How Realtree Camouflage Became a Cool-Kid Essential

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As far as I know, hunting has not become a popular hobby in downtown Manhattan. But you may be forgiven for thinking just that, especially as it’s become hard to walk through Dimes Square without being confronted by a whole duck blind’s worth of Realtree camouflage. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the pattern: a camouflage made up of photo-realistic leaves, twigs, and bark usually used by those in more wooded locales than Canal St.

Technically, Realtree is a brand—its name has become a sort of metonym for the patterns it sells as “Advantage Classic Camo” and “Advantage Timber Camo.” There are a handful of other similar patterns made by other companies, like Mossy Oak, but Realtree is by far the most commonly sighted in New York. The first Realtree pattern was hand-drawn by Bill Jordan, who founded the company in 1986, and was designed specifically for hunters. Quickly, Realtree became one of the most recognizable camouflage patterns in a booming market. The brand naturally spread to adjacent lifestyle-focused territory with licensees like Wrangler and sponsorship deals with NASCAR. Streetwear caught on quickly, with brands like Supreme, Stüssy, and Nike working with Realtree on camouflage offerings.

Now, Realtree is popping up in more unexpected places. Online Ceramics has a trippy Realtree cap, while the cult brand Praying has a whole series of Realtree pieces, including its popular “Slightly Fatter NY” baseball hats and a bikini set—plus a new skirt. On the other end of the New York fashion spectrum, Randy’s Garments released four head-to-toes Realtree designs. Then, of course, there are the Realtree Crocs, which are hard not to spot on the hipper sidewalks of the city. While other camouflage patterns’ military roots can pose an ethical minefield, as a hunting pattern Realtree is comparatively uncontroversial. When it comes to camo, people would rather look like they kill deer than people.

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Even with these high-profile streetwear endorsements, Realtree remains a hunting brand. “That’s where the authenticity comes from, and we have to make sure the balance stays correct,” says Jill Slocumb, the company’s director of retail and brands, and who has handled licensing of Realtree camouflage for the past 23 years. “These fashion companies don’t bring in a lot of business in pure royalties, but they put our patterns and brand in front of a new set of eyes that have never seen it,” she explains. Still, she says, “We always go back to our core, that hunting consumer that brought us to the dance.”

Those rural bona fides contribute to the pattern’s in-vogue status. It’s worth remembering that Realtree has been popular since the 90s—which means that now, it fits in perfectly with the 90s and Y2K style that has been popular of late. “In downtown New York and Brooklyn, there are always people whose cruising altitude for getting dressed is some level of irony or subversiveness,” says Lawrence Schlossman, host of the podcast Throwing Fits (and owner of five pieces of Realtree camouflage). “I think a lot of young people use fashion to make a statement, and often that statement is one of irony.”

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>