A Late War Dense pattern tiger stripe jacket made from a heavyweight material with 2 bellows patch pockets and cuffed sleeves with gussets.

Feature: Tigerstripe Collecting

28 November 2005

Pete Hughes

My militaria collecting first started with reasonably easy to obtain WWII items. The first time I became aware of Vietnam Tigerstripe camouflage was when I saw the films "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now". I was curious to know what this strange striped camouflage was called and where I could buy it. It was not until the early 1980`s when I saw an illustrated colour drawing in a UK magazine called "War In Peace" that I found out that this pattern was called "Tigerstripe".

It is easy to understand how this pattern got its name from its bold black stripes, which mimic those of a tiger. The combination of green, brown and black stripes provided near perfect camouflage for a jungle environment with its light and shade. It was made using a screen-printing process, which is why it can sometimes appear smudged. The pattern was adapted from the black and green "Lizard pattern", used by the French during their war in Indochina.

I spent a lot of time visiting Army Surplus shops before it became apparent that few people in the UK had even heard of this pattern, never mind had any for sale. My first chance of getting genuine items came when I found a shop that imported American vintage clothing. This turned out to be a valuable source for several years and provided me with other Vietnam items, which I could sell for a profit to fund my collecting. Over a period of time visiting UK Arms Fairs and through contact with other Vietnam collectors the size of my collection increased. I was always restricted by having to sell items to get enough money to buy better pieces, but gradually my collection became more unusual.

A Late War, Heavyweight Dense pattern (LHD) combat vest / body warmer

Figure 1. A Late War, Heavyweight Dense pattern (LHD) combat vest / body warmer.

The pinnacle of my collecting came when I had two items featured in the American Tigerstripe book "Tiger Patterns" by Richard Johnson. Richard had originally made his own handmade book some years earlier, and we had traded on a number of occasions to our mutual benefit. It still gives me great pleasure when contacting another collector to explain that I am the Pete Hughes with items featured in what is considered the Tigerstripe collectors “bible”.

In the book Richard points out that that this camouflage was much in demand during the Vietnam war and was worn by elite units such as US Special Forces, US Navy Seals and USMC advisors amongst others. Even war correspondents and photographers, including the famous British photographer Tim Page, sported Tigerstripes.

A pair of Gold Advisor Sparse pattern (ADS) trousers and a John Wayne Dense pattern (JWD) shirt

Figure 2. A pair of Gold Advisor Sparse pattern (ADS) trousers and a John Wayne Dense pattern (JWD) shirt.

There are more than 25 patterns of Tigerstripe but my favourite, and the most sought after by collectors, is the gold Advisor Sparse pattern (ADS). Figure 2 shows a pair of ADS pattern trousers that were worn with a John Wayne Dense pattern (JWD) shirt in Vietnam by an American MACV advisor.

The JWD pattern is so named because it was used in John Wayne's movie, 'The Green Berets'. The uniforms in the film were made from material that was bought in Vietnam and shipped back to the States for manufacture.

Although most of the Tigerstripe garments you encounter are uniforms, the proliferation of tailor shops in Vietnam meant that any item of clothing could be custom made cheaply. The result of this is bespoke flight suits, survival vests and even sports/dinner jackets! Although flight suits are sought after, tiger ponchos, body warmers (See Figure 1) and survival vests are even more rare.

The Internet has made Tigerstripe collecting available to a much wider audience and as a result prices have steadily increased over the years. I am frequently outbid on auction sites by U.S. or seemingly super rich Japanese collectors. Unfortunately the higher prices have lead to increasingly accurate fakes and reproductions being offered by unscrupulous sellers as originals. My recommendation is to arm yourself with a copy of "Tiger Patterns"; it will save you time and stop you from being swindled.

Tiger Patterns is available from Amazon.com (affiliate link)
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