Camouflage shows its fashion versatility

October 6, 2013 12:36:38 AM

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NEW YORK -- There is no hiding from camouflage. 

 

The print that at one time was only a tool for military troops to go unnoticed has become a front-and-center look in fashion. It's been adapted in luxe fur, sequin sweaters, athletic wear and casual kicks. It's for girls and boys, women and men. 

 

"The irony is that camo is anything but camouflaged right now," says Zanna Roberts Rassi, Marie Claire's senior fashion editor. 

 

She points to recent examples where the runway has led to the trenches, including the oversized version on Michael Kors' fur jackets, on Christopher Kane cocktail dresses and Valentino shoes. "It comes from the military, but it's being made now for a night on the town," she says. 

 

Some versions have maintained more utilitarian roots, including vests and parkas at J. Crew and jeggings at Aeropostale. For spring, North Face has camo-inspired workout gear. 

 

"Camo is peaking," according to Emilia Fabricant, Aeropostale's executive vice president of design, merchandising and production. "It's hitting everything, from sweaters to outerwear. It's so graphic. It's edgy but it's also completely neutral." 

 

That's the beauty of it: it dresses up, it dresses down. It is as urban or as country as you want to make it. 

 

"Think of it as the non-print print," says Heather Archibald, director of merchandising at online retailer Piperlime. "It's like the paisley of a million years ago. ... It has found a way into our wardrobe as a staple." 

 

It's evolved into something like the cheetah print that was, at one time, considered edgy and a little risque but is now offered in everything from sweet ballet flats to toddler clothes. 

 

Camo retains its cool, though, especially when it's worn with a wink, says Tom Mora, head women's designer at J. Crew. It's wearing the print in a feminine fabric -- a georgette blouse, perhaps -- or something like a parka over slim cargo pants and a lacy tank top or high heels, he says. "I like the sexy take on the classic hunter look." 

 

Mora says he also likes the irony when camo is worn in a slick urban way. He likes to see it mostly in neutrals -- maybe a version in makeup colors such as blush and beige -- with a pop of navy or yellow. Orange looks good, too, but is maybe a bit cliche. 

 

Adding the flash of color, or the glitzy necklace, or the pencil skirt keeps camo from being too serious. Try a motorcycle boot or a "fierce" ankle-strap shoe, suggests Archibald, and accessories in metallic or camel will elevate the look and make it seem more ladylike. 

 

Her other tip is a polished beauty look. "Paint your nails, put on your lipstick. You want an amazing look, not be sloppy." 

 

For the guys, it's about the camo sneaker with dark denim, or a jacket or hoodie over more tailored trousers. 

 

Not many prints -- a plaid could be the exception -- move so seamlessly between men's and women's clothes. Either way, camouflage evokes a lived-in look, so don't be fussy or too polished, advises Fabricant. 

 

Even young children can wear it, but while adults and teens can do the muted, more realistic palettes, kids should do almost a cartoon-color version, suggests Roberts Rassi, also a style consultant for Boden. It should be a clear message that it's about a great graphic, nothing more serious. 

 

And, she adds, it shouldn't be worn head-to-toe -- and that goes for everyone. The good news, though, is that those single pieces will have a long shelf life. "This isn't a trend for a single season. It 100 percent transcends time."