Uniforms are as vital to military forces around the world as the personnel who find themselves wearing them.
And each is different, not only by country but even by service.
Look at the stark differences visible between the ceremonial dress of the Royal Navy compared to that of the Royal Air Force. Even looking closer at just one of the armed services in the UK – the British Army – the stunning differences between a foot guard regiment’s Full Dress compared to another, say, the Rifles, is considerable.
What’s more, each uniform tells a story of battles won and customs earned … when looking at the uniforms of different corps, services and nations, we are looking at history telling itself through dress.
Here, we take a look at some of the bright, wonderful and perhaps even weird ceremonial dress uniforms of notable military outfits around the world.
Decide for yourself … who looks smartest on parade?
Carabiniers du Prince
Translating literally as Prince’s Riflemen, the Carabiniers du Prince are the infantry branch of the Force Publique – the military force of Monaco.
This small force is responsible for the protection of the Crown Prince, Prince Albert, and his royal palace from where he and his family rule over the 38,600 Monegasques who call Monaco their home.
The force was formed in 1817 by then Crown Prince Honore IV and boasts a modest number of 119 specialist close-protection personnel.
The Force Publique is one of the few military orgainsations in the world that recruits foreign nationals to its ranks.
Although the force tends to not keep itself weighed down by being held to many dress traditions from the past, its uniform does bear some subtle references to its history. The white trefoil epaulettes and spats are identical to those worn in the 19th century.
While on parade in the winter months, Carabiniers du Prince wear a dark blue tunic and light blue trousers. In the summertime, a somewhat less ostentatious order of dress is worn featuring a white shirt at sleeve order and white helmet.
To qualify to become a member of the force recruits must be male, between the ages of 20 and 30, be single (although permission to marry is given once in the ranks), a French speaker, be over 5.9 metres in height and be in possession of a degree.
So, not too difficult then …
The Swiss Guard
The de-facto military of the small state of Vatican City, the Swiss Guard provides security for the Holy See guarding both the Pope and his papal palace.
Its proper name is the Pontifical Swiss Guard and it has been active for over 500 years.
The Swiss Guard is made up of a small outfit of infantry soldiers, totalling the grand number of 135 and its ceremonial chief if Pope Francis himself.
The motto of the Swiss Guard is Acriter et Fideliter, meaning Fiercely and Faithfully.
The unmistakable uniform of the Swiss Guard is Renaissance in style and features vertical columns of blue, red, orange and yellow.
Like our own uniform traditions, the colours represent important matters in the guard’s history. The blue and yellow featured in the dress depict the coat of arms of Pope Julius II, the red was added later signifying the colours of another notable Pope, Leo X.
During ceremonial occasions the men of the Swiss Guard wear helmets – the Morion Helmet - which trace their origin to 16th century Spain. Attached to the top of these helmets are flamboyant ostrich feathers which are a mix of red, white, yellow, black and purple. For non-ceremonial occasions or during daily Vatican Palace duties, the guards wear a large black beret instead.
Swiss Guard uniforms are tailor made for each and every member of the guard.
The tailors responsible for providing the uniforms are based inside Vatican Palace and spend approximately 32 hours creating the outfits, which are made up of 154 pieces of individual uniform, for new recruits.
National Guards Of Bulgaria
Formed in 1879, the National Guards (Natsionalna gvardeyska chast) is a unique formation of the Bulgarian military that is nowadays purely ceremonial due to the security provision of the National Close Protection Service. Where the guarding of the President of Bulgaria is concerned, in this respect the National Guards are not too dissimilar to ceremonial units in the UK charged with protecting the Queen, which is actually the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police.
The National Guards Unit of Bulgaria is based in Sofia and is made up of a moderately sized force of 315.
The style of uniform worn by the National Guards is that of the Hussar.
The uniform stands out for the scarlet colour of its tunic and includes elements of national symbolism, many of which have remained part of the dress throughout the large political changes seen in Bulgaria over the past 100 years.
The French Foreign Legion
In terms of military dress, the French Foreign Legion is perhaps best known for the white kepi headdress worn by Legionnaires on ceremonial occasions.
When not on parade though, members of the French Foreign Legion wear a green beret.
The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army and was established in 1831. Its roles include Airborne Infantry, Light Infantry, Armoured Infantry, Cavalry and Engineers which all in all equates to almost 9,000 men.
The striking insignia worn by Legionnaires on their head dress is that of a burning grenade.
The ranks of the Legion are filled by soldiers of different nationalities and backgrounds. Commanders pride their Legionnaire regiments as being close-knit outfits, the soldiers bound by the elite training and their immense pride in being members of the organisation.
Like regiments in the British Army, each unit in the legion has its own distinctive insignia which can be seen on the ceremonial dress uniform, specifically on the right upper sleeve of the coat. On the right breast of the jacket, further regimental insignia is positioned … for example, Airborne Infantry legionnaires wear a metallic badge depicting wings and a parachute.
Perhaps one of the most impressive sights of the French Foreign Legion on parade is that of Pioneer legionnaires whom, when taking part in military ceremonies, stand smartly holding an immaculately polished axe … so try not to get too close.
The Special Guard Of Honor Company
Also known as the Mongolian State Honor Guard, this ceremonial unit was formed in 1955 and forms part of the People’s Army of the Mongolian People’s Republic.
If you want to be a member of the Honor Guard, you need to be tall. The minimum height requirement is a lofty 5 ft 11 inches … so, most of us can sit this one out.
The uniforms of the Honor Guard are styled on those of the 13th century era of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire and are vivid in colours of red and blue.
On state occasions, the Honor Guard are permitted to carry the conspicuous Ceremonial Tug, a 10 ft tall pole with Yak hairs circularly arranged on its top.
Which uniform do you think stands out as the smartest?