The New Army Tactical Brassiere Latest Episode of Military Connections with FashionRoundup
tags: military history, fashion, womens history, uniforms, Underwear
Einav Rabinovitch-Fox teaches U.S. and women's and gender history at Case Western Reserve University. She writes about the intersections between fashion, culture, politics and modernity. Her new book is Dressed for Freedom: The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism (University of Illinois Press, 2021)
According to news reports, the military will offer its first uniform bra this coming fall, pending approval from the Army Uniform Board. The four prototypes of the bra, named the Army Tactical Brassiere (ATB), aim to offer optimum support, durability and comfort for training and combat. The ATB will come in different patterns and styles, including pullover and front-closure options to accommodate various body types and to meet the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding soldiers.
In the development of the ATB, the military collaborated with professional fashion designers and sought input from female soldiers to refine the design. According to Ashley Cushon, clothing designer and project lead for the ATB, feeling good in one’s clothes influences not only the individual’s mental health but also “overall readiness and performance levels, allowing them to focus on their mission.”
The move to create the ATB, along with other changes to the dress code implemented last year, is being touted as part of an increased effort by the military to enhance inclusivity and adapt to the growing diversity of its personnel and the varied needs of its soldiers. This development suggests that the military, a traditionally conservative and masculine institution, has at last adopted a more enlightened perspective on the needs of women.
But, in fact, the creation of the ATB is actually the latest chapter in a long entanglement between the fashion industry and the military — one spurred by the Army’s attention to its soldiers’ appearance, especially its female soldiers.
During the American Civil War, the demand for hundreds of thousands of standardized uniforms catalyzed the ready-made garment industry and led to a revolution in menswear after the war. World War I men’s uniform styles brought new trends to women’s fashion and changed the silhouette by 1916, which in turn also shaped the style of nurse uniforms — the first women’s uniforms the military issued.
During World War II, as part of a national mobilization effort, the War Production Board issued the L-85 order that restricted the civilian use of fabrics, clothing and accessories to preserve materials for military use. Fashion designers, following the order, found creative ways to work around it, such as using zippers instead of buttons, or introducing the now popular trend of flats modeled after ballet shoes, which were not rationed.