Many modern-day style staples have come from military uniforms. M-65 field jackets, wristwatches, and plain white T-shirts are all examples of items worn by soldiers and later popularized in civilian life. And don’t even get us started on camo.
Military and military-style footwear has also found a more peaceful life on city streets. Two boots making the switch are the Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boots (ECVBB, aka Mickey Mouse or bunny boots) and the German GSG-9 (which technically isn’t a military boot, but let’s not split hairs here), with major labels and designers giving them a reimagining in recent times.
Both are built to withstand all conditions and the rigors of life in the field, and with performance and functionality so big today — see the trend for all things trail, hiking, and indeed military-inspired — it’s no surprise to see the fashion world latch on to these two field boots.
Read on to find out more about the ECVBB and GSG-9, and how designers are bringing them to the street.
Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boots
The ECVBB was designed at the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility to help the US military withstand extreme cold after soldiers were hit by exposure during the Korean War.
The Type 1 boot was nicknamed the Mickey Mouse boot due to its black, oil-resistant rubber upper and resemblance to the Disney character’s feet. Each Mickey Mouse boot weighs 44 pounds and is rated for temperatures down to -20ºF (-28.9ºC).
The white, post-Korea Type 2 boot (aka the bunny boot) is an improved version of the Mickey Mouse, rated to −65°F (-53.9°C) and designed for the “worst case scenario” (this was the middle of a Cold War against the Soviet Union, after all). It has been the US Department of Defense’s standard extreme cold weather boot since 1978.
There are conflicting accounts about where the “bunny boot” nickname came from. Some suggest it’s a reference to Bugs Bunny while others believe it’s inspired by the large-footed snowshoe hare, whose fur turns from brown to white in winter.
Both boots have a liner-free interior that retains warmth by sandwiching up to 1 inch of wool and felt insulation between two vacuum-tight layers of rubber, insulating the wearer’s feet as a Thermos keeps your drink warm. Both versions have an air valve on the side, which needs to be open when the wearer at altitude or the boot can rupture.
Like the German Army Trainer, the ECVBB made its way to military surplus stores, where its low price and incredible warmth made it a hit with civilians in colder climes. As well as the insulation, what makes the boot distinctive are the instructions printed on the upper around the valve and on the forefoot. This element has been adopted by various designers, from Yoon Ahn of AMBUSH and Raf Simons to TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist. and Dior.
Earlier this year, Ahn shared a preview of her label’s collaboration with Converse, which includes a bunny boot-style Chuck Taylor with text markings on the upper, a thick sole, and a high-top rubber upper.
In November, Converse also released its own “Mountain Club” collection, which included three silhouettes (One Star, Chuck Taylor All Star, Fastbreak) that took inspiration from the ECVBB.
A few months earlier, at the brand’s Cruise 2019 show, Dior Couture artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri unveiled a high-fashion version of the boot rendered in either military olive or black and looking more like a Wellington thanks to its treaded sole and exaggerated height. But the boot’s text markings showed the ECVBB to be one of Chiuri’s frames of reference.
Belgian designer Raf Simons is a fan, too, creating a version for his eponymous label, as well as several takes as part of his longstanding partnership with adidas. The Raf Simons x adidas Bunny Bounce was one of his more outrageous designs, while the Ozweego Bunny also had a bunny boot influence.
The GSG-9 is made by adidas for Germany’s Grenzschutz Gruppe 9 (“Border Protection Group 9”) tactical police force, which was founded after the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage crisis, in which Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members and a West German police officer.
Although non-military, GSG 9 is called in for tactical and combat missions that require a skillset the normal police force cannot provide, including fieldwork abroad. As such, its equipment needs to be military spec, which is where the GSG-9 boot comes in.
The GSG-9 is made in several heights and models, depending on the mission and terrain, with numerous versions available to buy directly from adidas and through specialty retailers.
Designed with direct input from some of the world’s top special forces, the GSG-9 combines typical military-style ruggedness with athletic features, including Cordura panels on the leather upper for added flexibility and an adiPRENE cushioned heel and internal arch support to absorb impact and provide support. Elsewhere, the boot is clad in abrasion-resistant adiTUFF, with Traxion outsoles and Climaproof weatherproofing.
Two recent collaborations have now brought the GSG-9 into the fashion fold. The first is with Berlin-based magazine-turned-label 032c, which unveiled its take on the boot at Paris Fashion Week in January. Part of the brand’s “Cosmic Workshop” collection, the 032c x adidas GSG-9 was revealed alongside overcoats, T-shirts, and Buffalo footwear, updating the upper in suede and coming in four colorways with 032c branding on the tongue.
While no official release date has been announced, “Cosmic Workshop” pieces were available to buy at 032c’s Paris showroom in mid-January, leading to rumors that the boots were for friends and family only.
Another brand taking inspiration from the GSG-9 is OAMC. Unlike 032c, OAMC has taken adidas’ GSG-9 design and completely remodeled it, opting for extended lacing over a soft upper for a more skin-hugging look. The midsole with heavy tread is taken directly from the GSG-9. Long-term Three Stripes collaborator Yohji Yamamoto has also previously reworked the silhouette.
Of course, plenty of labels have tapped into military looks for inspiration, on boots and elsewhere — not least YEEZY — but with designers latching on to both the Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boot and the GSG-9, expect to see more of these two combatants in the fashion field in future.