An aiguillette is an ornamental braided cord most often worn on uniforms, but may also be observed on other costumes such as academic dress, where it will denote an honour. Originally, the word "aiguillette" referred to the lacing used to fasten plate armor together. As such, a knot or loop arrangement was used which sometimes hung from the shoulder.
Aiguillettes should not be confused with lanyards, which are cords also worn from the shoulder (or around the neck), but do not have the pointed aiguillette tips (see Aiguillette (ornament)) and are usually of fibre rather than gold or silver wire, and often not braided.
A series of fanciful legends has developed about the origin of aiguillettes. One account relates that when certain European troops behaved reprehensibly on the field of battle, their commander decided to hang certain of them. The troops asked to be given a chance to redeem themselves and started wearing a rope and spike about their shoulders with the promise that if they ever behaved badly again, they were ready to be hanged on the spot. It is further related that these troops covered themselves with glory thereafter. Another tale recounts that aiguillettes originated with cord and pencil worn by generals and staff officers for writing dispatches. Still another account has it that the idea is French in origin and goes back to the use of horses in battle. A general's aide-de-camp carried a loop of cord to tie up the general's horse during dismount. As a practical approach, the aides would loop the cord around the epaulette flap on the shoulder of their tunic. All such accounts have no known basis in fact.
Further, it has been argued by gunners that the aiguillette originates with the practice of carrying a pick on a shoulder rope, with which a gun captain would clear the touch-hole of a fouled cannon. Musketeer arguments suggest that the "tags" on the aiguillette are representations of wooden charge carriers. Another discounted gunner-related origin suggests that the "tag" represents a spike carried by the gun captain with which he would "spike" the gun if capture was imminent. Finally it has been suggested that the aiguillettes derive from the shoulder decoration worn by standard bearers in the French Imperial (Grande) Army under Napoleon. The standards were topped by the imperial eagle, or "aigle" in French. The standard bearers were known as "aiglettes" to their comrades-in-arms. 
A more probable explanation is that the aiguillette derived from the laces used to secure plates of armor together—the breast- and back-plates would be attached on one side with short loops of cord acting as a hinge, and on the other by a longer and more ornate tied one. (As with combat boots, the longer the lace, the less the need to undo the entire lace.) As armour became more ornamental and less practical, so too did the ties. This would also explain the aiguillettes of varying levels of complexity in the uniforms of the Household Cavalry (see picture above), as opposed to other "unarmored" troops.
Aiguillettes with shoulder boards are worn by military aides-de-camp to the Governor General. The aiguillette is gold with brass tags and worn on the right shoulder. Aides-de-camp to the provincial lieutenant governors wear the same gold-pattern aiguilette on the right shoulder, but do not wear shoulder boards. Aiguillettes are worn on the left shoulder by aides-de-camp to generals, flag officers and diplomats. Aides-de-camp assigned to the Sovereign or officers holding a royal appointment wear the aiguillette on the right shoulder. Obsolete-style gold-braid aiguilettes mixed with army crimson, navy blue, or air force blue may also still be worn by aides-de-camp to lieutenant governors, flag and general officers and diplomats who still have them.
The aiguillettes are worn only with the dress uniform. There are several types of aiguillettes in the French military:
- Aiguilettes on the right shoulder are worn by officers filling certain duties.
- Staff officers in the President's Staff, the Prime Minister's Staff, the Defense Minister's Staff and the Maréchaux's Staff. The aiguillette is always in gold wire.
- The aides-de-camp to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Légion d'honneur, the chiefs of staff and the DGA. The aiguillette can be silver or gold, depending on the officer's corps. The AdC to the generals in the army and the air force and all the staff officers in the navy can also wear this aiguillette.
- The military attachés of an embassy. The aiguillette is always in gold wire.
- Aiguillettes on the left shoulder are worn by all members of some units :
Aiguillettes should not be confused with fourragères, which can be worn in the same way on the left shoulder in parade dress.
There are four types of aiguillette worn by the British Armed Forces.
- Aiguillettes (1st Class or Royal) are of warrant officers of the Household Cavalry.
- Aiguillettes (2nd Class or Board) are of gold and dark blue, crimson or light blue depending if worn by Royal Navy, Army or RAF officers and are worn on the right shoulder by, among others, military members of the Defence Board and each Service Board and the personal staff of governors. A simplified version with no coils is worn on the left shoulder by staff corporals, corporals of horse and lance corporals of horse of the Household Cavalry in full dress.
- Aiguillettes (3rd Class or Staff) are of gold and dark blue, crimson or light blue depending if worn by Royal Navy, Army or RAF officers. They are worn on the left shoulder by, among others, attachés, assistants and aides-de-camp.
- Simple aiguillettes are worn by lance corporals of the Household Cavalry and by bandsmen of Dragoon Guards and Dragoon regiments in full dress.
The aiguillette, in gold cord, is worn on the right shoulder by military aides to the President of the United States. It is worn on the left shoulder by military attachés, General Staff Corps officers, and aides to flag officers; the cord colors are gold for the Marine Corps & Army, gold and blue for the Coast Guard and Navy, and silver for the Air Force. The gold cord aiguillette is worn by the directors of the Unites States Marine Band, while the enlisted personnel wear aiguillettes of white cord.
A red aiguillette is worn on the left shoulder by United States Navy Recruit Division commanders, whereas a blue aiguillette is worn by Recruit Division commanders in training, Recruit Division commanders wearing these are referred colloquially as "red ropes" and "blue ropes" respectively. The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, DC wears a blue aiguillette on summer white uniforms and a white one on winter blue uniforms. A blue aiguillette is worn on the left shoulder by cadets in charge of quarters at the United States Air Force Academy, as well as by military training leaders at technical training bases. Student airmen leaders at technical training bases (sometimes called "ropes" in reference to the aiguillette) also wear aiguillettes, with green representing the lowest level of student leadership, yellow representing the intermediate level of student leadership, and red representing the highest level of student leadership. Students wearing a white rope are commonly referred to as chapel guides, and are charged with providing social or moral support to their fellow airmen. Airmen who wear the black rope are experts in drill, choir, or ceremonies, and pride themselves on appearance and uniform wear. Airmen who wear a blue and white rope are members of the drum & bugle corps for their base. In the United States Air Force as well as in the Civil Air Patrol, honor guard members wear a silver aiguillette on the left shoulder. CAP cadets acting as Cadet Advisory Council representatives at the national level wear a gold aiguillette, at the regional level a blue aiguillette, and at the wing level a red aiguillette.
The aiguillette should not be confused with the fourragère, which is worn by soldiers and marines who are assigned to units that were awarded certain decorations by the French government for valorous conduct in the First and Second World Wars (see fourragère for details). Nor should it be confused with the Shützenschnur, a multi-weapon marksmanship decoration awarded by Germany to qualifying soldiers of NATO countries serving in Germany.
Civil Defence (Cosaint Sibhialta) personnel wear a white aiguillette on their dress uniform.
Aiguillettes are worn by honor guard personnel. A single silver aiguillette is worn on enlisted cut uniforms of minor detachments. A single gold aiguillette is worn on officer cut uniforms of minor detachments. A double gold aiguillette is worn on officer cut uniforms of major detachments. All personnel of major detachments wear officer cut uniforms. Also, dembels (demobilized soldiers) often decorate their uniforms with makeshift aiguillettes.
Aiguillettes are worn on the right shoulder by officers of certain appointments only. They include the:
- Chief of Defence Force in the Singapore Armed Forces
- Commissioner of the Singapore Police Force
- Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force
- Aides-de-camp to the President
- Honorary aides-de-camp to the President
- Directors of music in the Singapore Armed Forces Band
- Military attachés and assistant military attachés
- MA/SA/NA to the Chief of Defence Force and service chiefs
In Singapore, ADCs who are officers of the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Civil Defence Force wear gold aiguillettes and police officers wear silver aiguillettes.
Aiguillettes of gold-wire cord are worn on the right shoulder by;
- Chief of Defence Staff
- The three service commanders,
- The Inspector General of Police
- Aides-de-camp to the President.
Aiguillettes of gold are worn on the right shoulder by;
- General officers, flag officers and air officers
- Aides-de-camps to general, flag and air officers
- Military attachés
Aiguillettes of black are worn on the right shoulder by;
- Police offices senior gazetted officers
In Ghana, aiguillettes form part of the uniform of certain branches of the police, including the immigration police. Ordinary police officers wear white aiguillettes with dark-blue uniforms, while customs and immigration officials wear red aiguillettes with olive-green outfits. When worn, the aigullettes denote on-duty status.
In the IDF, soldiers who wear an aiguillette are instructors.
- ^ R.H. Rankin, Uniforms of the Sea Service, Naval Institute, 1962