When developing the ATB, the Army collaborated with professional fashion designers and sought input from female soldiers to refine the design. According to Ashley Cushon, clothing designer and project manager for the ATB, feeling good about one’s clothes influences not only an individual’s mental health, but also “overall readiness and performance levels, enabling them to to focus on their mission.
The decision to create the ATB, along with other dress code changes implemented last year, is being touted as part of an increased effort by the military to improve inclusiveness and adapt to the growing diversity of its personnel and the varied needs of its soldiers. . This development suggests that the military, a traditionally conservative and male-dominated institution, has finally adopted a more informed perspective on the needs of women.
But, in fact, the creation of the ATB is actually the latest chapter in a long entanglement between the fashion industry and the military, spurred by the military’s attention to the appearance of its soldiers, especially its female soldiers.
During the American Civil War, the demand for hundreds of thousands of standardized uniforms catalyzed the ready-to-wear industry and led to a revolution in men’s fashion after the war. World War I men’s uniform styles brought new trends to women’s fashion and changed the silhouette in 1916, which also shaped the style of nurses’ uniforms – the first women’s uniforms issued by the military .
During World War II, as part of a national mobilization effort, the War Production Board issued Order L-85 which restricted the civilian use of fabrics, clothing and accessories to preserve materials for use military. Fashion designers, following the order, have found creative ways to circumvent this problem, such as using zippers instead of buttons, or introducing the now popular trend of ballerina-inspired ballerina flats, which do not were not rationed.
World War II also made the issue of women’s uniforms and the appropriate appearance of female soldiers urgent. For the first time in history, a significant number of women enlisted in the military ranks, serving primarily in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) . These women needed uniforms that would fit their bodies while allowing them to perform their duties comfortably.
At first, the Office of General Quartermaster Service (OQMG), which oversaw the development of the women’s uniforms, simply made a few adjustments to the men’s uniforms, believing that would be enough. This was not the case.
After a year of blunders and in the absence of satisfactory results for military women (nearly 70% of uniforms had to be modified), the OQMG decided to recruit Dorothy Shaver – then vice-president of the Lord & Taylor department store – to serve of consultant. Shaver brought more than just her womenswear and manufacturing expertise. She also offered a feminist approach to uniform design, insisting that women’s military clothing should not mimic men’s uniforms, but rather draw inspiration from civilian sportswear and the “American look” that highlighted the emphasis on practicality and independence.
Shaver’s perspective was most evident in his design of a wrap dress for the Army Nurse Corps, a garment that could be adjusted to the individual figure for precise sizing with minimal alterations. She also persuaded military officials to include trousers in the official women’s wardrobe. Beginning in 1942, the Army provided trousers to women working in motor transport and pilot service units, and by 1944 trousers were a staple among all WAAC units.
Known as a big proponent of American fashion, Shaver enlisted America’s top haute couture designers such as Philip Mangone, Mollie Parnis and Mainbocher to create military uniforms. Their coveted designs became a useful recruiting tool, as every woman who joined the military knew she would get a designer outfit. Indeed, Mainbocher’s WAVES uniforms became so popular that civilian women tried to copy them, prompting the U.S. Navy to issue warnings and remind the public that “thoughtless people who appropriate the distinctive designs of any armed forces uniform violates federal law.”
As 1940s military uniform designers considered functionality, they also sought to create good-looking outfits, responding to government efforts to convince both military command and the public that service in the armed forces would not return more masculine women. To this end, the Army discouraged women in the WAAC from wearing their hair “too short” or adopting appearances registered as “mouth”, instead requiring minimum hair lengths and the application of makeup. Along the same lines, the L-85 regulations did not cover lipstick, nor did the government ration it, although lipstick did contain certain materials necessary for military purposes. As with hair and makeup, designers and military commanders believed that a carefully crafted uniform could allow women to look and feel feminine while providing enough comfort to help them do their job well. work.
The fashion industry has also benefited from its collaboration with the armed forces. As the Army worked to streamline uniform production, it began a size measurement and standardization program, which benefited ready-to-wear manufacturing for years to come. Couture designers also drew inspiration from military styles and created their own versions of uniforms for the parade, transforming the styles of female soldiers and war workers into an ideal of beauty. In 1944, for example, Harper’s Bazaar featured a velvet jumpsuit by Clare Potter “cut exactly like a mechanic’s suit”, as the chic choice for fashion-savvy women.
While women became a permanent part of the military during the Cold War, initially as part of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the military maintained its focus on creating comfortable and practical uniforms that also enabled WAC members to maintain a beautiful and feminine look. Yet when the WAC was disbanded in 1978 and women were integrated into male units and later into combat roles, the emphasis became less on femininity and more on efficiency. In the process, the military put the special needs of female soldiers on the backburner.
While it’s taken longer for the military to realize that bras are also part of soldiers’ tactical gear, recent ATB design efforts show they’ve gotten the memo. Much like the uniforms of the 1940s, it was the civilian market that provided both the knowledge and the inspiration for the ATB. Like the original sports bra, itself touted as feminist clothing in the 1970s, today’s military uses fashion to boost its image and appeal to recruits.
It might be a while before we see commercial versions of the ATB in stores, but as the long history of military involvement in our fashion trends shows, that day probably isn’t that far off. .