Use of the word camouflage originated in Paris in the late 19th century. It is a combination of the Italian word camuffare, which means “to disguise”, and the French word camouflet, which means “a puff of smoke”. Back in ol’ Par-ee in the 1870s, thieves would put an attractive woman in a crowd and have her blow smoke in the face of the target of the thieves in order to distract him. “Blowing smoke” (another slang term) was thought to be sexually suggestive and distracting enough to allow the thieves to snatch the wallet of their victim.
In World War I, the British came up with disguises for their soldiers and equipment to hide them from those new-fangled aeroplanes, did the word camouflage come into common military use.
Around the same time, the U.S. and British navies painted bold stripes on their ships to make it difficult to ascertain in which direction the ships were traveling; the practice was called “disruptive camouflage”.