Remember those chinos you should have in your wardrobe by now? Well it turns out they may well have been relegated to the sidelines of sartorial history if it weren’t for Stuart Cramer, early 20th Century textile baron and owner of Cramerton Mills of North Carolina. In 1929, spurred partly by his son’s ongoing service in the military, Cramer took on a contract to produce 40,000 yards of 8.2 oz cotton twill for the Quartermaster Depot in Philadelphia. It was the first in a run of Type 1 Army Cloth, a khaki-colored, tough-as-nails answer to the olive drab “doughboy” uniforms of WWI—garments that, aside from fading and degrading over time, proved so unpopular after the war that whole stockpiles had to be junked by the military.
Not so for Cramerton’s Army Cloth: It saw service as the standard basic uniform cloth in WWII and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and then made the leap to industrial uniforms, surplus shops, and college campuses nationwide (on the legs of returning GIs). And though initially produced exclusively in its hometown, Cramer quickly shared production methods with his textile-manufacturing compatriots, greatly expanding the fabric’s availability. As the popularity of chinos waned in the wake of balloon-like fits and casual Friday misfires, so did that of Cramerton Army Cloth, but since their resurgence you can find a slew of pants—ranging from utilitarian to downright dressed-up—cut from the stuff. Chalk up another one for the military’s continued role in modern menswear.