Are you 'Alley' enough?


Are you ‘Alley’ enough
It all started with a guy called Alley from Colchester.   He set up a shop selling kit, where the Parachute regiment is based.  Soldiers have to look the same with uniformity, but they can attempt to get away with certain things.  From then on when ever someone in the army wore kit that was different, you would say ‘that’s Alley kit’.  Soldiers spend millions of pounds onuniform that looks good and isn’t standard issue as they want to look the best and perform the best.  Being ‘Alley’ as f**k and seeing what they can get away with.   It’s turned into an expression for doing something rude, wide or different and trying to stretch boundaries with their facial hair, what they wear and how they behave.
You’d think that the fashion industry and the army couldn’t be more opposite, but here’s the similarity, they are both just as competitive about wearing the newest gear.  Soldiers get given their basic issue of kit comprising of boots, webbing, a helmet, a day rucksack, trousers, a jacket and a myriad of other kit, but they choose to buy different gear and extras in order to look funkier and in theory to be able to perform better.  The most common alterations to their gear is webbing, soldiers can spend anything up to £300 on a set of webbing which are canvas straps that attach to their shoulders and carry ammunition.  Putting scrim netting on your helmets and changing the standard helmet to a gentex helmet, which is more comfortable and light.  Knee pads, watches and rucksacks are also bought to look different.  ‘You’re issued a day sack, but noone goes out with it and they buy their own.  It’s also popular to replace the jackets with a jacket called ‘rab softie’ which retails at just under £200.  It’s all sexy kit that makes the soldier look good.’   They don’t always buy their sexy kit as it is, they make it.  For example, the scrim netting has to have fabric that is green or brown cut into strips and threaded through it for the helmet, making sure that no one has anything like they have, it’s unique.  ‘Though I've only been here a few months, I have noticed that though they could quite easily get a cheaper product that works better, they will tend to buy the more expensive one.  This tends to be represented by the watches they wear on their wrists and the jackets they also wear,’ says Joe from the RVOps army store. ‘It tends to be like at school, where if you don't follow the trends, you quickly slide down the  "un-cool" scale.  It does tend to be the younger generation.’
Hair is also on the style agenda.  Men try and grow their hair as long as they can.  The Special forces can do whatever they like with this sort of thing, they’re cool, so people try to emulate them.  Sideburns and mustaches are allowed if they’re good enough.  Hereford pointers which go wider at the bottom, almost touching the mouth, are worn in the SAS, there is no way a regular unit could get away with it.  The most ‘Alley’ people in the army are the special forces, so everyone tries to copy them as they are the P-Diddy of the army, so cool.  
If you don’t buy ‘alley’ kit, you look crap and new, like you don’t know what your doing.  Soldiers want to look as experienced and impressive as possible, so they always buy new kit, this is why it’s important to be seen as ‘Alley’, you have a higher status or an equal status in others eyes.  It’s a way of being one up on each others, the same as a girl, soldiers love new kit, it’s exciting.  There’s so many men in the army that sometimes they just want to stand out.  They spend their whole career doing what they’re told, it’s as if they’ve signed their life away, so this is a way for them to do what they can do and see if they get away with it.  ‘The more they try and be different and annoy us, the harder we make their lives, so they have to be careful’ said Major carry.
As far as bullying goes, it’s rarely an issue, there is extreme banter.  It’s technically what happens in schools, but they’re old enough to give it back and have a joke about it.  You give back as much as you get given, it’s just an extreme version of normal boy banter, never done to upset anyone.  The army unit is like a family and they all look out for each other as they work closely together every day and live close in the barracks.  They spend a lot of time together, get to know what annoys one another and use it when they’re bored like a family unit would. 
Tim, known as Trooper Pugh in the Army, from the Household Cavalry regiment in Windsor  told me about his gear and what he has done to change it to look different.  ‘I have put a fighting knife into my webbing, by dismantling the sheath and sewed it into the rear utility poach for easy access, which looks alley.  I wear a berret in a shape that’s strange, I wear jungle boots instead of issued boots and that is all I can get away with.  I’d do so much more if I could, and if I wasn’t ginger, I’d attempt to grow a descent tash’’.  When I asked him how much he has spent on all his gear, he said ‘I couldn’t possibly tell you, but while out on patrol the other day, I looked down at my kit and realised in just that one patrol I was carrying £400 worth of kit that I had bought myself.’  This is a man who doesn’t have a wife or children, he just has to pay for himself, so how do the married men with families cope?  They have to provide for a family.  I spoke to Trooper Mansfield who has a wife and a little girl to find out, ‘It’s tough, but we’re given a house which is cheaper to run than most to compensate and we just have to be careful.  My wife and I both have full time jobs and have to pay for child care too, so I just have to think what I need to buy extra for comfort and safety, I don’t think about what looks ‘Alley’ so much as I used to before as I have other priorities.  This doesn’t mean to say I don’t look good, I just don’t have the extra things that make some people stand out.  Those are the most expensive things.’   How alley you go depends on your budget and your age, there’s obviously a time when you grow out of it.  
Enhancing clothing is a thing that happens in a community like a school, where you try and wear a shorter skirt and change your uniform to look different, maybe older or sexier, but you just wouldn’t expect it to happen in the army.   So it’s fashion versus function with the purpose of boosting moral and confidence.  ‘With confidence, you have won before you have started.’ -Marcus Garvey 


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