Before it was “Old School” Camo
By Brad Sanders
Long before it was “old school”, it was just camo. Before it became the preferred camouflage of North American duck hunters, its story began on the backs of Marines and soldiers in the Pacific campaign of WWII. Few of today’s waterfowlers know the true history of their favorite “retro” camo pattern, and fewer still know that the lineage of this storied pattern began in the garden of a San Francisco horticulturalist while he gazed at a frog’s skin.
A History of Combat
In 1942, General Douglas MacArthur called “frog skin” camo in to service through an urgent request for 150,000 jungle uniforms. The initial uniforms were reversible. One side consisted of a 5-color jungle variation. The other side was comprised of 3 light tan and brown colors for use along the beaches of the Pacific. Feedback from the troops was almost uniformly negative.The green jungle pattern was entirely too bright to blend in with the dense jungles of the Pacific campaign. The pattern also found limited use on the M1942 uniform in the European theater. However, its similarity to certain German camouflage uniforms led to friendly-fire incidents.
Frog Skin Suits
So where did the name “frog skin” come from? Enter Norvell Gillespie, a San Francisco horticulturalist and gardening editor for none other than Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The military commissioned Gillespie to develop the pattern, and he looked to nature to guide his design. Inspired by the seemingly invisible amphibians that frequented his garden, Gillespie modeled his design after the crypsis pattern on a frog’s skin. When the camo uniforms were issued, GI’s called their new uniforms “frog skin suits.” The name stuck.
The Duck Hunter's Camo
After the war, the military sold off many of MacArthur’s original uniforms as surplus. When servicemen returned home to their favorite hunting marshes, they wore their old “frog skin suits.” It wasn’t long before the hunting apparel industry took notice. The market became flooded with specialty hunting garments using “duck hunter’s camo.”
Old School Camo
For decades after its initial use, frog skin was simply “duck hunter’s camo.” Its use was widespread in popular hunting garments through the 1980’s when it gave way to more modern and realistic camouflage. The pattern that had dominated hunting apparel for almost half of the 20th century seemingly disappeared from store shelves. It was the revival of the pattern as a retro reboot by a popular waterfowl apparel brand that rebranded frog skin as “old school.”
Today frog skin is enjoying a resurgence as waterfowlers and even high fashion brands seek out gear and apparel that helps them create a more authentic experience. FrogSkin Camo™ by Dixie Decoys is the most historically accurate reproduction of this iconic pattern to date. Our take on frog skin camo is recolored to more appropriately match typical waterfowl hunting environments. It is a direct reproduction of Gillespie’s original crypsis pattern. From base layers, to outerwear and hats, you can find something that directly connects you to your long and stored heritage as a North American waterfowler.
So now you know the TRUE story of your favorite “retro” pattern. Next time somebody compliments you on your “old school” hat or jacket, be sure to honor the legacy of the servicemen who carried the camo pattern into battle on far away shores by calling it as they did…FrogSkin.
If you’re looking to add some historical character to your waterfowl hunting apparel, check out Dixie Decoy’s FrogSkin Camo collection to connect with your heritage.