An aiguillette is an ornamental braided cord, usually worn on a uniform to denote an honour. Although similar in some ways to a lanyard, the two should not be confused. Lanyards are made from fibre, whereas aiguillettes are usually made from silver or gold cord. Aiguillettes also have pointed tips.
Plates of armour used to be secured together by attaching the breast and back plates with short loops of cord acting as a hinge on one side, while a more ornate loop was tied to support the arm defences on the other. As armour became more ornamental so did these ties.
After the civil wars it became fashionable to have bunches of ribbons worn at the shoulder sometimes in the form of bows with tagged ends. This fashion died out in England but continued in the French court dress of Louis the 14th and 15th into the early 18th century. This style was revived by the British Army in the form of a knot with three loops, as a corporal’s badge of rank. In this form it was made of worsted or silk cord of regimental colour, with the pointed tags in the same metal as the buttons and coat lace. They were also worn in this fashion by staff officers in metal cord. This style continued for staff officers up to 1814 when the French style was introduced. This had evolved in the French court and army into the style we now recognise but in lighter cord and made in worsted, silk or metal cord. The modern heavy cord style is an elaborate Victorian invention.
In the British Army there are four different types of aiguillette.
1st Class or Royal are worn by admirals of fleet, field marshals and also by members of the royal family. These aiguillettes are made from gold wire cord and worn on the right shoulder. Commissioned Officers of the Household Cavalry also wear this, but only in full dress. Warrant Officers of the Household Cavalry also wear them but on the left-hand shoulder.
2nd Class or Board are gold and dark blue or crimson and light blue. These differ slightly depending on whether they are worn by the RAF, Royal Navy or Army. This aiguillette is worn by officers on the right shoulder, along with military members of the Defence Board.
3rd Class or Staff are gold and dark blue, crimson or light blue. This again depends on whether they are being worn by the RAF, Royal Navy or Army. This aiguillette is worn on the left shoulder by assistants and aides-de-camp.
The fourth is a simple aiguillette and is worn by lance corporals in the Household Cavalry and by bandsmen of the Dragoon Guards in full dress.