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Uncovering the hidden threads connecting military style to the runway

Wednesday, 20 September 2023 at 6:00 am
Fashion illustrations

The Shrine’s new exhibition Trenches to Runway: Military Influences on Popular Fashion will delight visitors with an unexpected history lesson in clothing and fashion. Drawing on examples from the 1870s through to today, the exhibition showcases the sometimes surprising parallels between military dress and their reinterpretations in popular fashion.

From the Trench Coat designed by Burberry and used by the British military in the First World War, to Second World War Bomber Jackets spurring on hundreds of modern variations, the exhibition speaks to the original design intent behind these timeless pieces and how fashion continues to reimagine and reinvent them. Covering the origins of 70s-signature flares in sailor uniforms and the combat boots that now inspire countless variants of Doc Martens, the relationship between fashion and the military continues to inspire and influence streetwear, the high street and haute couture.

Curator Kate Spinks-Colas says 

It is fascinating to learn that many of the everyday fashions we wear have links to military uniform design and this can be down to some of the smallest details. For example, the D-rings on the belt of a trench coat were originally included so that military officers could hang equipment from them. Similarly, the zip-front feature of the bomber jacket was the result of fighter pilots requiring a fast and efficient way to dress in the heat of battle – no one had time to stand around buttoning up their life-saving uniform when duty called!
I think visitors will enjoy discovering these stories and more and the exhibition really highlights the many facets of life that have been influenced or shaped by war and military history”.

Fashion scholar Dr Harriette Richards says

Military garments have often been at the forefront of material innovation, from the waterproofed gabardine twill designed by Thomas Burberry in the 1850s to the heavy leather boots made for wear in mud-filled trenches during the First World War. Fashion designers have long embraced not only these innovations but also the order and discipline of military silhouettes. Today, military garments remind us of histories of violence, colonialism and imperialism. However, appropriated by fashion, the details of these garments also tell us important stories about the movement of people and culture around the world”.

Trenches to Runway offers a unique way for visitors to the Shrine to engage with Australia’s military history and invites them to see the rich connections between Australia’s military traditions, everyday life and popular culture—exploring how the things we wear are layered with cultural, social, political and historical symbolism and meaning.

Key program details

‘Trenches to Runway’ opens 23 October at the Shrine of Remembrance, until Oct 2024
Exclusive curated tours including High Tea are available as part of Melbourne Fashion Week 

Media enquiries

Interview opps available with curator Kate Spinks-Colas and fashion scholar Dr Harriette Richards.
For more information or to request an interview please contact:
Claire Teggin at Pitch Projects on or 0481 572 136
Images for media use are available here.


Image: Fashion illustration (late 1940s-early 1950s) By Jacques Heim, Paris 
Image courtesy National Gallery of Victoria