In fashion appropriation is typically involved in a cycle of appropriation and re-appropriation of subcultures and mainstream. The definition of appropriation is to take an object and give it new meaning or use. Hebdige in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style frames appropriation ideologically. One major ideological assumption of fashion is that items have certain associations. These definitions can shift over time. Subcultures, he uses punks for an example, appropriate objects and wears them in a way that changes the meaning. These subcultures eventually catch the attention of the mainstream and are labeled as a threat. To de-threaten them the mainstream re-appropriates the subculture or elements of the subculture through incorporating them back into the mainstream in two ways, commodifying them and ideologically.
However when it comes to military style, appropriation seems to take on a new path. The military is not a subculture that is threatening to the mainstream. They fall under the power and the control of the mainstream and do not have their own set of ideology. The military actually is a perfect embodiment of mainstream ideology. Instead of being threatening, the military is protective of the mainstream. Military uniforms do not take mainstream objects or clothing and change the meaning. The uniforms are made specifically for the military with specific combat purposes in mind. The appropriation by a subculture is missing. Military style comes out of the mainstream appropriating items and clothing from a subgroup that they have formed themselves.
Military uniforms are made for fighting, to survive in certain elements, to be comfortable, and practical. Most of these elements are still embodied in mainstream military style. Military style clothing is usually made out of cotton or wool and is comfortable and practical. The army field jacket has become very popular in mainstream fashion. It is typically loose fitting, green or camouflage, and made out of cotton. Another popular military trend is the combat boot. The combat is comfortable and practical for winter months. It is incorporated in mainstream style by mixing elements of military and other trends. For example many popular mainstream combat boots incorporate the military shape but have added details such as studs, cutouts and different colors.
Many of these military styles could originally be found at Salvation Army or Army Surplus stores. Military style seemed to evolve out of second-hand style. Second-hand stores such as Salvation Army, allow the buyer to pick and choose their style and mix and match trends to create their own. It gives a stylistic voice to those that cannot afford mainstream style. McRobbie describes them as offering “an oasis of cheapness, where every market day is a ‘sale.’” While many people shop second-hand because that is what they can afford it does mean that they don’t have taste. According to McRobbie, “patterns of taste and discrimination shape the desires of second-hand shoppers as much as they do those who prefer the high street or fashion showroom.” (140)
I think as military style become more popular and more of a trend the mainstream jumped on the opportunity to commodify it, not because it was a threat but because it was a monetary opportunity. Small details like buttons, breast pockets, nautical designs, and embroider designs soon became the trend. Military style seems to change as the military uniform itself changes. Camouflage, army green, and khaki seem to have emerged as the latest trend in military fashion as we have been at war in the desert in the past nine years. Military style takes small elements of the military uniform and incorporates them into already mainstream trends. An example of this is the skinny camouflage or skinny cargo pants that have become popular. The military pattern, color, and details were incorporated with skinny jeans, which were already a trend in the mainstream.
Appropriation is usually associated with the incorporation of threatening subcultures into the mainstream. However military style disproves this definition. Military style was appropriated and incorporated into the mainstream for monetary reasons and as a way to reinforce mainstream ideology. The military is under the control of the mainstream and by incorporating military style into fashion trends the mainstream is re-enforcing ideology surrounding the military. Such as how military men are heroes, who deserve our respect. By wearing military style we are inadvertently enforcing these ideologies. Hebdige claims that “like prison graffiti, style merely pays tribute to the place in which they are produced.” (136) Therefore military style is paying tribute to the military itself and it all stands for: freedom, heroism, bravery, justice, etc.
Hook describes the appropriation of ‘other’ fashion into mainstream style as “eating the other.” Incorporating their style is never about the other, instead it is about how you imagine them to be and to fulfill your own fantasy. The military and the fighting they do is hard for civilians to think about and imagine. The things our soldiers have had to do for our country are unimaginable and horrific. By incorporating elements of their uniform and wearing military style we are able to fulfill our fantasy of heroes, who are moral, undamaged, and fight for our freedom. We can believe that by wearing military style we are paying tribute to those that serve our country but we are actually just increasing our own cultural capitol. By wearing military style we prove to everyone that we have the ability to know the trends and mainstream ideologies to get ahead.
Appropriation is typically associated with subcultures, who challenge the “symbolic mainstream naturalness.” (Hebdige 91) Subcultures deviate from the mainstream by changing the meaning of an object (appropriation) and then is brought back into the mainstream through re-appropriation. However in military style this formula doesn’t hold true. The military is a part of the mainstream so when military style is incorporated into mainstream style the ideological definition of the objects do not change. The uses of the objects shift from fighting to being trendy but the assumptions that the objects hold still remain the same. Appropriation becomes the incorporation of subcultures’ or subgroups’ style into the mainstream.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture. the Meaning of Style. London,1984. Print.
Hooks, Bell. Eating the Other. Print.
McRobbie, Angela. “Second Hand Dresses and The Role of the Rag Market.” London|: Routledge, 1994. Print.