Cultural manifestations of our collective anxiety are everywhere, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at the Doneger Group, a retail and forecasting consultancy firm in New York. She points to shows including “Black Mirror” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the video game “Fortnite” and the constant drumbeat of news about climate change, political unrest and economic troubles.
“People like to mentally prepare for the end of the world,” Morrison said. “This blurring between reality and fantasy, we’re seeing it in books, we’re seeing it in movies, it’s affecting the psyche.”
Younger designers have pushed the doomsday references further. Matthew Williams of Alyx, a brand based in Ferrara, Italy, created a tactical vest festooned with cinch straps, Velcro pockets and other details borrowed from military vests.
And TakahiroMiyashita the Soloist, a menswear brand from Japan, offers perforated face masks and emergency ponchos emblazoned with the words “The Day The World Went Away.”
“It is almost impossible not to make things that have some reaction to what is happening in the world,” said Craig Green, a British designer, whose fall 2018 collection offered playful interpretations of masculine uniforms including coveralls with oversize utility pockets.
But war-core is not limited to the runway; it’s appearing on store shelves and in the streets as well.
On Lyst, a fashion search engine, searches for camouflage are up 38 percent, including camo cargo pants by Ralph Lauren ($290) and a “reconstructed” version by Off-White ($1,190), according to Katy Lubin, a spokeswoman.
Zumiez, a skate wear store outside of Seattle, sells items from Rothco, an army and military wholesaler, including a fluorescent orange rescue vest ($44.95) and a black tactical vest (which is sold out). The items appeal to trend-hungry young adults, not soldiers or construction workers, said Trevor Lambert-Lee, a men’s apparel buyer at Zumiez.
Federico Barassi, the senior menswear buying director at SSense, an online retailer in Montreal, is betting on work wear jackets with reflective detailing, mechanic-style coverall jumpsuits and other disaster-themed pieces this season. “I see reflective things everywhere,” he said. “It’s part workwear and part streetwear.”
Fashion’s current fetish for workwear also seem to be trickling down to more proletariat-minded stores.
Adam Levy, an owner of Dave’s New York, a family-run store in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan that specializes in utilitarian clothing, said that he has seen an uptick in sales of Carhartt jackets, Dickies pants and other “high-visibility” garments.
“Wearing a functional piece of clothing in a nonfunctional environment turns heads,” Levy said. “It’s almost ironic.”
Indeed, war-core fashion may not be the most practical clothing to wear in an emergency. “This runs contrary to the prepper mindset,” said Jim Rawles, founder of SurvivalBlog, a popular website in the United States for doomsday preparedness.
“For a city dweller who is worried about getting run over by a cab, this all makes sense,” Rawles said. But “high visibility is basically drawing attention to yourself. And if there’s one thing preppers strive for, it’s low visibility.”