Camouflage print is one of the most globally recognised fabric patterns, due to its long military associations, and whilst it has become a popular & highly versatile fashion print, the use of camouflage has come a long way from its origins. To celebrate our love of camo print, along with our fab range of cotton poplin camouflage fabrics, we are taking a look at the origins of this pattern, the history of camouflage and how it became a staple fashion fabric.
What is camouflage?
The term camouflage describes a pattern or a technique defined as a form of protective colouration and covers a variety of methods including disruptive colouration, self-decoration and countershading. Camouflage methods generally use a combination of materials & colours to make an object or animal more difficult to see, by mimicking the colours & tones of the surroundings.
Why do animals use camouflage?
We know that forms of camouflage have long existed in nature amongst different species, such as reptiles like chameleons, who have developed the ability to change their skin colour or pattern. This camouflage technique has enabled these animals to blend into their surroundings in order to provide protection from potential predators. In his work, “Origin of Species”, Darwin noted that the ability of animals to mimic their surroundings and to disguise themselves from predators, gave them a reproductive advantage over other animals of the same species as they were better able to protect their offspring.
However, the knowledge of camouflage in nature dates back to prehistoric ages. Archaeologists have found fossils showing that some species of dinosaurs, such as the Psittacosaurus and marine reptiles, had countershaded skin which would have acted as a form of camouflage in their surroundings. Countershading creates a shift from darker to lighter tones across the skin of mammals, reptiles, fish and birds helping to disguise them in their natural habitat.
Scientists and great thinkers have long been aware of the technique of camouflage in nature. In ancient Greece, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) noted the ability of cephalopods, including the octopus, to change their colour and disguise themselves in his text 'Historia Animalium':
“The octopus... seeks its prey by so changing its colour as to render it like the colour of the stones adjacent to it; it does so also when alarmed”.
As Aristotle remarked, nature often uses camouflage techniques not only as a form of disguise but also as a signal of distress.
How did camouflage become used in clothing?
The story of military camouflage dates back to the 19th century, when the growing range & improved accuracy of firearms used in warfare, required armies to develop better ways to conceal themselves. Rifle units in the British Army adopted a rifle green jacket during the Napoleonic Wars, instead of a scarlet jacket, and British army regiments began wearing khaki in India, finding that it made the troops more invisible to the opposing forces.
The First World War accelerated the development of camouflage and involved the input of artists to create camouflage schemes as well as observation posts disguised as trees. Cubist artist André Mare was a soldier in the First World War and pioneered the development of these techniques, by covering artillery with cubist painting effects to deceive the enemy, helping to conceal his troops and protect them from enemy fire. The use of camouflage became so significant and prevalent that Mare authored the book ‘Cubisme et Camouflage’.
The use of military camouflage developed further during the Second World War, where various combinations of camouflage textile patterns increased to match the combat surroundings of different terrains from woodland & desert to snowy environments. In 1963, British special forces started to use Disruptive Pattern Material, often shortened to DPM, a printed pattern which has become commonly recognized as camouflage print. The use of this fabric has been adopted & developed by military forces worldwide, characterized by 3-4 colours within a camouflage pattern. As the print has become globalized, variations of this pattern have increased to mimic different, local terrains.
How did camouflage become a fashion fabric?
Camouflage started to transition into art and fashion early in the 20th century, following Mare’s work during the First World War. Seeing camouflage patterns being used on army trucks, Picasso exclaimed that it was the cubist movement ‘who made it, that is cubism’.
The popularity of camouflage being worn as civilian clothing stemmed from the Vietnam War protests in the United States during the 1960s and 70s, where anti-war protesters dressed in military clothing.Since then camouflage has become an increasingly prevalent fashion print, featured not only on high fashion catwalk shows from Gucci to Christopher Kane but also as a staple of high street fashion ranges. Although camouflage initially featured in menswear clothing ranges, the print has transitioned to become a fashion staple amongst womenswear and childrenswear clothing too. It is a highly versatile print, suitable for everything from utility-style jackets and combat trousers to skirts and pinafores. Increasingly camouflage is becoming a popular fabric for homewares, making it a great fabric for bed linen & duvet covers, as well as curtains and cushion covers.
Although DPM has been superseded in the British forces by multi-terrain pattern, the variants of DPM camouflage carry through to our stock of fashion fabrics today. Our range of cotton poplin camouflage fabrics feature five colours, ensuring that there will be a camo print perfect for any fashion or soft furnishings project. From the more traditional khaki colourways of jungle & woodland, to cooler monochrome arctic tones and the blues of an urban print; the possibilities are endless with our selection of camo fabrics. For a project requiring a little more weight & density, our beautiful extra wide camouflage drill has a lovely weave and is ideal for jackets, coveralls and trousers.
To complement our camo fabrics, we have a wide range of clothing fashion accessories from buttons & zips to a multitude of threads, as well as curtain accessories to enable you to complete your project all in one place! Our wide range of threads covers everything you might need for your projects, from the myriad of colours of our polyester moon threads to quilting, linen and extra strong Nylbond sewing threads. Take a look at our curtain accessories section, where you’ll find penny weights, pleat tape and many other accessories for your soft furnishings projects.