Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The liberation of Tripoli considered as a catwalk opportunity

All wars of whatever kind have always had a strong fashion element. Hence such things as: grunts decorating their helmets in Vietnam; the adoption of the keffiyah by both middle eastern terrorist/liberation movements and as a western university uniform; the occasional pop star falling into a pit of embarrassment and vacuity when challenged about their claim that the Nazis were 'cool'.

The Libyan uprising, though, seems to have taken war-fashion to a new level. I can't help myself noticing the dress code of the rebels.

With the advent of effective long-distance rifles in the mid 19th century, warriors abandoned their previous battlefield finery. Out went feather plumes, red jackets, striped trousers and - a personal favourite - the pelisse, a fur-trimmed jacket that cavalry men (there were few, if any cavalry women, I'm assured) wore slung over one shoulder but never actually put on. In came olive drab, sensible boots and jackets with lots and lots of useful pockets. The only time modern troops get to dress up properly is when guarding the Queen or the Pope or something.

The rebels have upended this completely. They go into battle dressed up as if for a night out on the passegiata. No worries that their blue and white hooped polo shirt might make a target for enemy snipers. No, they seem set on cutting a bella figura. They really do offer a full range of well-chosen sports wear for the would-be liberator. They've mostly gone for the white trainers option, too.

I particularly like watching out for the football shirts being worn. I've seen a lot of Barcelona ones but my favourite was a Manchester United away shirt — complete with number 10 and 'Owen' on the back. If football is war by other means, here war is football by other means.

I was left with a question, though: what about the regime forces? Where are their fashionistas?

Then last night I found myself watching Newsnight or somesuch and seeing old footage of Gadafi. I'd long cracked the gag that the way he dressed these days, it was hard to tell him apart from Carlos Santana — moustache plus loose, brown outfit and unusual head-covering (for male pattern baldness reasons, I suspect).

But I'd forgotten just what a fashionist he'd been over the years. He had his Michael Jackson phase — peaked cap and military tunic, lots of excessive gold frogging, dark glasses. And as I watched Newsnight, I saw him in his 1980s phase — pale blue trakkie. He looked like a Scouse scally on his way to a pre-Heysel Liverpool away match in Europe. (Or were Michael Jackson and the scallies copying Gadafi?)

So maybe the rebels realised that as, in the end, all military victories can only be successfully secured by concomitant social victories, therefore when going into battle the choice of shirt is at least as significant as NATO air support, maybe more.

Plato: When the texture of shirting fabric changes, so the walls of the city shake.

PS When my friend Paul published a big magazine article on the fashion aspect of terrorist groupings, he got into terrible trouble. Here's hoping.