Thursday, February 23, 2017

Uniform Uniforms

There's just something about a uniform . . . 
A fellow writer posted up an article about Star Trek uniform variations, and commented that the rank on the sleeve cuffs is a bit silly.

It may, indeed, be foolish (military rank is more easily read when it’s closer to the face and shoulders, since that’s where you’re going to look anyhow when meeting, talking to, or taking orders from someone), but what writers should like most about the variation of Star Fleet uniforms throughout the Trek universe is that it recognized a diversity of positions, assignments, ranks, and divisions which most other universes don’t show.  Indeed, even Captain Kirk had varying uniforms depending on if he was sitting on the bridge, beaming down to a planet, or entertaining the ladies!

Historically, uniforms grew out of the need for form and function.  Since any military has multiple forms and functions, their “uniforms” would also be multiple and varied—even among a “standardized” army.  For example, grenadiers (soldiers who literally threw grenades) usually wore brimless hats or caps rather than the more standard brimmed hats because of their need to sling/unsling their rifles over their shoulders and pitch their explosives overhand.  This developed into the use of bearskin or bishop mitre style hats among grenadier units from different countries.

Similarly, specialized units, mercenaries or auxiliary units might likewise develop unique
I say, that's a DANDY of a uniform!
uniforms, either out of necessity, regional considerations, or to distinguish themselves from the rank and file.  Spartan Hoplites, German Landsknechts, and Ottoman Janissaries were all very distinctive in their (somewhat) standardized military uniform—although those uniforms would vary from time to time as the needs and the technology changed.

The 8,000+ soldiers depicted in the Terracotta Army (around 200 BCE) bear some similarity to each other, but there are seven major distinct variations of armor.  There doesn’t appear to be standardization among the individual “units” which likely reflected the real-world disposition of that particular Chinese army.

Among Japanese samurai (one of my favorites), standardization was generally not a thing until the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  The Tokugawa loved standardization!  Prior to that, much like the European feudal structure, samurai foot soldiers (ashigaru) owed their immediate allegiance to a local samurai of higher standing, who would, in turn, be under the command of a regional lord, usually a “daimyo”, who in turn (by theory) would be under the command of the shogun who was (again, in theory) appointed by the emperor.  Thus, more often than not, samurai of any given rank would be wearing wildly varied equipment (hint: samurai wore metal and leather armor in battle).  This gave rise, during the Sengoku Era, to the use of sashimono, the small flags that you sometimes see in movies and documentaries attached to the backs of samurai to help provide a sense of uniform to the various clashing armies.

Finally, it’s really fun to try to find the “standard” issue for the Roman legions of any given
Historically accurate Roman legionnaires. 
time period.  Depending on any number of factors (standardization, reforms, location, assignment, etc.), you’d be hard-pressed to find any group of legionnaires who wore exactly the same armor and carried the exact same weapons.  Roman soldiers were generally allowed to wear any armor that was still serviceable, so it could be the latest fashion, or passed down from previous generations.  If you had the money, you could (and most like would) have your armor custom-made.  Even armor produced in the government “factories” would vary from province to province, because it was all hand-made, and because of the regional differences.  Rank and units were distinguished by cloaks, helmet plumes, phalerae (chest ornamentation), and numbers or symbols painted on the shields!

This is not to say that your fictional military army can’t all wear the same, factory issued uniforms, armor and weapons as suits your needs.  In fact, the more similar and standardized your military is, the easier it is to function as a single unit.  A corporal from the Outer Rim of Ceti Alpha V will more easily defer to a first lieutenant from the Inner Core Home Worlds Tuscan Raider division, if identifying the star cluster rank on her collar is standard-issue across the Glorious and Unified Hegemony’s military.  This is only to say that even among very standardized armies, space navies, and colonial marines, uniforms can and should vary.  Uniform uniforms differentiate the real world from the fictional world, while variation portrays an understanding of width and depth that every military requires.

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