Arts + Culture: In a Militarized Damascus, Fatigues Become Fashion

Tailors and store owners report a massive increase in sales of military-themed clothing as pro-government civilians don everything from camouflage dresses to generals’ uniforms in support of Assad.

Written by Younes Ahmad Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes

After his rebel brother was killed while fighting in Deraa, Mohammad Suleiman, a 34-year-old working for Syria’s Electricity Ministry, replaced all of his street clothes with military-themed attire, reflecting the camouflage, insignia and vests worn by members of the Syrian army.

“My colleagues at work are now wearing military attire to support our army,” he says. “We volunteered for the army but I were told that our work is equally important to the work of the soldiers.”

Much like they once wore hats and jerseys to support Chelsea and Real Madrid, pro-government Damascenes like Suleiman are now showing their support and allegiance to the Syrian army by wearing pieces of official uniforms, military colors and camouflage, and even the patches and insignia of various units.

The outfits also function as walking memorials, usually taken from brothers, friends, fathers and cousins killed in battle.

The tendency to wear military-themed clothes is by far most prominent among younger people and college students, who are using war-themed fashion to express their social and political leanings.

Clothing stores in Damascus are racing to keep up with demand.

Samir al-Dandash, 34, owns a store in the Masaken Barzah neighborhood and says that Syria’s war “has changed the tastes of young people. Military uniforms have become the popular fashion trend.

“I’m in a race with neighboring shops to stock the latest styles of military-themed clothing to attract customers, particularly young people. Every young man and woman entering the store asks about pants, t-shirts, or dresses with camouflage patterns. Sometimes they ask for military hats, scarves, or army boots. Since the beginning of this war, I have made tremendous sales from military outfits and accessories.”

Samer al-Kousa, 40, owns a small real estate company in Damascus. On a recent day, he sat in his office in the city’s al-Mazzeh neighborhood decked out in the full dress of a Syrian army general with a battalion of soldiers at his command.

“How could I not wear the military outfit, which is a badge of honor and pride for all the Syrians who are facing an unjust war?” he says. “How could I not wear it when my uncle, brother and son-in-law were killed in action while wearing it? I feel strong when I put it on.”

Samar Zaidan, a 22-year-old literature student at Damascus University, says her style has changed over the course of the three-year conflict. “Military clothes have become my favorites. The same goes for many of my fellow students — we wear it even while attending classes.”

Samar has enlisted with the National Defense Forces, a non-state armed group that supports the Syrian army.

“When I’m not in college I spend most of my time working at a military checkpoint where I’m tasked with searching cars and passers-by,” she says. “Although wearing a uniform is not obligatory, I always wear my military outfit because it is a source of appreciation and respect for me. It’s natural that the military uniform is becoming more popular.”

Samir, the shop owner, says the demand for such clothing was to be expected in a country where “everything has become militarized.”

“People’s conversations in the streets, work places and houses are now all about the army,” he says. “They are constantly keeping up with news about clashes in Deraa, Homs, Aleppo, rural Damascus and other hot zones.”

Oum Ahmed, a Damascus housewife and mother of four soldiers in the Syrian army, says she is proud when her family members don battlefield attire in support of her sons.

“Even their friends who do not serve in the army wear military uniforms all the time,” she says.

Mohammad al-Haloush, a 43-year-old Damascus taxi driver who supports the government, says he drives all day in a secondhand military uniform because he feels proud of the army’s accomplishments.

“The military outfit makes my passengers feel comfortable as a drive them around the capital,” he boasts. “Several of them told me that he or she picked my taxi because they have relatives in the Syrian army, and they felt reassured and safe when they saw the uniform.”

As the war slowly encroached on Damascus, checkpoints and barricades popped up on roads around the city and rebels began launching mortars and grenades into the regime-held suburbs.

“We started to feel that the soldiers are the source of security and safety,” the driver says, “and that is why we imitate their dress code.”

Samir al-Wassouf, a 35-year-old working at the Social Affairs Ministry, says that the military uniform means that as he travels home in heavy rush hour traffic, he’s treated with more kindness by the government soldiers manning the checkpoints.

Women’s tailor Omar al-Hajjo, who has been working in the capital for 40 years, describes a “radical shift” in the nature of the clothes he has been asked to make since the start of the war.

“Before, no one had ever asked me to make a military-style dress,” he says. “But in the past three years, more than half of my work has been military-themed dresses. My longtime customers changed their regular orders and are now asking for this style. People’s tastes have turned upside down.”

Even children have been affected by the trend; it’s now common to see them in the streets, dressed in full mini military uniforms and playing with toy rifles.

“I wear a military uniform because my older brother was killed while fighting in Deraa province,” says Majd, one such child. “My other brother is now fighting in Aleppo. They never take off their uniforms.”

(Edited by Karen Leigh.)

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