Troop du Jour

As military garb marches down fashion runways, recessionistas head to army-navy stores

When martial artist Steven Ho finishes enacting a stunt for a film job, he goes to Plush Home, the West Hollywood furniture showroom he owns with his wife. Lately he has been skipping the Gucci, Prada, and Balenciaga he normally wears to the store for a military-issue black nylon bomber jacket left over from a shoot. Its yellow insignias, clean embroidery (“Airborne”), and leather zipper fobs make for “a nice compromise between posh and grunge,” says Ho. “It’s casual, but there’s structure to it.” Ho isn’t the only self-proclaimed label whore opting for real armed forces gear rather than a spate of luxury revamps. To style dancers for music videos and awards shows, Joey Tierney has used berets and commando pants from Supply Sergeant stores in Burbank (503 N. Victory Blvd., 818-845-9433) and Hollywood (6664 Hollywood Blvd., 323-463-4730). “Designers don’t always lend clothing for performances, and the budget doesn’t allow for me to buy at those prices,” says the L.A. stylist. Jaime Naylor, general manager of the Surplus Store (10341 Venice Blvd., L.A., 310-841-0289), says most people watching the footage on TV wouldn’t know whether the outfits came from Seventh Avenue or Uncle Sam. “Lots of designers are doing high-end versions of what we sell,” she says. In spring collections Marc Jacobs, Christophe Decarnin at Balmain, and Christopher Bailey at Burberry made jackets and shirts that drew inspiration from the battlefield. Meanwhile army-navy outlets, noting how trendy Sergeant Pepper and Michael Jackson looks have become, are stocking more dress regalia—with brass buttons and tasseled shoulders—from European sources. Even Rothco, a New York company that sells to surplus stores and the government, is making new versions of classic military items. It not only replicates cargo pants in unworn fabrics—Beyoncé liked the $36 trousers enough to wear them in Elle magazine last year—but renders them in worn-looking textiles for people who want the “seen-combat” effect without donning someone else’s castoffs.

Photograph by Larry Underhill