Marine takes 'decorated' to new level

Jonathan Kaupanger
September 13, 2018 - 1:33 pm

Photo by Christopher Costa


War and the military have influenced fashion for a long, long time. The modern necktie is traced to Croatian mercenaries in the Thirty Years’ War during the first half of the 17th century.  It wasn’t until after the Crimean War in the mid-1800’s, that the trench coat became popular.  Dr. Martens came out of Germany during World War II.  The Pea Coat was first made popular by Dutch sailors in the 16th century.  Even the plain white t-shirt started as part of the Navy uniform in 1913.

Next up for the fashion world is the simple yet stylish pocket square.  And the impetus for this new change comes out of one of the darkest days in America’s history, September 11, 2001, and our involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Marine Corps veteran Christopher Costa was in New York on 9/11.  “I responded to the attacks at the towers, right before they fell,” says Costa.  In 2001 he was working law enforcement.  “I was plain clothes,” he explains, “We were trying to get everybody out of the way so that uniform first responders could do what they had to do.”

Shortly after 9/11, Costa was involved in a car accident.  He was out of work for two years while undergoing several surgeries.  One day, while feeling sorry for himself he was on social media and was reading stories about young men who joined the military after 9/11.  “They fought hard for their country, no matter what position they were in,” he recalls.  “They did what they had to do.  It just overwhelmed me and it moved me.”

The stories in his social media feed were mostly about veteran suicide.  He wanted to do something, to help someway, somehow.  He was struck with the idea that some of these returning veterans, particularly ones with post-traumatic stress, might actually be upset with the military because of how they feel. “But at the same time, they are true patriots,” Costa says.  “They’re stuck in between horrors of war and patriotism.  What I wanted to do was look for a way to honor these guys.”

One day Costa saw a pocket square on the internet.  It just had stripes on it.  “I was like, that looks like a military ribbon,” he recalls.  He finally knew what to do. 

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The first pocket square he designed was for the National Defense Medal.  He put it in his pocket and realized it looked good.  It was sleek and bold, but not over the top bold.  “People are going to ask you about this,” he thought to himself.  They did and it was very personal.  At a party once, a woman said to Costa, “I wish this was available when my father passed away because we couldn’t find his purple heart.”

His trip from Marine Corps to fashion designer has been slow, but he’s now toying with ideas for coordinated ties, bowties and cufflinks.  But this project isn’t just a way to make money, it does so much more for Costa.

“Having the ability to take the Purple Heart and send it to a guy that has earned the medal makes me feel like that four-star general that pinned it on his chest,” says Costa, his voice can’t hide the pride he feels.  “It gives me great pleasure to be able to recognize somebody for their commitments like that.”

When someone purchases a pocket square from Costa’s company, Pocket Square Heroes, he doesn’t vet them.  “The way I see it now, these guys rate this,” says Costa.  “If they don’t, I mean I feel sorry for them.  If someone is a total civilian and they’re going to put on a Purple Heart or Silver Star pocket square in their pocket and hit the street, they’re not going to get 20 feet today.  Someone is going to call them out on it and it’s probably going to be pretty public.”

Costa has designs ready for civilians as well, including camouflage and the American Flag. There are Blue Line squares to represent law enforcement, red lines for firefighters.  He even has pocket squares with military branch colors, though he is reworking the Navy pocket square because he didn’t like the way the yellow came out.

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Through Pocket Square Heroes, Costa is encouraging all veterans to show pride and help civilians understand the military a bit better.  He says that unless its Veterans Day or Memorial Day, walking around with your entire ribbon rack on your chest might look a little awkward.  “We don’t want to do that to the civilian population,” jokes Costa.  “We don’t want to scare them away.  But at the same time, we want to bring them in because they do support us.  They just might be timid if you have 15 medals hanging on your chest.”

Costa believes this is a great way to identify other veterans in a crowd.  It’s a way to support each other and promote civilian understanding.  “And what man doesn’t like telling war stories, but with a positive spin,” says Costa. 

Photo by Christopher Costa

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