Reading this week:
- The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles by Charles Piot with Kodjo Nicolas Batema
In and amongst everything else in the world that’s going on, this is largely an aside, but I want to talk about the combat shirt. I went to the Naval Academy, as I’ve covered before, and that was a really fortunate thing for me, sartorially speaking. It was far from unusual to have to wear a double-breasted suit to class. It was also important to have the fit of your uniform correct, and to be always well presented, and these are the day-to-day skills of wearing clothes well that I don’t think the average college kid is necessarily forced to pick up. I didn’t know how to iron before I had to start wearing uniforms. A lot of modern tailoring descends from military uniforms, and seeing as I am so familiar with them now I have a better understanding of why men dress the way they do. It also gave me a few weird neurosis. For a long time I found garters to be a bit of a turn-off because they reminded me too much of shirt stays:
But like I said, the combat shirt. You’ve seen them, and it’s what Colonel Assimi Goïta is wearing in the picture at the top. I find the fact that he is wearing one more than a little wild. I spotted that picture when I was catching up on old news, and our good friend the Colonel is now best known for being the leader of the coup that ousted the President of Mali.
You can read this rundown of the history of the combat shirt, but they really took off a bit into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you’ll recall your Vietnam movies, soldiers were typically wearing blouses over t-shirts into combat. Those blouses kinda suck under tactical vests or plate carriers, because the front pockets are useless (being covered by the vest) and it’s extra material that is hot and scratchy and all that. But the sleeves were useful to protect the arms, and also the pockets are nice, so what peeps did is cut the arms off the blouse and the body off a shirt and sew them back together to get the best of both worlds.
Since it was special forces guys who first started really being known for these shirts, and special forces guys are generally considered the epitome of cool, as far as military stuff goes, they became the hot hot item and everyone had to have one, whether you were regularly going into combat or not. And that means they have become the de rigueur military look. I am starting to sense I find a lot of things remarkable (though I guess what is a blog for but to remark on things), but I find remarkable how quickly the US military sets the international military fashion scene. Not long after the US switched to digi uniforms the rest of the world did too. And so it is with the combat shirt, as evidenced by the main character in the Chinese movie Wolf Warrior wearing one:
As soon as you know what you’re looking at too, it’s all over Hollywood. The below still is Vin Diesel being Vin Diesel-y in Bloodshot. He’s wearing quite the take on the combat shirt, reduced almost to its bare essence with just the hint of a different material on the sleeves and slanted pockets he doesn’t appear to be using for anything. I think Hollywood is a particular fan of the combat shirt because the light t-shirt material lets you show off the actor’s abs, while the thicker sleeve material helps you bulk up the arms.
The ubiquity of the combat shirt with Hollywood tough guys means it is also used by anyone trying to look tough, namely in this example the armed vigilante “militia” nitwit on the left in the below picture:
All of which brings me back to Colonel Goïta at the top. He actually has an excellent claim to wear a combat shirt. He was trained in the US, making him part of the proud tradition of US-trained foreign soldiers overthrowing their government in coups. He’s worked for years with the US forces that have been operating in Mali, and I assume it’s from them he got the wardrobe. But I find it interesting he’s wearing the shirt in that photo. The combat shirt is, you know, for combat, and he is surrounded by other guys wearing more normal blouses as you would expect from military people not actively running around in a plate carrier. Says something both about the ubiquity of US military imagery and the particular psyche of the Colonel that he chose to wear that particular outfit. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what.
Update Apr 27, 2021:
I just wanted to add this picture of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic. Everyone wants to look like US special forces: