ABBOTT THAYER: THE MODERN THEORY OF MILITARY CAMOUFLAGE

While there is pictorial and material evidence of camouflage applied by paint and fabric to garments during WWI, these were relegated to elite military personnel, such as snipers. Uniforms with a standardized, government-issued camouflage pattern would not emerge until World War II.

By Balthazar Malevolent

ABBOTT THAYER: THE MODERN THEORY OF MILITARY CAMOUFLAGE

The modern theory of military camouflage owes much to the American painter Abbott Thayer, whose ideas of protective coloration in the natural world debuted in a 1896 article called “The Law Which Underlies Protective Coloration.”

Study image for Abbott Thayer’s book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom.

He expanded his theories in his 1909 book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, co-written with his son Gerald, espousing that the purpose of an animal’s coloration was to attain transparency and obliteration of form through countershading and disruptive patterning as compared against its background from a certain vantage point. After World War I broke out, Thayer’s book was used as a reference by all sides, and Thayer himself consulted with both British and American armies. His 1909 book also contained photographs of a camouflaged scout concealed in a tree meant to demonstrate the protective qualities of applying disruptive patterning to the body and clothing. These photographs are some the first ever to record clothing containing a camouflage pattern.

Thayer reiterated his earlier findings in a 1918 article, stating that “all the patterns and brilliant colors of the animal kingdom, instead of making their wearers conspicuous, are, on the contrary, pure concealing coloration, being the actual color notes of the scene in which the wearer lives, so that he really is nature’s utmost picture of his background.” To this end, Thayer espoused that “man has only to cut out a stencil of the soldier, ship, cannon or whatever figure he wishes to conceal, and look through this stencil from the viewpoint under consideration, to learn just what costume from that viewpoint would most tend to conceal this figure.” While there is pictorial and material evidence of camouflage applied by paint and fabric to garments during WWI, these were relegated to elite military personnel, such as snipers. Uniforms with a standardized, government-issued camouflage pattern would not emerge until World War II.

Designers often apply camouflage prints to their models. Within his last season, Alexander Wang presented several variations of camo sweatpants, camouflage back panel t-shirts, and camo canvas totes.

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