You've just entered your country's military force. And everyone seems to have great dress uniforms. Really fancy, with actual silk and gold.
What? Those are combat uniforms?
Yes, some fiction has characters wearing combat uniforms that are more appropriate for dress uniforms.
Okay, history does make this Truth in Television, like the Prussian military uniforms, but in combat it still counts as an Impractically Fancy Outfit. But they look nice, so artists love to use them whenever they can, especially in anime, manga, and Video Games. (And not to mention paintings and relief scultures, this trope is very much Older Than Dirt!) The design of the clothes determines if it falls into Impractically Fancy Outfit or Impossibly Cool Clothes.
In literary genres, where we do not actually get to look at them, these are generally the mark of aristocrats, the Miles Gloriosus, the Armchair Military, and the Glory Hound. On the other hand, the serious soldiers are more practical and drably dressed, and certainly regard looking splendid as a much lower priority. Only their dress uniforms embody the trope — if then.
Their personal weapons may or may not involve Bling Bling Bang. The hat is often a Commissar Cap. Officers and senior enlisted may carry some stick or baton indicating their rank, and expect their chests to be covered in various jangling medals. Futuristic settings can even have Powered Armor or Humongous Mecha in this style.
This can overlap with Impossibly Tacky Clothes, when the work is making a Take That to this trope, or dealing with cases where the uniforms are purely for showing off wealth rather than conveying a kind of aristocratic dignity. Historically many successful mercenaries have tended to dress in elaborate and expensive ways, given that this was one of the few reliable status symbols they could spend their money on, and such get-ups are much more likely to be regarded as tacky and unsophisticated.
A sub trope is one where an individual disdains the awarding of such medals and ribbons and refuses to wear them. This is always an indicator that the person in question is a real badass, especially in comparison to a villain (who will usually play this trope straight).
There is a surprising degree of Truth in Television and even Fridge Logic in this. Note that in real life, Uniform Regulations are serious business, and in many militaries it is an offence not to wear what a person is authorised to do so. note "authorised" here meaning "you WILL wear it" not "you may wear it". Also, as the Real Life section notes, from ancient times to even recent history this trope was the standard for high ranking military officiers. This was partly out of pride, but also because a highly decorated commander does tend to bolster his men's confidence, and makes a trusted commander easy to locate and rally to in battle. The fact that this makes it easy for snipers to figure out who to shoot at is making even this a Discredited Trope, however, and instead turning it into a sign of Suicidal Overconfidence in a commander. While modern uniforms tend to be more subtle, the stylishness and tailored fit of uniforms is still considered, as this can be a powerful Magic Feather. Looking in the mirror, the wearer sees a good looking soldier. They wouldn't go to that much trouble making a nice uniform only to send the wearer on a suicide mission. Maybe he does stand a chance of pulling of that stuff he bragged about wanting to do in boot camp.
A Sub-Trope of Costume Porn.
Compare Ermine Cape Effect, Costume Porn, Pimped-Out Dress, Stylish Protection Gear, Highly Conspicuous Uniform, Gold Makes Everything Shiny, Kicking Ass in All Her Finery.
See also Custom Uniform, Modest Royalty.
However, it should be noted that these are not actual combat models but more of a ceremonial design. It also did not appear in any of the anime or manga, just All There in the Manual.
There is also the higher-ranking officers of "The Sleeves" that have the nice uniforms and rather decorative embellishments on their mobile suits, especially◊ the Sinanju◊.
This is what you get if you have lots of gold but no one willing to sell you actual military supplies.
Subverted with the Hyaku Shiki from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and the Akatsuki from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny. Both are painted in brilliant gold (in fact, the Hyaku Shiki is the trend setter for gold mobile suits in Gundam), but there are good reasons behind their colors. The Hyaku Shiki's scheme is a result of being covered in Anti-Beam Coating, as well as acting as a middle finger to the Titans (i.e. try and touch this), made possible through "Quattro Bajeena" being the pilot. Meanwhile, the Akatsuki takes its predecessor's special feature Up to Eleven, in that its gold armor is actually an advanced beam reflection system.
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 has the mobile armor Alvatore; its gold plating may be plain compared to the aforementioned designs from the other series, but it also has lavish pop-up window designs in its cockpit viewscreens! Also, it has been noted that the Alvatore's mobile suit component, the Alvaaron, has the Corner family crest on its chest. Strangely it does not show on any of its depictions.
The Black Order uniforms from D.Gray-Man. Fanciness partially justified though, as the Exorcists intentionally make themselves targets.
The Britannian military in Code Geass probably counts — Cornelia and the Knights of Rounds' uniforms in particular. To be fair, though, most of the time they fight inside mecha, and wear appropriate suits while doing so. Footsoldiers have appropriately helpful attire.
That's relatively tame for the high-ranked naval officers they were played as. On the other hand, it would still be more practical to wear a spacesuit, battle damage and all.
The Headliners of The Five Star Stories wear fairly elaborate costumes, unsurprising considering the manga is basically Mamoru Nagano's giant love letter to weaponized bling. No as crazy as some of the other examples, though as the Headdliners mainly serve as pilots for Humongous Mecha. The ordinary ground troops typically wear more sensible uniforms with design elements borrowed from recent real-life military gear.
In his and (of all people) Kunihiko Ikuhara's collaborative two-volume light novel Schell Bullet, however, his love of bling manifested itself rather more spectacularly (it helps when your co-author is also a fashion model). Junior Navy officers wearing capes as a part of an everyday uniform? Infantry grunts with an Italian Renaissance-inspired headgear? Quilted body armor? True, modern body armor has quilted layers, but they are usually concealed, as quilts present a weak points. Knee-high boots? Two-inch heels (for men, mind you)? What are you smoking, man, really?
In Fullmetal Alchemist, even the lowliest foot soldier apparently gets outfitted with one of those snazzy uniforms, and they're not just for show — in the 2003 anime adaptation, we see Amestris soldiers going into battle wearing them.
What about France from Axis Powers Hetalia? Even his own allies tell him "you're too flashy, moron!"
This is Truth in Television. There's a reason the pretty red and blue colors were changed into something more drab during the course of World War I...
Their insignia is literally embroidered on the uniforms. In real silver thread. It goes from rather simple patterns for junior officers to the ornate tapestries just short of the flak vest for admirals. You see, the Empire really dug that ceremony thing.
Just about every important military character in Glass Fleet, though Michel and Vetti's are the most noticeable. Justified in that Glass Fleet is the French Revolution in space!
In line with historical practice around the time of the French Revolution, Rose of Versailles features some fancy uniforms, especially on the lead character. Even the 'dregs of the army' (the French Guard, which Oscar commands at the end of the series) gets their share of bling.
Somewhat justified in One Piece. A lot of the really blinged out Marines in the series have Devil Fruit powers which turn both them and their clothes into some kind of element. The one that doesn't, Sengoku, drops the bling when using his powers (though said powers provide a whole different bling).
Thor: Loki's green-and-gold armour is magnificent to behold. It's more stylish than Thor's or Odin's, which is not surprising considering that Loki is a master of deception, so appearances are important to him.
Squaring the Circle, the true story of the Polish uprising of the 1980s, had a Polish general trying on an ornate dress uniform and asking his secretary, "Do you think it looks too... South American?"
Most of the Star Trek: The Original Series movies featured a relatively restrained form of this, a tailored and padded maroon-and-black uniform with gold and silver insignia, adding up to a vaguely nineteenth-century look. Again, this wasn't handled too crazily — enlisted personnel wear an eminently functional jumpsuit, Starfleet is overwhelmingly a "naval" force, and the few times we see authorized ground combat, officers exchange the heavy, stiff jackets for a black sweater similar to some Real Life military cold-weather gear (specifically, the much-missed "woolly pully" of the British Army). In an amusing postscript, Star Trek: The Next Generation reveals that the "monster maroons" lasted for over seventy years, while most Starfleet uniform designs are only in service for ten to twenty. Perhaps they were good for pulling Green Skinned Space Babes?
TOS' dress uniforms are in the three primary colors but lavishly trimmed with gold braid and cute little triangular decoration ribbons for extra bling.
Averted in Star Trek Into Darkness. Starfleet's dress uniforms are simple and utilitarian; even their rank insignia has a matte finish. The closest they get to bling are the black uniforms and sky blue sashes of the honor guard.
Parodied in the Three Stooges short "You Nazty Spy!" where Curly, playing Field Marshal Gallstone, is covered in medals, including one on the back of his pants.
Just before the Battle of Cowpens in The Patriot, the French Major Villeneuve puts on his elaborate white, sky blue and gold uniform (which we had never seen before). Benjamin Martin gives him a look, and Major Villeneuve says, "If I die, I will die well-dressed."
In Sergey Bondarchuk's Waterloo (1970), we see only the flashiest-dressed troops, including Polish Lancers of the Guard, carabiners and Prussian cavalrymen, even though their historical presence in the campaign was smaller or non-existent at the actual battle.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Deputy Commissioner Foley wears his full dress uniform while leading the police charge against Bane's forces.
In The Alamo (2004) Davy Crockett lampshades this aspect of Santa Anna at one point, calling him a peacock.
The Song of Roland features golden armor, a trope as old as The Iliad. Where the Roland poet goes above and beyond, though, is when Moorish lords charge into battle in golden helmets encrusted in gems and decorated in flowers, both of which go rolling to the ground with each sword blow to the head. Roland also carries a gilded and bejeweled horn, Oliphant.
While more subdued and practical that most, Honor Harrington's Manticoran naval uniforms (especially officers' ones) still have more than enough gold braid, buttons and other bling for others to comment on in the books themselves. Havenites' uniforms were (in contrast to Manticoran black and gold), rather nondescript grey, and those of Grayson were copies of modern US Air Force blues. None of these, however, are worn in an actual combat situation outside of unforeseen events, with the standard uniform being skinsuits.
In Going Under, the third book of Justina Robson's Quantum Gravity series, the protagonist Lila Black is given a set of tailored combat armor from a famous demonic fashion designer. The description in the book must be read to be believed, but it features every color in the rainbow, lots of intricate decorations, magical amulets covering every surface, and a stylishly form-fitting bodice.
As of the X-Wing Series, pilots endlessly complain about their dress uniform◊, which was designed without actually consulting the pilots. It's actually agreeable enough as an outfit, but the lack of decent pockets and the fact that it shows off any excess body weight — pilots being image-conscious — are detriments to its wearers.
Darksaber featured one Imperial warlord who had so many medals (some likely concocted for prestige) that he cobbled them together into a makeshift dagger. He still died.
In The Dresden Files before the final battle at Chichen Itza, Lea fulfils the tradition of Faerie Godmothers creating magnificent Costume Porn clothes. As she says, she 'never got the chance to indulge'. She and Susan dress Harry up in all sorts of things, but settle on a gold embossed magically enhanced suit of conquistador armour. He complains that he looks like the Games Workshop version of a Jedi Knight. It's still awesome.
Susan has a magical costume which seems to be a wry nod to the habit of female heroes armour being more for Fanservice than practicality. Sure it's sexy - as Sanya remarks on seeing her, 'sometimes I love this job' - but Lea shows its effectiveness by having her servant shoot Susan. The bullet is flattened and Susan doesn't even feel it. It also lets her turn invisible at will.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, the Dev Hetra, being New Meat and Blue Bloods, are very fancifully dressed. They in fact scorn Ludd because his clothing is rumpled after running over a battlefield to reach them.
Earlier in the series, contrasting the Ghosts' uniforms to those of aristocratic units always shows the Ghosts' as more subdued. (Better for subterfuge at any rate.) Conversely, one mark that they can integrate with the Belladon soldiers is that the Belladons take their advice about darkening their insignia so it doesn't show up on the battlefield.
Also, the first novel features a regiment with very shiny armor, that can be made unshiny when required.
In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000Blood Angels novel Red Fury, when the Blood Angels and Flesh Tearers meet, one of the Blood Angels suspects that — with the Flesh Tearers' unadorned power armor and the gold filigree, rubies, votive chains and other adornment on the Blood Angels' — the Flesh Tearers take them for peacocks.
The Inheritance Cycle has Fadawar, who wears golden armour, although this may simply be a ceremonial dress uniform (although, it says a lot for his strength that he can walk about in it).
Averted in the Lensman novels. Most of the Galactic Patrol wears flashy dress uniforms, but the uniform of an Unattached Lensman is plain gray leather with no ornamentation at all.
Ras the Exhorter in Invisible Man applies this trope heavily after becoming Ras the Destroyer, though rather than using gold and such, he wears "the costume of an Abyssinian chieftain." The narrator mocks him for it, but at least the spear comes in handy.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, combat takes place in the normal spacesuit/armored suit, but the noncombat uniforms are impressive. Barrayar has "undress greens" (typical daily wear), "dress greens" (fancier, for formal occasions such as parties or weddings), and most formal of all, "parade red-and-blues" (for major governmental functions such as the Emperor's Birthday; high collar, tall boots, and two ceremonial swords). Plus, Vor are allowed to wear their medals with their House colors. In Memory, Miles Vorkosigan, off to talk to the Emperor, pulls out all of his medals and puts them on with his House colors, for effectively the first time. Even he hadn't realized what a collection he had. (The Emperor's reaction upon seeing him: "Good God".)
The "House colors" are a riot. Sixty districts, each with a different pair of heraldic colors, and wearing them at major occasions. Vorkosigans are lucky, with a restrained brown and silver, and some (such as the Vorpatril blue and gold) are bona-fide impressive, but some...
Kareen: How do you think you'd look in a House cadet's uniform of chartreuse and scarlet, like poor Vorharopulos, Mark? Mark: Like a traffic signal in boots.
Commander Vimes of Discworld fame hates this trope; he refers to it as "Gilt by association." The "traditional" uniforms for the Commander of the Watch and the Duke of Ankh-Morpork, His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes (Blackboard Monitor) are shiny and feathered and have tights; there is basically nothing in that description that he does not object to. He put his foot down about the tights and the feathers in the end, thankfully, but still has to put up with shiny armour with knobbly bits that would probably be worth Sweet Fanny Adams in actual combat.
Jingo has him saying to his butler "And into this land of sand-colored dust and sand-colored rocks and sand-colored sand you, Willikins, will march with your red and white uniform? And you don't see anything wrong with this?"
In Neil Rutledge's Warhammer 40,000 story Small Cog — played with, with enthusiasm. The forces were on a ceremonial duty when the attack came. On one hand, this let them get to their current position in time to defend. On the other hand, they were in ceremonial uniforms. The colonel is not pleased with the latter fact.
As a subversion, in David Gunn's The Aux series, uniforms in Sven's regiment get less bling as rank increases.
Subverted in the second book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, where Bartimaeus points out that "as a rough rule of thumb, the jazzier the uniform, the less powerful the army."
Also subverted in Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet. Both cadets and officers in the Patrol wear extremely plain uniforms. Heinlein briefly discusses the psychology behind plain and jazzy uniforms.
Wealthy knights in A Song of Ice and Fire love to wear extremely ornate armor, especially during jousts, but often into actual battle as well. Various knights wear gem-encrusted breastplates, laquered armor, fancy capes and so forth. Even knights without money to burn will get themselves sculpted helmets. Particular examples include:
When Jaime Lannister competes in tourneys, his armor is covered in gold from head to toe, and he carries a gilded sword. He also occasionally wears a golden helm shaped like a lion's head.
When riding into battle, Tywin wears a greatcloak made of several layers of cloth-of-gold, large enough to entirely cover his horse's hindquarters and so heavy the breeze doesn't even stir it when galloping. It's held by a pair of solid gold lionesses with rubies for eyes. His helmet is also gold, shaped like an entire lion with ruby eyes. His armour is enamelled in red with elaborate gold inlay, gold rondels in the shape of sunbursts, and golden buckles. All of his weapons have solid gold lions on the hilt. Not surprisingly, he doesn't expect to do any fighting, though he does lead his reserve guard into battle personally against Roose Bolton's host.
Loras Tyrell wears armour covered in silver, filigreed with black vines and blue forget-me-nots made out of sapphires. He once wears a cape woven with forget-me-nots. His horse also gets a woven flower cape — red and white roses, which he hands out to pretty girls between jousts.
Renly Baratheon wears armour enamelled in forest green, and a green helm with two feet of solid gold antlers attached to it.
Rhaeger Targaryen went to war in black plate armour with a three-headed dragon made of rubies on his chest. When he died, a large number of the rubies fell into the river, which is later named Ruby ford, and people have been scavenging for them ever since.
Several mercenary companies that join in the siege on Meereen feature this. One company is made up of mercenaries who wear all their worldly wealth in clothing and armor, and as such are usually too overburdened to fight properly.
Then we have "Bronze" Yohn Royce, noted for wearing an ancient suit of bronze armor. This normally wouldn't stand up to the steel armor and weapons used by those he face in battle, except it's apparently inscribed with magical runes that wards the wearer from harm, making it not only more fancy but also practical. His sons Andar and Robar in contrast wear silver-colored armor with bronze runes.
In the RCN series, when Daniel Leary wears his Dress Whites with all decorations, including the gaudy ones from friendly foreign worlds, he comments that he feels like a clown. But it impresses pretty girls and civilians in general — as well as anyone who knows what he did to earn those awards.
Deconstructed in The Belgariad. Ce'Nedra leads an army into battle wearing a suit of armor made entirely of pure gold but knows exactly how impractical it is in an actual fight. She uses it entirely to serve as an inspirational figure to bolster the troops morale.
Also deconstructed in The Elenium by the same author. Martel, who has been The Dragon for the entire trilogy, gets a fancy suit of gold-embossed armor in the third book. In the penultimate battle, the weight of the armor slows him down, which gets him killed. (Although it isn't the gold particularly; that particular style of armor was established as always being much heavier than most countries' plate mail, and among the best protection in the world. You still need to spend years building muscle to move in it properly.)
The Literature/SPQR novel Nobody Loves a Centurian gives an avid Costume Porn description of the protagonist Decius putting on his Roman officer's uniform, complete with an anatomically correct breastplate and a push-broom helmet. After he finishes, another officer arrives with the message that their commanding officer wants everyone to wear their combat uniforms to the meeting instead. There's no time to change, and everyone has a good laugh at Decius's expense.
Alanna the Lioness of the Tortall Universe has a set of gold plate armor studded with amethysts. It's still practical because it's gold wash over steel and she can fight in it just fine, but she does save it for special occasions.
Lampshaded in the third book of The Sword of Truth series, where a commander of an army with red capes and shining weapons catches derogatory stares from another force, and notes that usually, such things are nothing more that a Bling of War, but in his case, it is a sign of discipline. His army does lose to the other in the end, but they fight well enough for the surrendering soldiers to be accepted into the enemy forces.
The Reynard Cycle:The great lords of Arcasia are depicted as riding into battle wearing ornate armor that relies heavily on Animal Motifs. The Calvarians, being more practical, eschew this, though their uniforms are still described as being rather sharp.
The Twelfth Legion of The Heroes of Olympus wear solid gold armor. However, it is Imperial gold, which is lighter and harder than steel and powerfully magical.
Somewhat more understated in Tolkien's Legendarium, but still present. The armor worn by the Dwarves and Bilbo in The Hobbit is made in part or entirely of mithril, with gold and gems (and in fact, mithril is widely used in any war-gear of Dwarven and even Elven make), and even the helms of the Tower Guard in The Lord of the Rings are made using mithril. The armies of the Noldor in particular are noted for this (it helps that the High King at the beginnings of their trouble with Morgoth in Valinor may have been the greatest smith the world had ever known). The Rohirrim, having been inspired by the Anglo-Saxons, often use gold on their armor, helms, shields and sword-hilts. Gold is also used by the Southrons and Easterlings in Sauron's armies. Scabbards (such as Andúril's) and other fittings are also often fit with precious metals and gems.
The Jaffa on Stargate SG-1. Lampshaded when an actor on Show Within a ShowWormhole Extreme asked why the good guys wore camouflage but the bad guys didn't. O'Neill's response: "Maybe that's why they're dead."
A few episodes later in the series, it was specifically noted that Jaffa weapons and armor are designed more for psychological intimidation than actual effectiveness, the better to cow primitive populations into accepting their new "gods". If you're trying to impress people, you don't want to hide your troops with camo...
Also worth noting is that their uniforms were armor effective against just about anything they'd face short of their own weapons (steel plates and chain mail will stop most bladed weapons that resisting peasants will have). When they first came to Earth in the pilot, small arms fire just bounced off — one Jaffa was killed, but that was after a considerable amount of gunfire. It wasn't until the SGC became a recognized defensive asset that needed better weapons and got them that the armor became obsolete.
Those were Serpent Guards, not Jaffa, those guys are elite troops and thus get the best armour.
The Centauri in Babylon 5: sort of Roman meets Napoleonic. Initially you think that those are just the palace guards, but then some guy on a covert mission to grab G'Kar shows up dressed like that...
In a later mission they wore obscuring robes to hide their identity. They were found out because they had the full uniform, including unit insignia, underneath.
The human officers on B5 have fancy grey dress uniforms with braid on the shoulders for ceremonial occasions, and boring blue-and-brown uniforms for everyday use. However, when B5 breaks away from Earth Alliance and Delenn produces spiffy new black uniforms for everybody, those uniforms appear to be used for both dress and combat... though, to be fair, it would be asking a lot of poor Delenn to supply two separate uniform designs on such short notice.
The separatist uniforms are an aversion, as they aren't inherently impractical for what the characters are doing.
Though we do find out in a later episode that each of these uniforms is meticulously constructed from special materials that, according to Lennier, are a great honor to wear. So it seems that from the Minbari perspective the separatist uniforms are still very much Bling of War. It's just that the Minbari idea of Bling of War is very subdued.
We also see in "Gropos" that Earth Force has a dedicated marine corps used for ground-based combat. Their uniforms are a functional olive-green. And even their commander, Gen. Franklin, exchanges his dressier uniform for a more cover-friendly green outfit while his forces are engaged in combat. In other episodes we also see that B5 security has an all-black SWAT-style uniform they use for more dangerous situations.
Minbari have robes and carve their headbones according to a system of heraldry associated with their culture(which justifies Delenn's headbone looking like a circlet). Delenn has really fancy robes and being the properLady of War that she is, goes through Space Battleswithout causing a wrinkle.
In Game of Thrones, The Kingsguard uniform is incredibly fancy, in striking contrast to the utilitarian armour worn by the Stark household guard. Lampshaded by Ned Stark, who comments dryly to a member of the King's Guard, "Very handsome armor. Not a scratch on it."
It's revealed in this featurette that King Renly Baratheon's armour (which included velvet fabric) was the most complicated costume created for the first two seasons of the show.
Ser Loras Tyrell has even more glorious armor, with small flowery patterns covering every inch of it. Makes sense, given that he's as camp as you can be while still being a badass knight.
Compare the above entry for the source material, A Song of Ice and Fire. The series tuned it down considerably.
In Original Star Trek the male Mirror Universe uniforms aren't that different (except maybe for Kirk's) but the women's uniforms include a bare midrif - and a ceremonial but very effective dagger for any male crewman who crosses the line.
At first glance, the model of Ultramarines Second Company Captain Cato Sicarius makes you think, "Wow, that's a lot of bling, looks pretty gaudy to me." Then you read his fluff, and you realize that he earned every single piece of that bling on the battlefield. Then suddenly his bling is less gaudy and more badass.
Parodied with Marneus Calgar of Ultramarines aka Papa Smurf, the biggest pimp in the galaxy as can be seen here.
With the Imperial Guard, it tends to be a mishmash. Take the Cadians for example. They wear practical body armour in camouflage colours, and tend to resemble contemporary soldiers. But they're quite likely to be fighting alongside a chap looking like this◊ or this◊.
Done by the Mordian Iron Guard regiment, who wear fantastically gaudy dress uniforms into war. Many enemies have been fatally surprised to discover that the flashy uniforms are being worn by fiercely disciplined and competent soldiers. The concepts of coloured uniforms helping morale similar to their use in Napoleanic Warfare's smoky battlefields likely applies to the Mordians as well, amplified by them frequently fighting the bowel-voidingly disturbing forces of Chaos and how the side of the planet Mordia everyone lives on (the other side being burning and over-lit) is without sunlight.
The Imperium as a whole has a tendency to try and make anything bigger than a jetbike resemble a cathedral. And we're not talking about a subtle, restrained cathedral here, it's the full Notre Dame effect.
Orks bling it up, too. It's just that instead of skull moldings and gold, they go for...skulls. And helmets. On sticks. As a way of honoring a worthy opponent.
Of course, defined by the Bad Moons clan, and the Flash Gitz in particular, who believe the richer and flashier they are, the more powerful they are. They even have their gretchin talk big about them just to make other, less fortunate orks jealous. Of course, instead of rising to any kind of position of power in their clans, they instead get booted out for being too self-absorbed in their wealth. They usually end up as mercenaries for various xenos species in the galaxy... or as Korsairs.
Imperial Bling of War works against humans when fighting orks: since to the Large and in Charge-following orks, all humans are the same size, they figure the 'umiez solve the "who's in charge" problem by giving their leaders bigger and awesomer hats (which is true to an extent). Which is why many a Commissar Cap has been removed from its owner's head (and the head from the body as well) to be put on an ork warboss as a symbol of authority.
Eldar are mostly relatively restrained, just going for functional bling like magic gems that increase their magic power, but Eldrad goes a bit over the top.
Eldar can go either way largely because each of their Aspect Warrior castes have specific uniforms. This ranges from the dark and intimidating Dark Reapers who seem to be aiming for a "Death in armour with a missile launcher" look; right the way up to the Fire Dragons who, true to their name, wear bright orange armour with yellow helmets. Special characters, as so often happens, turn this way up; Asurmen being a great example with blue and gold armour, an enormous red helmet with a crest and a huge flag on his back.
Eldar always go into battle with spirit stones, which are small gems that are made to capture the souls of the Eldar when they are killed so they can be retrieved later. Otherwise their souls will end up in the warp where it will be devoured by daemons, especially Slaanesh.
All high level commanders in the 40k universe are guilty of this trope. This is made especially apparent in the Dawn of War series, particularly in Dark Crusade when your respective commander gains all of the available wargear. That's when they look REALLY fancy.
Except Tau, who are more pragmatic and whose commanders look little different from their other mecha, and the Tyranids, whose commanders' bling is Squick.
The Sun Armor artifact from GURPS: Dungeon Fantasy glows brightly, is made of orichalcum and decorated to look like a sunrise. But it's as functional as it is gaudy, the cosmic armor cannot be bypassed by anything short of a God.
In Exalted, If it is an Solar artifact, It will by blingy, From Power Armor and Weapons to Warstiders and the Solars themself.
Hell, most armor for the Exalted is pimp as all hell. Solars get the best use out of oricalchum (magical gold), Lunars work best with magically-infused moonsilver, and the Dragon-Blooded get lots of mileage out of jade (which comes in six different colors, no less). The only magical material that isn't automatically suited for bling is starmetal, and that's because it's so hard to obtain that it's used in the most utilitarian of fashions.
Magic: The Gathering has the plane of Bant, where this is standard dress for soldiers. It's justified in that war in Bant is so heavily tied to a code of honour that no one uses ambushes or sneak attacks - Bant soldiers don't even wear armour on the back of their bodies because no one ever dares to sneak up on them from behind.
The Glitter Boys from Rifts have this for a practical reason: The ultra-bright mirror finish of their chrome-plated armour is an unmatched defence against laser weaponry.
Techno Wizards have armor and weapons that sparkle with various gems, which serve to magically empower them.
The better to go with all the Gorgeous Period Dress, some productions of Elisabeth have this for the male royalty. (Especially Takarazuka productions — Rudolf looks alarmingly like a Disney Prince. In a good way.)
In a similar gag to the Three Stooges one above, a production of The Pirates of Penzance had the Modern Major General bragging about the medals on his chest: "Yes, I got these on the frontier. I had a couple on the back 'ere *indicates coattails* but they fell off."
The formal SeeD uniforms in Final Fantasy VIII were decorated with brocade, the female version involves a rather impractical-looking skirt, and generally look like what would happen if a member of The Ginyu Force traded fashion tips with Hugo Boss. The student uniforms, on the other hand, are a practical-looking ensemble that can be best described as combat fatigues crossed with a Japanese school uniform. Of course, it's also worth noting that the uniforms are apparently only worn either on-campus or when necessary to "show the flag," and indeed the protagonists never wear the uniforms at all after two sequences in the beginning.
From the Custom Robo series, the A.I.R.S.robo. It's an Army-Issue Ray Sky model, whose specs and equipment have been drastically increased for military use. It is also gold-plated from head to toe.
Also, the aptly named Carat robo from Custom Robo Arena. It's an enhanced Little Sprinter model with military-grade specs and parts, but extremely gaudy and diamond-encrusted. Something of a subversion though, as it is a Rich Bitch's custom design for her personal use (see Screw the Rules, I Have Money!).
The Nemesis Army in City of Heroes work for a 200-year-old Mad Scientist, and dress like they're about to fight Napoleon. With their blunderbuss-like (but very effective) rifles and bright-colored uniforms, the fans have nicknamed them "The Marching Band from Hell".
The scary part: that's the grunt's uniform. Higher ranking soldiers have an even fancier getup, while the leader wears the Lord's Mail, a rather tricked-out breastplate originally worn by a founder of the Empire, and wields a Flaming Sword.
Oblivion's Legionnaires are genuinely pretty subdued, but some of the city guard outfits are less so, like Bruma's bright yellow. This trope is played entirely straight, however, by the big pimpin' Watch Captains◊ in the Imperial City.
Lyude from Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an ambassador connected to the Imperial Army, so he can be somewhat forgiven for his extravagant military-esque outfit and apparently brass-plated gun-horn - although his brother and sister, actual soldiers, have no such excuse.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed features the 1st and 2nd division, led by an officer in fancy dress - complete with so many medals that he's bulletproof from frontal attacks.
The Terran representative from Space Empires V.
The Imperial Generals of Valkyria Chronicles wear them in combat; gold trim, cords, epaulettes and an ocean of gold buttons abound. Gallia's military officers wear a much more modest (if not less elaborate) uniform. Imperial Prince Maximilian, while not wearing a uniform, wears an entire suit of elaborately decorative silver plate mail with gold accents, including a golden laurel crown, as part of his garb of station, even when just sitting around.
King Cailan Theirin from Dragon Age: Origins is decked out in massive gold armor. Sophia Dryden's armor might count as well, considering how fancy and decorative it looks.
In Spore: Galactic Adventures you can design your own captain to play in adventures. The most expensive and powerful armour you can attach to your captain are covered in gold and sparkly gems.
In Minecraft, you can forge gold armor and weapons, but in a subversion, they're nearly useless as anything other than a display of wealth, since iron is much easier to find and the resulting equipment is twice as strong.
Diamonds can also be used to make armor and swords, but unlike gold, anything crafted with diamonds not only looks pretty, but they are also extremely durable, requiring at least over 1000 uses before the tools break.
Protoss in StarCraft II suddenly developed a taste for flashy decorations, and that is after they were shown walking around almost naked in Brood War.
This is actually due to improvements in technology allowing the Zealots' and High Templars' golden body armor to show on their in-game models. The big yellow segments were always present in the original's and BW's concept art.
While Gears of War is a little too Grim Dark to get into this full-tilt, elements appear, especially in the third game. All the Gears have uniforms adorned in strangely useless blue LED lights that serve little point other than to make it impossible to hide in dark corners (particularly odd, since most of the fighting in Gears 2 takes place either underground or in decaying buildings). Gears 3 ups the ante by adding in a whole host of cosmetic weapon skins for multiplayer, including bright pink, a glowing aura in appropriate colors (blue for COG, red for Locust) that changes appropriately if an enemy picks the weapon up, and even a liquid metal skin. A few are unlocked by in-game achievements, but most are bought a la carte — getting all of them costs about $40, 2/3 the price of the entire game.
The Palace Guards of Gears of War 3 play this trope completely straight, having counterintuitively ornate (and heavy) helmets and coats. They're not quite on the level of bling found in most of these examples, but Locust designs tend toward brown, being an underground species.
While there's a bit of this all over the Assassin's Creed series, Cesare Borgia of the Papal Army is pretty notable. His silver breast-plate has cherubs embossed all over it.
The Papal Guards have some really fancy armor, but not even Cesare's armor can top Ezio's Armor of Brutus.
Prince Tolten from Lost Odyssey is completely kitted out in gold armour (with gold sword). Not only that, the armour is encrusted with diamonds.
The various military forces in Girl Genius are generally practical — by the standards of the mid-19th century. And they usually include a Nice Hat.
In fact, the Jägermonsters ARE this trope in spades. Originally, in their "generic monster" days, they wore uniforms that actually were uniforms, but it's pretty much unknown these days to see two wearing the same outfit.
The uniforms worn in Schlock Mercenary are quite modest compared to a lot of these other examples, though they're definitely not camouflaged and the floating epaulets (shaped like stars, lightning bolts, planets, or simple metal plates depending on rank) are kind of conspicuous. Even if the epaulets are concealed grenades (or antimatter bombs in Commander Kevyn Andreyason's case).
Generally averted in modern day military. Bling attracts snipers - therefore field officers do not wear rank insignia nor Sam Browne belts.
In the age of "gentlemanly" warfare, bright uniforms were used to actually help soldiers stand out amid all the smoke (it wasn't until just over a century ago that smokeless gunpowder was invented). This was actually a morale booster, as soldiers were assured that their fellows were still around amid the chaos. Blingy uniforms could also help to show troops, subordinate officers and couriers where the commanders were to aid in battlefield communication.
The logical extreme would likely be the uniforms worn by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which he had to be sewn into in order to get the right fit. This fact is often credited as being one of the reasons doctors were unable to save his life after he was shot in 1914.
Some old-school French units would take their full-dress uniforms into the field in order to put them on (white gloves and all) on the day of a battle. This was most notably the case with Napoleon's Old Guard. Also, some commanders would put on extremely fancy uniforms and often dress their aides-de-camp in specially designed ones. Joachim Murat, one of Napoleon's marshals and king of Naples, was famous for gaudy, brightly coloured get-ups which to some seemed more appropriate for an opera production than the battlefield. With all that bling among his marshals and generals, the best way for Napoleon to stand out was to dress very plainly, usually in an undecorated bicorne hat, an undress uniform and over that a simple grey greatcoat.
British liaison officers working with the Spanish irregulars would ride around through the war-torn Spanish countryside in full dress uniform so they couldn't be hung as spies (which was their job, mostly making maps). They didn't worry about getting seen because they had really good (and hideously expensive) horses.
The most extreme example would be Hussar uniforms (the cavalry uniform with the cross-bands on the chest, short fur hat, and jacket on one shoulder). Originally worn by Hungarian units. Everyone copied the look (especially officers) for most of the 19th century, despite being an absolute pain to wear. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's winged hussars added wings and leopard skins.
Apart from their winged hussars, Polish-Lithuanian nobility, who claimed a descent from the ancient Sarmatians, also liked a good scale armour. It was more expensive, heavier, and offered worse protection than regular armour, so it was good only for parades - but it just looked so Sarmatian.
Swiss mercenaries had a reputation so Bad Ass that they wore outrageously multicolored outfits to make sure everyone on the battlefield knew who they were dealing with. The German landsknechte imitated their fighting style as well as fashion sense. To this day, the Swiss Guard◊ wear brightly colored uniforms when performing ceremonial duties as the Papal bodyguard. Guardsmen wear more practical uniforms when they are actually working, however.
The Landsknechte generally tended to exaggerate and embellish their uniforms even more than the Swiss, with massive puffed and slashed sleeves and huge feathered hats becoming common. Landsknechte were generally mercenaries of very low social standing, and their costume was at once an advertisement of how wealthy and successful they had become to prospective employers and two fingers up to the more restrained sartorial tastes of most Europeans of the day. It was deliberately intended to be shocking, garish and outrageous to show how little the Landsknecht cared about social conventions - often to the point of oversized phallic codpieces. Given that they were generally wandering soldiers of fortune, rarely had dependents to support and might die at any time, elaborate clothing was one of the few status symbols they could reliably spend any money they had left over from drinking and whoring on.
The Nazis. Let's face it, despite the notoriety of their deeds, those dudes were fashionable.
Small wonder because their uniforms were designed by Hugo Boss.
Dress uniforms, especially that famous black SS uniforms with lots of leather and silver braid — yes. But common feldgrau was usually as ill-fitting, baggy, stained, torn and generally unappealing as most combat fatigues in the world.
In practice, the most impressive dress uniforms in terms of bling were those of the Kriegsmarine, out of all arms, due to them sticking to the tradition of the Imperial Navy. An naval officer had at least 2 service dresses (blues / whites), a full dress◊, a parade dress◊ (frilliest of them), a walking-out dress for city wear and an evening dress uniform (which could have also had a lot of decorations and a ceremonial dagger for even more formal events). They subverted the trope by wearing mostly the service dress or civilian jumpers and leather coats aboard ship.
Averted, interestingly enough, by Hitler himself, who wore a simple party uniform, in part to portray himself as a man of the people, in part because he had been a lance-corporal in WW1. Even though he could cover his chest in medals, he made a point of only wearing what he legitimately won in battle.
Oh, the uniforms of Reichsmarschall Göring. They couldn't even be called "uniforms" because they, well, weren't uniform. Perfectly tailored and designed by him, to reflect his unique position, self-aggrandizing titles, and the amount of loot he stole along the way. He also loved medals. His Staff of Authority was also superior to the regular officer's baton. There was a joke in Nazi Germany: "What is one gör? It's the maximum amount of metal a man can wear on his chest without tipping over."
There's a (possibly apocryphal) anecdote about Göring and Hitler going to inspect ships under construction at a naval yard. Göring arrived first and went aboard a ship; when Hitler showed up the Reichsmarschall put his head through a porthole to watch Hitler's arrival. When Der Führer saw this, he mentioned to an aide, "Now he really has gone too far — he's hung an entire battleship around his neck!"
Regular officers of the Wehrmacht did not carry batons. The baton was the symbol of rank of Field Marshals. Goering, at his own urging, was made Reichsmarshall by Hitler, the only one ever, and thus his baton was gaudier then that of a mere Field Marshal. "Der Dicke" (the Fat One) did love his rank, power, and bling.
Goring for the record was a WW1 fighter pilot and a legitimately successful one (he was the Red Barons squadron XO). The Luftwaffe under his command achieved several great successes. So, with the caveat, his bling would have been impressive had he just kept the medals he had eearned, but for some reason, he went excessive.
Golden-Age of Piracy pirates liked to wear their treasure, making it harder to steal. Bartholomew Roberts wandered around with a giant, diamond-studded cross on a chain around his neck.
In William Manchester's biography of Douglas Mac ArthurAmerican Caesar, MacArthur regularly wore all of his medals on his uniform, even in combat. Given that this was MacArthur, it was a lot. He only stopped the practice when he learned that General Joseph Stilwell didn't wear any medals or decorations at all, except for the tiniest rank insignia. Annoyed that Stilwell was showing him up in the "Less is More" department (as well as the Glamour 12-Point Accessory Guide) Mac Arthur soon switched to the minimalist look that he had for the landings at Leyte.
Except for his hat, which sported, according to Fleet Admiral Bill Halsey (another unpretentious practitioner of the "less is more" school of military dress), "more gold braid than I thought it was possible to put on a hat".
General George Patton started the blingy trend during peacetime training, with his ivory-handled handgun, tailored uniform and his tank in the colors of the American flag, and he proposed for his tank troops a deep green uniform with gilded helmet and buttons (which got rebuked by the press).
General Winfield Scott ("Old Fuss And Feathers") lost the Whig nomination for President to Zachary Taylor ("Old Rough And Ready") due to an image problem related (in part) to the care taken with his uniform. In fact his clothing alone took up six horse-drawn carriages. General Ulysses S. Grant, on the other hand, took to the field with the clothes on his back, a hairbrush and a toothbrush.
Leonid Brezhnev was so fond of the Bling of War that he awarded himself loads of improbable awards, including World War II awards as late as the 1970s (including the Order of Victory, a diamond-and-ruby affair awarded only in the single-digit range to a few top commanders, which Brezhnev could hardly count himself among), and the coveted Hero of the Soviet Union and Hero of Socialist Labour awards for such momentous achievements as his birthday (Brezhnev was one of only two individuals — the other being Marshal Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin — to receive four Hero of the Soviet Union medals). This eventually got to the point where a a common Soviet joke of the era was about Brezhnev needing chest expansion surgery to accommodate an ever-increasing number of medals. After his death, a number of award regulations were changed to specifically exclude the awards being granted for things such as birthdays, and his Order of Victory was outright revoked.
Idi Amin, who, like Brezhnev, had to have the length of his tunics extended to accommodate his absurdly large collection of awards.
Samurai armor and helmets. Some examples can be seen here. The extravagant ones all come from the Edo period — with its absence of wars — and are the equivalent of European Parade Armour, such as this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Moammar Qaddafi, the real Liberace among Northern-African dictators.
During World War I, the German army was distinctive in that its combat uniforms were (at least at the start of the war) just camouflaged versions of dress uniforms. Hence all the spiked helmets: those were part of the dress uniform of all German armies, and so they kept those in the combat version; same for double-breasted cavalry outfits and so forth.
Technically they were field-grey versions of the coloured (mainly blue) uniforms that were worn for peacetime service, which however had come in different grades of "bling" depending on whether it was worn e. g. for garrison drill or parades. And the spiked leather helmets at least could be said to have provided a little more protection than the cloth caps and hats worn by the other armies before the introduction of steel helmets.
The Australians in WWII, unable to afford more than one type, also used a single uniform for all occasions - combat, sleeping, formal wear, everything. This led to annoyance when Americans in prettier leave-uniforms got all the girls.
Pretty much all armies started World War I with well-decorated uniforms. The exceptions were the armies from the Commonwealth (continuous wars had made them realize that wearing bright red was a bad idea when facing accurate weapons, so they had switched to khaki), the US Army (that had fought a war in tropical climates at the end of the XIX century wearing blue wool uniforms, and started introducing alternate materials with khaki colour immediately after), Japan (that had started switching from blue to khaki before the Russo-Japanese War and switched faster after they saw how accurate the Russian riflemen were) and the Royal Italian Army (usually plagued by incompetence among officers and Obstructive Bureaucrat but praised for their elegant dark blue uniforms, the Royal Italian Army suddenly switched the home country uniforms to their trademark grey-green after a civilian who had read about the battles of the Russo-Japanese War pointed out the blue uniforms made them easy targets and experiments confirmed it. They had previously adopted khaki for colonial service due the issues in wearing blue under the African sun). The Russian Army adopted khaki uniforms in 1907, after using dyed khaki uniforms in the Russo-Japanese War. Accurate rifle fire and sniping of officers made everyone adopt more sensible uniforms.
While the Aztec jaguar warriors actually had quite useful armor for their climate and time period, they probably didn't need it to be covered in feathers, gems, and war paint as well.
From the 2010 Moscow Victory Day Parade, compare the uniforms of the soldiers from Turkmenistan◊ and Armenia◊. The Turkmen general even wore a Custom Uniform and rode on a white horse, while all the Armenians, even the leaders of the column, wore regular uniforms and simply put their medals on. (Turkmenistan, of course, is the country that was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, a crazy dictator if there ever was one.) And Armenia is one of few CIS nations with real military experience.
The Mess Dress uniform (the one worn for dinners, parties and balls) for the Honourable Artillery Company (UK), to the point where privates from those unit get more bling than a lot of commissioned officers from other units.
The British Royal Guards are a relatively subdued example, but there's a reason we stopped making our squaddies wear bright red jackets for anything but peacetime ceremonial duties.
A rather ironic subversion is the evolution of the "casual" subculture amongst football hooligans in the UK during the The Seventies and The Eighties. Because football firms had very distinctive styles of dress (stereotypically skinheads and Doc Martens), the police could easily identify hooligans and contain them. Liverpool and Everton fans brought back European fashions and designer labels from their away games, and their firms began wearing them to their games. Other fans initially laughed at this "poncey" new trend, until they realized that the Liverpudlian firms were never getting arrested because the police didn't immediately identify them. Soon, everyone was doing it, but for a time, the football fans' Bling of War actually served to camouflage them rather than make them stand out.
Since the late 18th century the number of orders and decorations increased dramatically as many countries instituted new ones; the 1780s and 1790s also saw the introduction of decorations for combattants below officer rank and the end of the Napoleonic Wars that of campaign medals, i. e. decorations not just for those who performed deeds of valour or that were exceptional in other ways, but to everybody who had been part of the forces in the field. Thus the chests of military men became decorated with a lot more ribbons and pieces of enameled metal than before. This was also reflected in painted portraits, where an officer usually would be shown wearing all his decorations to the point that it was quite common that orders or medals awarded after an officer had sat for his portrait would be painted in additionally later. How many of his decorations an officer would actually wear every day was an entirely different matter, but of course these portraits often were used as reference by the makers of historical movies and television series, leading to slip-ups where people are shown wearing decorations that they only were awarded long after the year a film is set in.
This becomes particularly glaring when not only the decoration is shown too early in time for that particular person, but becomes "impossible" in general terms. This troper for instance recalls a British TV series about the life of Edward VII in which Otto Von Bismarck (born 1815) was shown wearing an Iron Cross in the 1860s and Wilhelm II (born 1859) was shown wearing one in the late 19th century. The original Iron Cross was awarded exclusively during the Wars of Liberation (1813-1815), its second incarnation exclusively during the Franco-German War (1870/71) and the third one exclusively during World War 1 (1914-1918).
There is an old anecdote that right before a battle with Rome, Antiochus III asked Hannibal Barca, who was a guest of his at the time, whether his army will be enough for the Romans. Hannibal took a look and said "Yes. They are very greedy, but it'll be enough."
Germanic warriors loved this. They would have inlaid and Jewel Encrusted weapons(usually on sheaths and hilts for obvious reasons), and some swords had holes drilled into the hilt or guard to hang rings which had a mystic significance because their circularity represented eternity and were often used as military decorations.