NEW YORK (Reuters) - Call it urban warrior, military chic or even drab fab.
Commanding attention in the fashions for next spring and summer, unveiled this week in New York, are officer jackets, camouflage prints, brass buttons and cargo pants, all made softer in fabrics of linen, lace and silk.
The mix of tough and tender, or functional and feminine, scores well with fashion consumers, experts say.
"It's huge. Military has become a staple," said luxury consultant Robert Burke. "People seem to feel a bit protected in these military jackets, a little more secure."
"It's not girly fashion, it's not a frilly look," he added. "It's a slightly stronger look, and it just seems to be comfortable for people right now."
Leading with military-infused looks at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York were such collections as Ruffian, which showed ambassador jackets with stand-up collars and brass buttons, four-pocket legion jackets, crisp canvas skirts and sequined skirts and dresses in camouflage-patterned fabric.
The Ruffian collection was inspired by Susan Travers, the only woman to serve officially with the French Foreign Legion, said designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais.
"Travers' inspired life with elements of diplomacy, military, exotic travels and romance made for a perfect muse for our collection," they said in describing their looks.
U.S. designer Nicole Miller played with the military look by turning jackets inside out, so linings and seams appeared exposed. Design line Nicholas K's models sported leather-banded berets, fatigue jackets, rugged vintage boots and canvas belts with metal grommets, and designer Adam Lippes offered flat-fronted denim sailor pants, laced up the back.
Military looks have long influenced fashion -- from trench coats first made for officers and cropped Eisenhower jackets to surplus goods worn in anti-war protest and aviator-style sunglasses first designed for pilots.
These days, the tough look is mixed with soft touches. At Rag & Bone, dresses were lashed with stiff black-buckled harnesses and combat pants were made of silk, mesh and gauze. Derek Lam played with trench coats, mixing twill and linen. Alexander Wang had gauze peacoats, satin parachute pants and backless trench coats with oversized wind flaps.
"There has been a trend for this mix of hard and soft elements, and for a play on masculine feminine," said Claire Hamilton, retail trend analyst at WGSN forecasting service.
Combining military tailoring and embellishments with feminine detail creates appealing eclectic looks, she said.
"That suits today's customer who wants to buy into a sense of unique, personal style," she said.
And military looks are infinitely practical, experts note.
"From a commercial point of view, I think the real driving factor behind military-inspired fashion is the utilitarian component," said Marc Beckham of Designers Management Agency.
Military pieces, he noted, tend to have lots of pockets.
"We see more women in the work force, and they have their cell phone and their BlackBerry and their iPhone and on top of that they have their keys and everything else," he said.
The structured shapes and neutral colors of military styles suit most body types and complexions, said Michelle Madhok, editor of Shefinds.com online shopping guide.
And most of the items are classics, she added.
"As long as you don't go overboard with camouflage or brass-button epaulets, you'll be able to wear your khaki skirt for multiple seasons," she said.
Editing by Vicki Allen