The North Vietnamese were masters of improvised camouflage, disguising hundreds of miles of underground tunnels with bamboo, leaves, and tree sap resin, and confusing sniffer dogs with traces of US-issue soap at tunnel entrances and airholes.
The Vietnamese ‘tigerstripe’ camouflage was originally a copy of the French ‘lizard’ pattern, and was called ‘sea wave’, created by the South Vietnamese Marine Corps in 1958. Variations of the pattern were manufactured under contract in other South-East Asian countries (including Korea, Japan, and Thailand) as well as in Vietnam through the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP). Each contract was for a different pattern, resulting in a large number of ‘tigerstripe’ variations, with differences in the colors and the proliferation of the base color. What are known as ‘sparse’ patterns have more gaps between the black markings, while ‘dense’ patterns are characterized by more solid black markings. An even more diverse range of colors resulted from the garments being washed, with blacks, for example, fading to blue and purple hues. The patterns were also issued to Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (Vietnamese soldiers trained by the American special forces). To prevent them from standing out, US military advisers were ordered to dress in the same uniforms as the troops they were training, and therefore often wore ‘tigerstripe’ patterns as well.
During the war, local tailors were selling a lot of custom-made ‘tigerstripe’ dinner jackets and flying suits to American REMFs, ‘Saigon commandos’, and war reporters who were interested in the pattern’s fashionable qualities rather than its concealment value.