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What is an Aiguillette?

Daniel F.
Daniel F.

An aiguillette is a decorative braided cord worn on the shoulder, most commonly in combination with military uniforms. The style, color, and position of the aiguillette, and the color of the uniform, can denote the rank or duty of the wearer. When worn with academic dress, the aiguillette can indicate the wearer has received an honor.

The word "aiguillette" can also refer to an ornamental tip used to finish a cord or braid, an embellishment that was popular on clothing during the 16th and 17th centuries. Though they were highly decorative, these aiguillettes were also very functional, and are the direct predecessors of the aglet, the plastic tip used to stop shoelaces from fraying. These kinds of decorative tags or tips are still used in combination with the modern day military ornamentation, and on the braided cord of bolo ties.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The ornamental cord used as aiguillettes is made from a varied range of materials, dependent on the organization and on the color required. Gold and silver aiguillettes are frequently made from wire, but other common materials used are silk, polyester, nylon, or zari — a tinsel thread used for weaving comprised of a cheaper core material with a metallic coating. The braided cord is then finished with metal tips, often gold or brass. An aiguillette is created separately to the uniform and then attached, as needed, using button loops that connect with the uniform's hooks or buttons.

In the United States, aiguillettes are used in all service branches of the armed forces, with the style, colors, and positioning meaning different things depending on the branch. The style of aiguillette can denote a specific task of the wearer; the president's military aides wear a gold braided cord on the right shoulder, for example, and chapel guides in the United States Navy wear white "ropes" on the left shoulder. The US Navy and Air Force also use the aiguillettes to specify rank among students or trainees, with different colors representing different ranks.

In the United Kingdom, there are only four styles of aiguillette used by Her Majesty's Armed Forces, but they can be used to identify various ranks and positions depending on the branch. The French military uses aiguillettes across all its branches, but only in conjunction with dress uniform. Other countries that use aiguillettes as part of military ornamentation are Canada, Australia, Ireland, France, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Ghana.

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