In movies as in life, a man in uniform cuts a good figure. Military uniforms have gotten simpler over the decades, although the number of badges, patches, medals, and insignia seems to have grown on current uniforms. While these decorations all have a purpose, they seem to fill a basic need to make the uniform more resplendent - the way they used to be more than a century ago. Movie stars have worn a variety of uniforms on film, many of them very accurate.
The hussar's uniform has been one of the most beautiful and stylish uniforms ever worn. Although it originated in Hungary, it was widely used throughout Europe for various cavalry regiments. The uniform traditionally included riding boots, striped breeches, barrel-cords around the waist, a frogged dolman tunic, and a fur-lined pelisse jacket worn over one shoulder. Hats were also part of the uniform and were usually of the shako type. Swords and pouches were also worn on the belt. The late great English actor David Hemmings is shown above in a hussar uniform, playing Captain Louis Edward Nolan in the Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968. The film was directed by Tony Richardson with costume design by David Walker. The uniforms were made especially for the film. They had to be distressed for the battle scenes but then made anew to be worn in the London scene.
Keith Carradine is shown above as D'Hubert in the excellent The Duellists. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and co-starred Harvey Keitel as D'Hubert's arch-enemy. Costumes were designed by Tom Rand. The wonderful Napoleonic uniforms were quite authentic. Here Carradine wears a bearskin hat, used by many of the Old Guard regiments. The elements of a uniform that make it attractive were developed to make a man look more imposing. The piping and frogging were designed to give a prominent V-line silhouette, with epaulettes added to make the shoulders seem broader. The tall hats like the bearskins and shakos were designed to make a man look taller.
Sean Bean is pictured above as Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina, 1997. The film starred Sophie Marceau as Anna with costume design by Maurizio Millenotti. This uniform shows the pronounced epauletes, which at the time also signified rank depending on having one or two and their location. Another common embellishment of the period was the aiguillette, a braided cord ending in a metal tip (an aiguille in French meaning needle) hung from the right shoulder epaulette. Aiguillettes are still used in ceremonial uniforms today.
Michael Caine is shown above in the superbly acted and crafted film Zulu, from 1964. He wears the uniform with the scarlet tunic of the South Wales Borderers regiment. Here as in the other uniforms, prominent brass buttons added to the lustre of the jacket. The buttons also usually had the insignia from the regiment or branch of service they were from. Arthur Newman was the wardrobe supervisor and the film was directed by Cy Endfield. This film made a star of Michael Caine.
The uniforms of World War II had become much more simplified in cut and color. Basic colors of khaki, olive green, taupe, and brown had become standard for the American land and air forces. Here Jimmy Stewart is wearing his Army Air Corps uniform. Stewart became a pilot and flew bombing missions during the war and became the commanding officer of a squadron. Actor Wayne Morris was the only actor to become a WWII ace. He served as a Navy pilot during the battles of the Pacific and won four Distinguished Flying Crosses.
One item of military dress has expanded greatly in general usage. The beret, originally worn by Basque mountainmen and then adopted by French men of the early 20th century and by several European military regiments and elite troops, has now become the typical hat worn by American ground forces. A beret always looked dashing, and it was the favored hat selected by the American soldiers themselves.