Military science

How military science popularized layered clothing

I used to think of layering as a timeless concept. The idea of ​​wearing a lot of light clothes rather than a few heavy clothes was everywhere: my brother’s Boys’ lives magazines, advertisements from my local outdoor store, suggested packing list from my summer camp. But, like any other way of dressing, it was necessary to invent the superposition.

In his 2005 memoir, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, claimed that his outdoor clothing company, founded in 1973, was the first to introduce the concept to the outdoor community. But the idea goes back further than that. Almost all Americans’ understanding of layering comes from the mid-century US military.

In 1943, the Quartermaster Corps, the branch of the United States military responsible for procuring uniforms, among many other essentials of war logistics, introduced a new experimental uniform kit, which it named M- 43. The set included a wool undershirt, a long-sleeved flannel shirt and a sweater. But the star of the kit was a new field jacket, which was (somewhat confusingly) also referred to as an M-43 – a tightly woven nine-ounce cotton-satin garment in a dull olive color, sporting large chest pockets and at the hips.

Americans today don’t need to look any further than cotton t-shirts, cargo shorts, and camouflage to see how the military style entered everyday life. But the M-43 jacket was not just a style. He also taught millions of Americans an idea. Just as the military jeep brought four-wheel drive to the masses, the M-43 made layering a civilian staple.

The designers planned for the jacket to be used as an outer shell in different climates around the world – global outerwear for the world war. In extreme cold, a soldier would associate the M-43 with several thin layers underneath. In warmer climates it (the jacket was designed for the body of men) could keep the outer shell but peel off the other layers.

The army did not invent the superposition. In the 19th century, home economists published research on the management of body temperature, which in turn depended on understanding dress that dates back centuries. In a single example from the emerging clothing science, Charlotte Gibbs argued in 1912 that “several layers of light material are better than one layer of heavy material”.

Even though it didn’t create the concept, the Quartermaster Corps sought to set up an R&D program to turn clothing into technology. A former professor at Harvard Business School, Georges Doriot, took charge of the research units of the Harvard Fatigue Lab, inspired by the predominantly male field of industrial hygiene, the study of the body at work. Doriot considered the layers of the M-43 uniform to be as important as weapons and combat tactics to America’s military success. “The greatest enemy, besides what we normally call the enemy, is nature,” he explained at a congressional hearing in 1946.


The military tested the new set of clothing that would confront this natural enemy in a series of specialized research facilities, including the cold room, a 16-by-32-foot refrigerated room with a two-person conveyor belt, and a washing machine. snow. Military scientists adjusted temperatures, wind speed, and treadmill speed to assess their effects on volunteer test subjects. Someday, soldiers might be dressed in furs and mukluks as scientists gazed through a large glass window. Next, test subjects could be dressed only in underwear in the cold. The soldiers’ skin temperature, measured through sensors attached to various parts of their bodies, helped scientists assess the effectiveness of the outfits.

A desert chamber and a jungle chamber used similar techniques to measure the performance of clothing and bodies under conditions of extreme heat and humidity. Doriot’s team also tested new ideas on uniforms with a human-sized metal mannequin she called the “Copper Man”. Like the human test subjects on the Cold Chamber treadmill, the manikin can be dressed in multiple layers. It had heating elements inside to make its “skin” mimic that of a human. Since he couldn’t speak for himself, the thermocouples transmitted data about the changes in his “skin” temperature as his outfits changed. All of this research helped Doriot’s team understand how diapers worked to trap air and prevent loss of body heat, and this information informed the design of the M-43.

Military research reports, available in Doriot’s documents at the Library of Congress, confirmed that the jacket and accompanying layers kept soldiers warm in weather as cold as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Reports also suggested that the jacket system worked well in the rain. In addition, the tight weave of its cotton fabric allowed it to avoid cold air blasts on windy days.

But convincing other military officials and soldiers of its advantages took a concerted effort. In order for the M-43 layering system to work, soldiers had to know how to use it. Military experts have therefore developed a layered teaching program, which shows how the M-43 has become both a popular style and a model for dressing according to scientific principles. During a 90-minute indoctrination class, Soldiers listened to a lecture on how to stay alive in the cold and watched a demonstration on how to wear and adjust each element of the M uniform. -43.

In interviews with the Quartermaster Corps, soldiers during the war said they liked the M-43, but not always for the reasons scientists expected them to. The soldiers cared as much about the jacket’s appearance as it was about its practical details, such as the length and pocket space. One soldier said: “This uniform makes us feel like soldiers. The old one did not.


Layering was familiar to outdoor enthusiasts long before the arrival of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia in the 1970s. In fact, the first professionals in the outdoor industry played an important role in the proliferation of the principle of overlay. LL Bean, Eddie Bauer and Harold Hirsch (of Hirsch-Weis and his ski clothing brand, White Stag) were among the many civilians who worked as wartime consultants on equipment and clothing design. After the war, they brought design innovations and clothing science concepts from military research to civilian product lines at their eponymous companies. White Stag’s advertising campaigns, for example, proudly highlighted the military origins of its new civilian styles. The 1943 4-season “Off-Duty” jacket, with the large pockets and loose fit of the M-43, a “leisure jacket turned military!” Not only capitalized on the cachet of association with a victorious army, but also went on to disseminate the Army’s lessons on the science of clothing to everyday American life.

Hirsch reflected on the original olive jacket as a versatile and technically sophisticated innovation during an interview in the late 1980s, towards the end of his life: “The soldier could be more active, more mobile, with clothes lightweight ”such as the M -43, he says.

Walk into a research facility of an outerwear manufacturer today and you’ll find modern versions of the Cold Room and the Copper Man. Likewise, military R&D laboratories still rely on approaches to studying clothing and human bodies that were developed during World War II.

The advent of synthetic materials such as nylon has further improved the function of layered garments in wet and cold conditions. Gore-Tex, a waterproof and breathable synthetic laminate that first hit the consumer market in 1976, offered what some saw as a better alternative to cotton. But the new fabrics and fibers only update the materials; the principle of superposition popularized by military science remains.

The military has shaped Americans’ sense of style in other ways as well. After demobilization, says historian Paul Fussell, veterans who had become accustomed to “loose and very informal” uniforms were prepared to continue to shift men’s fashion into casual wear. Outside, the “fitted cut and exaggerated shoulders” of the pre-war period. Looking ready to get your hands dirty, like a soldier with an M-43 jacket, has become more important than a tailored appearance.

But the field jacket was not a static symbol. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, anti-war protesters adopted a redesigned campaign jacket. On their bodies, the jacket asked how masculinity and ideology could have led to the disaster unfolding in Vietnam. At the same time, outdoor enthusiasts flocked to military surplus stores to purchase field jackets as a relatively affordable part of their excursion outfits.

Their faith in the stratification system was not inevitable. During World War II, every American general and combat soldier thought he was an expert on how to dress. If you’ve been hunting or have a favorite type of shoe, “you think you know it all,” Doriot told Congress in 1946. His research labs and education programs have turned steadfast woolen fans of the military front into overlays. Early adopters. Without him, civilians might never have believed that the overlay was a natural ally in the war against the cold.


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