With the new Predator film out this week I decided to have a look back at the camo gear worn in the original movie. As the movie was filmed in 1986 and released in 1987, not surprisingly the camo worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others in his elite military rescue team, is the actual camo in service with the US military of the time - M81 woodland.
The pattern was introduced by the US Army in 1981 and was based on the M1948 ERDL (US Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory) pattern, retaining the same colourway of mid-brown, tan, green and black, but with a 60% enlargement of the original drawings. This enlargement in pattern, reflected a shift in the tactical focus of the US military from an extremely close-range 'jungle' war in Vietnam to potentially a more open, longer-range battlefield in Europe.
The M81 pattern was the first US military camo that saw extensive distribution and was used, when required, by pretty much all branches of the US military: army, marines, navy and airforce. The pattern was therefore produced in a wide variety of fabrics, uniform types, hats, field equipment and protective wear. M81 was used in combat during the US military involvement in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Somalia and the Balkans. The pattern has become one of the most duplicated and modified camouflage patterns ever designed, seeing service with many different military forces around the world until the present day.
In both the First Gulf War of the early 90s and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after 9/11 many soldiers were still seen wearing woodland camo gear in combination with desert camo. There weren't the stocks of desert camo on hand, clothing had to be made, shipped and issued. Also many units travelled to the desert, from Europe, in the woodland camo gear they were wearing.
The M81 pattern only started to be replaced, service-by-service, from 2002 onwards, as digital camouflage patterns became popular.
The Vietnam War, and Vietnam War films in particular, are credited with the surge in the crossover of military clothing into fashion and streetwear -think of the M65 parka, M65 field jacket and MA1 flight jacket, all US army Vietnam uniform items. But in terms of the crossover of camo clothing into fashion and streetwear it really began in the 1980s with the M81 woodland pattern - cheap, surplus clothing became popular with punks and early hip-hop musicians. As is often the case top designers take inspiration from street fashion and woodland camo pieces soon made their way onto the catwalk. M81 woodland camo, and all it's copies and derivatives, is still one of the most popular camo patterns today.