With Veterans Day recently observed in the United States, it not only evokes memories of brave men and women who served their country proudly, but also all the various facets of the military that permeate our daily lives.
Fashion is one of the most notable convergences between the Armed Forces and popular culture. Whereas the medium relies heavily on the reappropriation of movements throughout history, the militaristic trend of sturdy boots, heavy coats, and a reserve of pockets seems more like an everlasting aesthetic than a fleeting trend.
One piece in particular, the M-65 field jacket, celebrates its 50th year in existence this year. In our latest #HSTBT, we explore the legendary creation of the timeless coat and its popularity in a post-war setting.
The M-65 was an extension of two legendary predecessors. The first, the World War II-issued M-43 – which featured a first-of-its-kind layering principle, and an olive drab cotton outer shell with layers added inside for more warmth.
When the M-43 was retired from combat, the M-51 became the next jacket to provide a national service. Notable attributes included a 9 oz, water-resistant, windproof cotton sateen, snap fasteners instead of buttons or zippers, button cuffs, a pointed collar, and had a separate hood that could be attached.
While the color palettes in the United States Armed Forces have shifted from continental blue favored by the American patriots, to khaki during the Spanish-American War, to olive drab worn by soldiers during General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s tenure, world events dictated a further change in hue.
When the United States entered into the fray which would become known as the Vietnam War, the various branches of the military knew that the climate and terrain that U.S. troops would encounter during the conflict called for an update on the M-51 which was used well into the 1960s.
Thus, the M-65 field jacket was created out of necessity rather out of peace-time calm. By utilizing past field jacket attributes like windproof cotton construction, multiple chest pockets, and an olive green color palette officially referred to as “Olive Green 107” which was suitable for jungle warfare, the military was confident that they had a suitable predecessor.
The Vietnamese climate – which could pound soldiers with elements including radiating heat, relentless rain and whipping wind – made diversity-of-wear a must. To achieve this, the M-65 features a hood that can be rolled into the collar, a removable warming liner, and Velcro-secured sleeves.
The creation of the M-65 jacket itself was initially handled by Alpha Industries – a Knoxville, Tennessee company who incorporated on October, 17 1959. The brainchild of Samuel Gelber and Herman “Breezy” Wynn, by December of that same year, Alpha Industries had secured a contract with the Department of Defense – strengthened by their efforts producing the MA-1 flight jacket after the company had won the ability to work on it through a subcontracting agreement.
Amongst their notable achievements prior to going to work on the M-65, Alpha Industries created the N-3B parka which featured a green nylon shell, heavy wool interlining and real coyote fur trim on the hood which proved to be the perfect cold-weather garment.
Issued to most Army and Marine Corps personnel and many Air Force servicemen and women, the M-65 was produced in NYCO – a newly developed nylon/cotton sateen fabric which was built to meet the demands of the modern battlefield.
When combat troops began returning to the States following the Vietnam War, Alpha Industries saw an opportunity to capitalize off the popular silhouette in both an urban and rural stateside venue. It also allowed Samuel Gelber to retain a staff he often had to lay off during times of peace. According to Alpha Industries, “Instead of selling all jackets under the Alpha name, Gelber created two new companies – Concord Industries and Intercon Apparel – to handle some of the early commercial sales.” Unlike other replicas, these coats were exact clones – down to the exact specificity of military-issued garments.
The M-65 was further cemented in pop culture lore with its appearance in the 1976 film, Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle, a Vietnam Marine veteran, is seen throughout the film draped in the olive coat. As Alpha Industries noted, “Taxi Driver’s costume department chose the M-65 wisely: as written by [Paul] Schrader, the Bickle character is an ex-marine who served in Vietnam, and many vets brought their trusty M-65s home with them, in the process unwittingly creating an authentically badass fashion statement. DeNiro without his M-65 is kind of like Superman without his cape.”
Additional appearances of the M-65 on film included Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer in Annie Hall and Al Pacino’s Frank Serpico in Serpico.
“I think the M-65 Field Coat is such a popular jacket today for a few reasons,” said Alpha Industries CEO, Mike Cirker. “First, the M-65 has such a rich history; the role it played in the U.S. military and in protecting our troops around the globe is legendary. The rugged NYCO fabric and ingenious design stood up against any climate thrown at it. Secondly, the clean silhouette of the M-65 is incredibly versatile. The classic, four-pocket design allows for tremendous utility, while its crisp lines provide a timeless appeal that still plays a major influence in today’s contemporary style. The M-65 truly is an iconic part of men’s fashion.”
Alpha Industries isn’t the only one celebrating the timelessness of the M-65 in a contemporary context. Justin Berkowitxz, market editor at Details, said “it’s the perfect intersection of rugged and cool in the Venn diagram of style. Effortless and handsome, it has an iconic shape that works on nearly every body type.”
Today, countless brands work with the silhouette – ranging from high-fashion like the Saint Laurent version for $1,850 USD to the Real McCoy from Alpha Industries which can be purchased for $180 USD.