Know Your Terms: Epaulet

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.
Painting: "George Washington at Valley Forge,"  by Tompkins H. Matteson

George Washington Shows How to Wear an Epaulet

Strictly speaking, epaulets are bright tassle-y little do-hickeys that soldiers wear on their shoulders as armed forces bling to communicate their rank. Perhaps derived from the Roman cavalry pteruges, the epaulet became a major signifier of status within the 1700s, particularly among the French Army (according to an arcane system semaphore with left shoulder-, right shoulder- and counter-epaulets all indicating different statures). What we call an epaulet (or, epaulette—from the French, meaning “little shoulder”) is really the passant—a strap of fabric attached to a button near the collar of a garment, running down the shoulder seam to a fabric loop at the top edge of the sleeve. Almost anything decorative above your traps (outside of a toucan) is called an epaulet these days. But if someone corrects you, salute, and gauge your fear by the size and location of the fringe on their peacock wing.

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  1. Jim says:

    This is embarassing but epaulet is one of those style words that I read all the time but have no idea how to pronounce. Is it eh-PAUL-et or EH-paulet? I’m thinking the latter.

    Either way you pronounce it epaulets are acceptable on exactly one garment: M-65 military jackets.

  2. Christopher says:

    Yep. EP-uh-let. And we too love an M-65.

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