Recognition patterns
December 7, 2012 1:35 AM   Subscribe

Disruptive Pattern Material: Blechman on Camouflage The Maharishi designer traces the pattern from natural science, via red coats fighting the Boer wars, to modern day battlefields Via.
posted by infini (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do these camouflage pants make my butt look invisible?
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:16 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blechman says that the Redcoat's red coat was a status symbol for English peasants and an incentive to enlist. Interesting, but that wasn't the point of the red coat.

The red coat was part of the package of reforms introduced by Cromwell during the English Civil War in 1645. The New Model Army he brought into being was the most disciplined fighting force in Europe in that era. Cromwell created an army of professional soldiers with standardized drill and regular pay. The red coat worn by its foot soldiers was important not because it was red but because it was standardized, and having the troops dress in standardized clothing was an innovation in itself. A uniform is a mark of discipline. It makes it clear that being a soldier is not about personal glory, not in the New Model Army at least.

Red coats make it easy for the enemy to see you, and once we get into the age of accurate rifle fire that's bad. Prior to that, stealth wasn't much of a concern for regiments of foot. In an era where some soldiers were still wading into melee combat armed with pikes it made sense to advertise loudly which side you're on.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:21 AM on December 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


It got to that point where we saw Osama Bin Laden on TV, filmed in some cave, and you say: ‘Isn’t that a US army jacket?’ ‘Yeah, in woodland camouflage’ and I’m like: ‘You fucking idiots sold it to him in one of your surplus store!’

Somehow that Bin Ladin fashion label never really took off.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:38 AM on December 7, 2012


Also, an important reason for the brightly-coloured military uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries was to make the soldiers more visible to their own commanders in battle. In a time when battle communications depended on runners, being able to clearly see what your own troops were up to was an obvious tactical advantage.
Furthermore, desertion was a big problem in the press-ganged or forcibly-conscripted armies of the time. A conspicuous uniform made it more difficult to slip out of the battlefield unnoticed...
posted by Skeptic at 2:38 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


None of this explains the vibrant attire of the Royal Canadian Mounties.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:41 AM on December 7, 2012


A really interesting subject. Shame the article is so short.

The red coat worn by its foot soldiers was important not because it was red but because it was standardized, and having the troops dress in standardized clothing was an innovation in itself.

Wasn't the red also specifically so it concealed blood stains or something? Or is that apocryphal?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:01 AM on December 7, 2012


A uniform is a mark of discipline.

It's also a mark of intimidation much like the bright yellow vests worn by UK police. It gives off a loud "don't mess with us" signal.

This was one of the shocks at Concord and Lexington. The Americans were supposed to run away from the brightly-colored and easily-recogniseable regular Army troops of the King. And when they didn't George III knew he had a fight on his hands.
posted by three blind mice at 3:05 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


"It's also a mark of intimidation much like the bright yellow vests worn by UK police"

They're very similar to the ones worn by street cleaners, dustbin collectors, builders and contractors, cyclists, etc. They're simply meant to be highly visible; the intimidation only comes from the big 'POLICE' logo, which your brain associates with the possibility of nasty things possibly happening around you in the immediate future.
posted by forgetful snow at 3:10 AM on December 7, 2012


Wasn't the red also specifically so it concealed blood stains or something? Or is that apocryphal?

Visual Identity: History of the British Army Uniform – Redcoats
In his book “British Military Uniforms” (Hamylyn Publishing Group 1968), the military historian W.Y. Carman traces in considerable detail the slow evolution of red as the English soldier’s colour, from the Tudors to the Stuarts.

The adoption and continuing use of red by most English soldiers after the Restoration (1660) appears to have been a historical accident, aided by the relative cheapness of red dyes.There is no basis for the historical myth that red coats were favoured because they did not show blood stains. Interestingly, blood shows on red clothing as a black stain.

The reasons that emerge are a mixture of financial (cheaper red, russet or crimson dyes), cultural (a growing popular sense that red was the national English colour) and simple chance (an order of 1594 is that coats “be of such colours as you can best provide”).

The formation of the first standing army, that of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1645, saw red clothing as the standard dress. As Carman comments (p24) “The red coat was now firmly established as the sign of an Englishman.” )
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:13 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The red color came from the need to have a uniform that couldn't be confused with other types of uniforms. In the 17th and 18th centuries, there weren't that many dyes available. The butcher's uniform, the cobbler's uniform, the priest and the commoner, all tended to dress in shades of black, grey, and brown.

The bright red color of the uniforms became possible with the availability of madder, which grows in Britain, but required stable trade relations with Holland and other places before it could be used on the scale of an army. Madder red provided a vivid color even before Prussian Blue and other chemical dyes became economical.

It wasn't until the 1960's, actually, that the full range of dye colors started to become available, but it's hard now to imagine a world where almost everyone wore clothes with fairly drab color pallettes.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:17 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


None of this explains the vibrant attire of the Royal Canadian Mounties.

The RCMP inherited the Red Surge from the NWMP, who apparently chose red in order to be visually opposite from the blue uniforms of the hated US Calvary.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:21 AM on December 7, 2012


The RCMP inherited the Red Surge

Ahem. That'd be Red Serge, actually; the latest incarnation can be seen here.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:46 AM on December 7, 2012


This seems like a good place to mention a recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Razzle Dazzle about the use of camouflage not to blend in but to distort the perception of the viewer.
Dazzle painting emerged in the 1910s as design solution to a very dire problem: American and British ships were being sunk left and right by German U-Boats. England needed to import supplies to fight the Central Powers, and these ships were sitting ducks in the Atlantic Ocean. They needed a way to fend of the torpedoes.

Conventional high-similarity camouflage just doesn’t work in the open sea. Conditions like the color of the sky, cloud cover, and wave height change all the time, not to mention the fact that there’s no way to hid all the smoke left by the ships’ smoke stacks.

The strategy of this high-difference, dazzle camouflage was not about invisibility. It was about disruption. Confusion.
There are some pictures of dazzle camouflaged ships on the 99% Invisible page, and you can see more in the online collections of the Imperial War Museum.
posted by bjrn at 3:47 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


That'd be Red Serge

Dammit, I need a homophone-aware spell check.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:58 AM on December 7, 2012


How does this explain Zubaz pants?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:04 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I need a homophone-aware spell check

I was just using it as an excuse to post that ridiculously exploitative picture from the Olympic closing ceremonies here in Vancouver. To say that the RCMP brass and public were not amused would be an understatement.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:06 AM on December 7, 2012


Did you know that Wikipedia has individual entries about a whole list of colors? There's an article for blue and red and yellow and so on.

That list has a wealth of unexplored color possibilities for military clothing.

Of course, there's Army green and Navy blue, but Air Force blue includes Air superiority blue.

Sappy colors like United Nations blue can't compete with stronger colors like Star Command blue or Blast-off bronze when it comes to Pomp and Power.

One day we'll stop fighting wars, or at least stop showing up for battle in tacky monochrome outfits. Armies will march to victory wearing International Orange or Purple pizzazz or Razzamatze or Razzel dazzel rose or even Psychedelic purple. And they will keep marching, with firm resolution, until they reach Outer space.

And the world will be more colorful for it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:23 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thank you all for turning this whole thread into a fantastic uber FPP. I was fascinated by the article but didn't know enough about the subject to even begin to find a good angle for framing and researching a post.
posted by infini at 4:30 AM on December 7, 2012


I was just using it as an excuse to post that ridiculously exploitative picture from the Olympic closing ceremonies here in Vancouver.

I put that picture in my photo editor to remove all the red-eye, and it took all their clothes off.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:46 AM on December 7, 2012


The Maharishi designer

Ah good, it's not that Maharishi. But can you still be considered a designer label if you haven't put out any work for more than a year?
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:41 AM on December 7, 2012


A really interesting subject. Shame the article is so short.

Blechman's book is gigantic, although much of it is self-promotion.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:22 AM on December 7, 2012


Red coats make it easy for the enemy to see you, and once we get into the age of accurate rifle fire that's bad.

Especially when you add criss-crossing white straps to make an excellent "shoot here" indicator.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:52 AM on December 7, 2012


One day we'll stop fighting wars, or at least stop showing up for battle in tacky monochrome outfits.

Consider the Zouaves. Combat Hammer pants!
posted by kirkaracha at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also a mark of intimidation much like the bright yellow vests worn by UK police. It gives off a loud "don't mess with us" signal.

That never occurred to me. I always thought they made police look less intimidating and more like crossing guards.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:41 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


My army's uniforms would all be International Klein Blue. Enemies would have to look away from the electric bluosity!
posted by Justinian at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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