The uniforms of the Imperial Guard are camouflaged in order to protect their wearers by hiding them from sight. The principle is that what the enemy cannot see he cannot kill. This is not the way of the Adeptus Astartes. A Space Marine’s armour is bright with heraldry that proclaims his devotion to his Chapter and the beloved Emperor of Mankind. Our principle is that what the enemy can see, he will soon learn to fear…
In Real Life, soldiers on duty will usually wear fatigues. These combat uniforms are designed for many practical needs, including a lack of highly-visible markings or bright colors to help the soldier blend into the environment better. This results in fatigues crafted in either a neutral monochrome or a camouflage pattern, with the flashy dress uniforms reserved for ceremonial purposes. Officers wear the same outfits as enlisted men (except for the rank insignia) so that they can't be singled out by the enemy.
In fictional works (especially visual ones), this line of thinking gets thrown out the window, causing the Redshirt Army and the Evil Minions to charge into battle wearing uniforms that turn them into walking targets. Leaders and Officers are even worse, often charging into battle with elaborately gaudy outfits to emphasize their leaderness. Despite such recklessness, the wearer never suffers any negative repercussions for doing so (or at least no more than those offered by othertropes).
This trope typically manifests in the following ways:
Bullseye Badge: The uniform has a highly-visible, easily-targeted symbol of their organization in a vulnerable location, such as the upper torso or on their helmets. The Laws And Customs Of War require soldiers to wear a symbol that visibly separates them from civilians, but not to such ridiculous extremes. Some works will attempt to justify this trope by saying the badge is intended to draw fire to an armored portion of the ensemble. Often occurs due to Sigil Spam.
The Five Star Stories is similar to 40k, in that Super Soldiers get ludicrously flamboyant costumes, while ordinary grunts have realistic uniforms based on actual combat fatigues. The translated sourcebook insert sections in the English editions even describe some of the Real Life inspirations for various pieces of FSS military equipment. Colus, for example, seems to be a big importer of pre-reunification West German surplus.
France from Axis Powers Hetalia has a bright blue and red military uniform as opposed to the dull colored uniforms his fellow Allied Forces wear. It's lampshaded in one strip where France wears a boring grey inform instead of his usual one, when England questions why France explains that French army's colorful garb made it ridiculously easy for the Italians to aim at them.
In Winter Cicada, Kusaka wears one while fighting in the Boshin war. One wonders how in the heck they could even fight with those helmet-hair thingies.
The bright blue uniforms worn by the Amestrian soldiers in Fullmetal Alchemist are definitely this.
Everyone in the Gundam franchise is dressed this way. Justified in the case of the mobile suit pilots and naval officers (who aren't trying to hide) but played unfortunately straight by the rest of the military personell.
In several adaptations of Area88, pilots wear brightly-colored flightsuits. In a desert environment, they'd stick out like sore thumbs. Which might be the point, since it increases their chances of being found by one side or the other -a mercenary is unlikely to care which, if they're not likely to be ill-treated- before their water runs out.
Averted by the green goons in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, but invoked hard by their captains. note Fans have compared the outfits to Mardi Gras on LSD. For the more subtle ones. The good guys' uniforms are about the same, right down to the bull's-eye insignia.
Kobra is often depicted as a DC analogue of HYDRA, wearing similar brightly-colored outfits in green, yellow, and orange.
The Demolition Team◊ is a band of mercenaries who wear a fearsome ensemble of bright blue shirts and dark blue pants.
The members of the various Lantern Corps usually have their Corps sigil across their chest.
Interestingly averted by the original version of the Secret Six. Yes, they usually have very bright and distinctive outfits, but when they go on night or stealth missions, the colouration changes accordingly.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman states that the reason for his very visible chest symbol (black on yellow at this point) is specifically to draw weapon fire to that point, where he is wearing a heavy armor plate.
Dr. Evil's legion of Mooks sport large badges with his triangular logo over their left chest.
In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Imperial Stormtroopers wearing eye-watering white armor (with contrasting black undersuit) in the Endor forest is just as good as wearing a "please, shoot me" bullseye on your chest. Then again, a big part of the point of the Stormtroopers was to intimidate the populace with visible shows of force and having armor that stands out could help that.
Partially averted in the prequels, when the Clone Army sometimes got colored camouflage depending on the situation (jungle, scouting, etc.) — but with the base glossy white armor clearly visible underneath...
The Star Wars Expanded Universe has Stormtroopers after Endor use camoflaged armor when on missions that need it. In the X-Wing Series, Stormtroopers on commando/assassination missions wear slate gray armor. Lampshaded at one point, where Imperial troops raiding a jungle village in their shiny whites is taken as proof that they're local militia not Stormtroopers, since "getting whipped by one Wookie and a bunch of Ewoks persuaded the Empire to institute some reforms".
Many Mooks in earlier James Bond movies. In most movies, this is averted for good guys (even Red Shirt ones) who do wear realistic uniform.
Most of the SPECTRE mooks wear orange.
In Thunderball, two armies of divers fight over a bomb lost in the ocean. One side wore shiny black, the other orange.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, Stomberg's mooks also wear orange, as contrast to the British, Russian and US sailors with proper colouring though those mooks aren't proper soldiers, but rather workers and builders with guns for defence. And such workers (like aboard oil rigs) occasionally wear orange, so they could be spotted easily during rescue missions.
In Moonraker, Hugo Drax's mooks wear yellow Latex Spacesuit, even on earth. You could say the same for the US marines astronauts, though they do wear suits resembling real astronauts (though with US flag insignia on it).
Sort of averted in Goldfinger, as the mooks wear grey.
The various troops of Ming the Merciless in the film adaptation of Flash Gordon have assorted fancy uniforms in various shades of shiny gold and bright red (also powder blue and carnation!). The top officers (such as Klytus and Kala) and some of the bridge crew wear a more practical black.
In Radioactive Dreams, one character wears a pseudo-military uniform where the epaulets are a row of flashing L.E.D.s. She wears this outfit to the climactic multiway fight IN A DARKENED WAREHOUSE. 'Shoot between the dotted lines' (it is decades since I saw this, so details are unreliable).
Hicks in Aliens, like most of the Space Marines, wears camouflaged, dark armor...Except he has a bright heart and locket on his chest. Micheal Biehn , the actor who portrayed him, really did not like this and thought it him a obvious target, but as he brought in as replacement for another actor shortly after filming began, it was there to stay.
The Heralds of Valdemar serve as everything from diplomats to special forces. Normally, their all-white uniform is a respected symbol of authority, but the lack of any other option on the battlefield is subject to much Lampshade Hanging. However, it is implied that the Heralds intentionally draw attention to themselves because they're so noble that they would rather be hit than some random soldier, no matter how irreplaceable and tactically valuable they are. The two most militaristic Heralds (a former enemy captain and a former mercenary) wear dark gray instead whenever possible. The regular Valdemar army wears dark blue and silver which are the nation's colors.
The standard-issue steeds of said Heralds are no less conspicuous between the indelible white coats, silver hooves, and blue eyes. However a sentient warhorse with more speed and stamina than anything remotely natural is usually useful enough to make up for it even without factoring in the various psionic and arcane abilities.
In Monstrous Regiment, when the squad makes makeshift ghillie-like camouflage uniforms, Sergeant Jackrum refuses, saying it is beneath his dignity.
The Blue Hordes in the Redwall book Lord Brocktree have their fur dyed blue from head to tail. Then again, they rely far more on numbers and fear factor than camouflage.
Commented on by Diana Wynne Jones' protagonist in Homeward Bounders. Here the characters get transported from world to world at a moments notice, each world being at different technology levels. On finding themselves trapped in a war zone, Jamie immediately starts to look out to see if uniforms are brightly coloured or mud brown. In terms of civilians trying to go their own way, the former is good, the latter, pretty bad.
Anne McCaffrey's Duty Calls from The Girl Who Heard Dragons. The Hrruban officer first appears wearing shades and dyes that would seem to make her stand out a mile away. It is explained that the camouflage was chosen specifically to hide her from the alien race occupying the planet she's infiltrating, since they do not see the same way.
The Jaffa had the sigil of their god tattooed (or painfully gold-plated) on their foreheads, but it's usually hidden under their armored helmet. The glowing red eyes of said helmet, on the other hand, definitely stand out. However, it makes sense when you realize (as is specifically pointed out from time to time) that the Goa'uld and Jaffa are a "modern" military force solely in terms of technology. In terms of organization and tactics, they're strictly tribal/feudal. Their armies are meant to be seen and feared, to cow people into submission through displays of power rather than through actual ability. When the Jaffa begin to rebel in solid numbers, they begin to accept human-style weapons and tactics because the human way of war is to kill the enemy effectively and efficiently, while, while the Goa'uld way is to intimidate enemies who are either of similar composition or essentially defenseless civilians.
Lampshaded in the hundredth episode where a TV show based on the Stargate program is being made. One of the actors asks why the aliens never wear camouflage, and the writer claims that Executive Meddling wanted the aliens "to be seen". The actor argues that an alien wouldn't want to be seen, and Jack points out that this may be why all the aliens are dead. The actor finds this very helpful.
The same is true for the Ori armies, whose goal is to show off the glory of the Ori and who use staff weapons similar to the Jaffa.
Zedd's Putties being destroyed by a single punch has been seen as some sort of Lampshade Hanging.
The typical Star Trek uniform is a single-color shirt with matching pants. In many situations, representing the Federation is partly shown via uniform-wearing (especially in Insurrection when Picard resigns his commission temporarily). Therefore, if they are acting as diplomats or ambassadors, then they need to be easily identified. Many times in the various series, characters disguised themselves to blend in when on a hostile planet. In the original it was usually via costume, and in the later series surgical alteration was used to transform the characters. However, somewhat justified in that Starfleet personnel, as their name suggests, on board a spaceship most of the time and are thus in theory unlikely to be personally shot at (though this doesn't explain why away teams didn't wear subdued colors as a matter of course).
The later series gradually phased out the bright colors in the uniforms in favor of black and gray. Limiting the colored part to the shoulders and eventually just an undershirt. Enterprise also has quite reasonable dark blue uniforms.
Starfleet personnel in ground-combat situations sometimes wore a variant uniform where the colour was limited to a shoulder-flash. In the Star Trek Expanded Universe, these uniforms are called Surface Operation Blacks, and the most recent version has even removed the shoulder flash.
Parodied in Dinosaurs when the dinosaurs go to war. Their uniforms have the national flag on the back... which just happens to resemble a bullseye.
Fridge Brilliance - how better to discourage your troops from turning around and running away?
The 80's miniseries 'V' has this trope relating to the 'visitors' themselves. As the 'visitors' only dressed up as Human Aliens in the first place to appear friendly to humans, it is reasonable for them to not be wearing camo or body armor would've rather spoiled that image.
The Alliance soldiers in Firefly got the nickname "purple bellies" from the purple-painted armor they wore on their abdomens. And while the coats that gave the Independent "Browncoats" their nickname would probably help blend into the arid environments of most outer worlds, the red vests they wore underneath would definitely not.
Note that there is a clear difference between the uniforms worn by the Alliance in wartime and in peacetime; the uniforms shown in flashbacks are far less conspicuous gray-black suits of armor, while the armor worn during the series itself is the "purple-belly" armor. This makes sense, as the Alliance troops in peacetime are intended to be highly visible.
Buffy Summers invokes it by goes patrolling in brightly colored outfits, because vampires are attracted to bright colors, and genre savvy citizens wear muted colors.
Though not as obvious in the books, pops up in Game of Thrones, where the Night's Watch wear pitch-black uniforms. This would be reasonable in any other location, but the Night's Watch patrol the North, and when they're out in the snows beyond the thick forests just north of the Wall, they kind of stand out.
There are still worse colours that they could wear. The regions they patrol in are rarely completely covered in snow, and their armour blends in reasonably well among the black tree trunks and rocks that dot the landscape.
And you know, black works fairly well at night. Even better when you consider that most of their clothing is old and worn and turning to grey or navy blue.
In Generation Kill, the Marines are issued with camoflague pattern chemical warfare suits in case the Iraqis use chemical weapons against them. Unfortunately, they are issued with woodland pattern while in the desert.
VIPER from the Champions Universe has their symbol prominently displayed on their uniforms. Earlier editions had their heroic counterparts UNTIL doing the same, but the most recent incarnation goes for the more subtle (and more realistic) approach of just putting the badge on their headgear and uniform sleeves.
As in the quotation of Warhammer 40000, the Space Marines generally do this, and is 'justified' in that they want to be visible - for a non-imperial perspective, entire platoons of well-equipped Guardsmen have quit the field when even one Chaos Space Marine has shown up. After all, they're armored like tanks, built like Superman, and armed with what might as well be automatic grenade launchers. In essence, not only do the Space Marines want to display their chapter allegiance, but they also want to make sure that they're putting the fear of God the Emperor in anyone within a half-mile radius.
The Imperial Guard, on the other hand, prefer to use camouflage... mostly. At least one Guard unit, the Mordians, prefer to wear bright-blue dress uniforms into battle. The impact of such a move is diminished with the existence of working stealth generators.
Truth be told, most of the Space Marines follow this trope to a T, but they also have their own infiltrators and camo troops, the scouts, which are also the Space Marine newbies, making every Space Marine also a god in infiltration. If they need to be, that is; as stated, they just don't care most of the time...
The Orks play in to this by painting themselves with bright colors due to their superstitious beliefs that work for them. Some paint themselves blue because they consider it lucky, while they paint their vehicles red which make them "go fasta"! The trick is: Orks run on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, so it might actually work.
The Campus Security in GURPS IOU wear red uniforms with a literal Bullseye Badge, underlining their status as the setting's Red Shirts. Their most common nickname isn't "Targets" for nothing.
Some characters and military groups in Battle Tech and its expanded universe are guilty of this. In many prestigious units, mechwarriors do not bother putting camouflage on their BattleMechs, such as the Knights Of the Inner Sphere painting their mechs a blindingly obvious white◊ or chrome with gold highlights. The 1st Marik Militia likewise uses highly conspicuous liveries - their primary color setup is bright purple with blue and red highlights. However, more pragmatic units and units in the field tend to use more realistic camouflage on their mechs. Infantry, tanks, and aerospace fighters, on the other hand, are generally in more appropriate camouflage.
Most of the minifigs in Lego sets have bright colors, even the more outright militant sets (licensed properties notwithstanding).
In Knights of the Old Republic I & II, soldiers of the Old Republic got to battle wearing bright red combatsuits, and the Mandalorians seem to like wearing armor in nearly every color of the rainbow. But both are easily topped by the Sith Troopers and their shining silver uniforms.
In Haze, the Mantel soldiers all wear helmets and shoulderpads that glow luminous yellow, with the rest of their armor being dark grey or black. The helmets and shoulderpads also flash red when the user takes damage. In reality, those helmets would only serve as massive targets for their enemies, especially since they'd flash whenever they hit their marks.
Other Spartans seem to enjoy bright blues and oranges, among many other colors. And that's not just in multiplayer deathmatches either.
In general, the Covenant races wear bright-colored armor which becomes ever more ornate as they advance in rank, with Brute War Chieftains and Elite Field Marshals wearing particularly fancy helmets into battle.
On the other hand, many of the Covenant forces can cloak. However, in the earlier games, they were hampered by carrying around giant glowing swords, or having guns covered in illuminated displays firing brightly coloured shots (which admittedly would be difficult to disguise anyway). This is averted in the later games, where the active camouflage is fully capable of cloaking those giant glowing energy swords.
Almost everyone in Evil Genius wear brightly colored uniforms. Your neon yellow workers and the orange military minions are particularly obvious. Enemy spies and agents also come in full dress uniforms, some of them more glaring than others.
Averted with the social minions, whose goal is distracting enemy agents, making them think the island is just a tourist hotspot. The valets are dressed as bellhops (despite performing all hotel functions), while spindoctors, diplomats, and playboys wear suits (albeit with bright-colored jackets).
One mission involves the island being invaded by several groups of Mooks in orange jumpsuits. They're, basically, the worker minions of your rival, minus the hard hats.
Phoenix-series armor from Mass Effect is white and pink. White and pink. One of the (female) party members starts the game with it, but you can give it to anyone. Krogan in pink is hilarious. A few others, particularly the ones designed by Devlon Industries, are highly visible outfits. Then again, the Phoenix series is apparently designed for medics, and the Devlon series of armor is designed for construction and utility work in high-risk areas, so it makes sense that they wouldn't be camouflaged.
All three of the major mercenary groups in Mass Effect 2 wear obvious uniforms, with the Blue Suns wearing, well, bright blue and white armor, the Eclipse wearing yellow and black armor, and the Blood Pack wearing bright red. The latter being justified as the krogan don't hide from their enemies.
Within the setting, there's no real point to actually wearing camouflage anyway. If you're wearing anything even remotely modern, the only way to hide yourself from enemy sensors is to use a full-on Invisibility Cloak system, because everyone's armor is outfitted with sensors able to pick you out. Your enemies will see you regardless of whether you're wearing dull camouflage or bright blue and yellow-painted gear. For this reason, suits with Tron Lines are commonplace, especially among mercenaries; if you can't hide you might as well be visible and intimidating.
Cerberus dresses its soldiers in highly conspicuous white and gold uniforms with clearly visible logos of the organization, in spite of their status as a covert black-ops terrorist group, and the fact that just being a member warrants a prison sentence in the Citadel space.
Note that in the original game, their respective faction colors were tan and black.
The Marines of Doom wear quite sensible fatigues, but their body armour comes in Day-Glo Lime Green and Peacock Blue.
In Quake 3, you can select from a wide variety of dull brown, gray, and orange skins, though this still does not make them invisible in front of brown, gray, and orange backgrounds. However, there are always some players who pick the bright red or blue team-deathmatch skins all the time. If you are presented with multiple targets, they are the ones you aim at first.
The villainous teams in the Pokémon games, while not militant per say, do tend to wear very noticeable uniforms for criminal organizations. Team Rocket tend to wear black uniforms with a big red R on the chest, probably the most inconspicuous, then again, they're probably the most well-known organization in the country they're in, so they'd still be noticed. Team Aqua wear blue and white pirate-like uniforms, Team Magma wear gray and red hooded uniforms, but these two tend to show themselves in public the least out of the villainous teams. Team Galactic are rather well-known and wear typical "space-traveler" uniforms, gray and blue and really make no effort to hide themselves (they've got extremely villainous buildings just standing there in the middle of goddamn cities) and are mostly ignored due to Apathetic Citizens. Team Plasma also make no effort to hide themselves and dress almost like knights, but they are trying to be known in order to convert people to their goals.
Actually invoked in a commercial for Halo 4, where a trio of players in various shades of neon were laughing it up, saying how you had to make your armor "pop" so that the poor schmuck you just killed knew just who it was that was now tea-bagging you. Then the pre-order special rock-texture camouflaged player walks out from right next to them (having gone unseen the whole time) and takes all three out before any of them knew what happened. "Pop".
In Blacklight: Retribution nearly every single soldier wears the same dull grey fatigues, which normally would be great for camouflage in an urban environment...if it wasn't for the bright neon lights all over your body including hands, torso and a particularly helpful pair on the standard helmet indicating the best spot for a headshot.
In Team Fortress 2, every class's uniform is brightly-colored around the torso, to draw attention to the weapon they're wielding and to make aiming at them easier.
Schlock Mercenary.: Lampshaded in this comic. Captain Andreyasn designs a new logo for the company, and some grunt says "From here, it looks like a bullseye in your mass center." While characters tend to wear brightly-colored bulletproof uniforms, they usually change when they know they're going to want to be sneaky. For a mercenary company, being highly visible means being intimidating, and is also viewed as an asset.
The Crimson Guard (see page image) are actually a bit of a subversion, as they're not frontline troops, but Cobra Commander's most elite forces. One has to have a degree in law or accounting to even be eligible to join, although scientists and others with highly specialized, and valuable, skills have been included in the ranks. Siegies, when not serving directly at a Cobra base, are deployed out into the world to infiltrate society, spying on enemies and legally earning money to be funneled back to Cobra. Usually, when you see this uniform, it's within Cobra-controlled territory, and if it's on the frontline, it's likely during a Cobra civil war.
Of course, this applies mainly to the comic books; in the cartoon, the Guard aren't featured much outside of the twins, Tomax and Xamot, and in the DIC miniseries "Operation: Dragonfire", one nameless Siegie even sees becoming an Alley-Viper as a promotion!
Note that the original Cobra Troopers were dressed in dark blue, with their giant chest sigil being a very dark red. While not ideal, they would definitely not stand out too much during attacks, especially at night.
The Autobots and Decepticons always have their corresponding faction sigil visible from the front, usually either on their chest or their forehead/helmet. Kinda makes you wonder about the whole "Robots in Disguise" thing.
They note this in-universe: one of the gimmicks they have been known to use are rubsigns, which hide the insignia until you press on it. It stays hidden until you need to show your allegiance.
One of the early Marvel comics also showed an option for the Autobots to conceal their insignia in vehicle mode with false panels.
The Mooks of The Monarch in The Venture Brothers wear bright yellow uniforms with ridiculous oversized butterfly wings on the back.
The wings' size at least is justified. They do work, and probably need to be that size to fly.
Agents of M.A.D. often wear jumpsuits with the M.A.D. logo emblazoned on the chest in public. Despite this, Inspector Gadgetnever realizes that they are his enemies. Then again said agents include three specific mooks that are ALWAYS there and Gadget doesn't recognize them either, so odds are Doctor claw knows there's nothing to worry about.
In a Family Guy cutaway, Peter is shown in combat in the jungle in full clown mode, including face paint. He tells the other soldiers "You guys are stupid. See, they're gonna be looking for army-guys."
Truth in Television: In Real Life western warfare, uniforms with adaptive coloring did not become widespread until the twentieth century. Prior to that, armies tended to use bright colors to aid identification of allies during combat.
Which made a lot of sense at the time, given that muskets tended to be extremely inaccurate at distances over 100 yards and a lot of the combat infantry fire was conducted at even closer range. Meanwhile the commanding officers had to know where their units were, which was the reason why even units with less conspicuous uniforms (e. g. Russians dressed in dark green, Prussians dressed in dark blue, Swedes dressed in dark blue or grey, Portuguese dressed in brown) carried large and highly conspicuous colours, standards or guidons.
The most notable example are the British Redcoats, whose bright red uniforms were decorated with giant white crossbelts.*
which, by the way, were straps for their equipment
. This also served to discourage desertion, since a man dressed in bright red uniform would pretty much scream "SOLDIER!" The Redcoats go back to the time of the 17th Century English Civil War where the regiments were raised and equipped by their colonel. Their uniform colour would be whatever was cheapest locally or his (or his wife's) favourite. Green, Purple, White and Blue coats were all known before they decided on a standard Red for the New Model Army.
On a deeper level, enlisted redcoat uniforms were died with madder, a vegetable dye which tended to fade to a dusky rose over time. Officers preferred scarlet, a brilliant insect-based dye which was much more expensive but also more colorfast, and their brighter coats tended to make them a target for sharpshooters after a few weeks in the field.
But then sharpshooters only really became a problem around 1800 with the greater use of rifles by some armies, and even then most of the shooting was done at a range where the colour of the uniform did not make that much of a difference. Note that for instance in World War One what made officers conspicuous was not the colour of their uniform - which by then was the same as that of the privates - but the fact that they carried sabres or pistols instead of rifles.
Worth noting, musicians (fifers and drummers especially) were often uniformed in the reversed colors to the regular soldiers (British musicians would have coats of their unit's facing color faced in red for example). The reason was simple, so the officers could locate them (the musician was the equivalent of a radioman, drumbeats carried better than voices).
Trumpeters especially would also occasionally be sent towards enemy lines bearing messages or to accompany an officer sent to parley with the enemy. Here conspicuousness was also a desired effect.
Notably averted by the US Marine Corps with their Service Dress uniforms (the military equivalent of a business suit). The uniforms in question are dark green with tan shirts and mostly subdued insignia & buttons. Pop off the ribbons, badges, and officer's rank pins, and you could almost go to combat in it with the addition of some ammo pouches.
Not really that notable an aversion as a lot of dress uniforms introduced since the 20th century, i. e. after the introduction of camouflage in combat uniforms, tend to be green, grey or brown.
The French continued their use of the Highly Conspicuous Uniform into the early days of World War I, when the British and Germans had switched to more practical khaki and grey, respectively. French had considered alternative colors, but problems was that dyes would had be bought from Germany. However, story of bright uniforms is exaggerated, whit most frontline troops having more reasonable uniforms. The Conspicuous Uniforms were mainly Reserve or Dress uniforms that were pressed into service because of an extreme dearth of proper ones.
Note that due to cheap materials, primitive dyes, and infrequent laundering, pre-20th-century Highly Conspicuous Uniforms would rarely retain their bright colors in the field. The British, for example, began phasing out the Redcoats in the mid-19th-century in favor of khaki battle uniforms, because that was the color the uniforms wound up anyway when serving in Africa and India. The word "khaki" itself means simply "dust" in Hindi and Urdu.
The original khaki uniforms were dyed using all sorts of ingredients (including tea, it is said) by the soldiers themselves, frequently using the off-white undress uniforms, and khaki originally was seen as something that you especially needed in the blazing sun of India and Africa. In the mid-19th century the British army did some tests, having soldiers wearing red, blue, white, green etc. uniforms walking through a forested area to see which ones would be spotted first. Somewhat surprisingly, the red coats were among the less conspicuous ones.
But then military airplanes that were painted to camouflage them were painted to be camouflaged while standing on the ground. The paintjobs generally were not that useful in flight, while especially for flying in larger formations - like Richthofen's "Flying Circus" - the leader(s) had to be easily identifiable by the rankers, especially as communication had to be done optically (hand-signals, waggling wing-tips etc.) because there was no radio communication between the pilots.
Some French soldiers in World War II had the "Bullseye Badge" variant. A special patch, worn on the chest, over the heart, represented the bleu, blanc et rouge of the French flag as a circle with a blue rim, a white inner circle, and a red dot in the center—that's right, a literal bullseye target.
In a more modern situation, the US Air Marshals, whose entire purpose was to sit anonymously on planes so that potential hijackers or terrorists wouldn't know if there was one on board, were for some time required to dress in business attire, even if everyone else on the plane was dressed looking like they were ready to hit the beach. Even more insanely, they were required to show their ID at the gate and get on the plane before the other passengers. After this was publicized in the media by air marshals who'd been complaining that undercover agents should actually try to be undercover, they changed the rules. At least one marshal, before the rules were changed, decided to use these rules to his own advantage. Since it was practically impossible to be incognito, he would make a deliberate effort to stand out, making it clear that he was the marshal of the plane, so that if anything did go wrong, his partner at least had a chance of being ignored.
Real life Bullseye Badges: Allied tanks after the invasion of Normandy carried the US white star on their sides. When a lot of destroyed allied tanks were found to have a neat hole punched in the middle of said star, they were drabbed-down with mud or paint.
German vehicles at the time of the invasion of Poland had a national insignia that was a white cross (on dark grey vehicles). After discovering that Polish troops used the cross as a target marker, the white cross was first overpainted with yellow, then later with a black cross painting out the middle of each arm leaving four white corner angles, then went off into lower-visibility variations.
Two other examples would be R.A.F. Roundel where peacetime it was Red, White, and Blue but during W.W.II they made the white either very narrow or left it out and the BIG Red Rising Sun on the flightdecks of Japanese Aircraft Carriers. In fact, in Midway, one of the bomber pilots aimed directly at the big red spot on the Hiryu and hit it.
In late 1944 and 1945, more and more British naval assets were deployed to the Pacific to join in the war on Japan. Hard experience, of trigger-happy American gunners who had never seen British aircraft before, suggested that it would be a really good idea for British aircraft to lose the red circle in the middle of the roundel. Thus royal Navy carrier aircraft were distinguished by a blue and white roundel only.
Played straight with the "invasion stripes" used by the Allied air forces during the Normandy invasion. Of course whatever remained of the Luftwaffe in the area was a far smaller threat than friendly fire, so pretty much Justified.
"Stripping the paint" for aircraft in WW 2. The British and Luftwaffe scorned it because it made the aircraft shiney and blatantly obvious. The US 8th Air Force simply didn't care; more than once it was actually suggested that they wanted enemy aircraft to find them, so they would engage and be shot down.
There was also the point that the coat of paint actually reduced performance - an unpainted B-17 was 8mph faster than a painted one and an unpainted P-51 was up to 16 mph faster. Also, the olive drap was primarily of value in making aircraft parked on airfields less visible to people attacking that airfield - in WW 2, by 1944, US airfields weren't often attacked. These days camouflage is primarily aimed at optically-guided missiles.
While various styles of camouflage have gone in and out of vogue for the US military, the bare-metal finish has been favored over the past few decades because the Americans deploy their aircraft to so many widely varying environments, and because the widespread modern use of radar has made painting planes to try and hide them a futile gesture anyways.
The Japanese air force face the same problem with their planes having big red dots, which were used as bullseyes by American planes.
The cockade used by the enlisted men of the Finnish Defence Forces has been a literal blue-and-white bullseye◊ for the longest time. It's the butt of quite a few local military jokes.
If the enemy is unscrupulous, medics and civilian emergency vehicles still have this problem. While the main reason for putting big red-on-white crosses/crescents on medical assets is to proclaim they're not a threat and to encourage the enemy to direct their attacks elsewhere, the conspicuous markings can indeed backfire if the opposition suspects a Trojan Horse. And yes it's still illegal to give weapons to medics featuring the red cross, which is the second reason the Red Cross is barely seen anymore.
This Bill Cosby routine sums up the disadvantages of being a conspicuous wartime medic pretty well.
Similarly, World War II American officers had a particular white marking on their helmets, which officers at the time would go out of their ways to smudge with mud to hide. It was noted once that Tom Hanks's character in Saving Private Ryan, for instance, would have in real life known better than to leave a bright white "I'm an officer, snipe me!" mark on his forehead.
Inverted Trope at times during War On Terror operations in Afghanistan. Special Operations Forces troops sometimes have as their assigned mission to blend in with, gain the confidence of, train, and fight beside native irregulars. To that end they wear native dress, let their hair grow (to an extent) and grow beards (to the Afghan tribesmen a beard denotes manhood). Occasionally a Pentagon commando general officer will take it upon himself to try and make them "...present a more military appearance..." by ordering said troops to shave, get haircuts, and wear "proper uniforms". Such an order is invariably ignored by the field troops if their chain of command passes it on and doesn't just bury the order somewhere in the piles of paperwork any modern army generates.
Meanwhile, some Canadian troops in the early months of the war in Afghanistan were issued green/brown "temperate woodland" camouflage, due to a lack of beige/brown "arid region" uniforms.
Similarly, a number of British and US troops had to make do with jungle-pattern camouflage BDUs during Desert Storm, as there weren't enough desert-pattern fatigues in storage and the jungle-pattern was at least designed for hot weather.
Training gear used by many non-deployed military units will give off the impression of either this or a poorly-equipped Ragtag Bunch of Misfits due to various mismatching camo patterns on the gear. Seeing an airman in the grey tiger-stripe ABUs, with a woodland camo BDU patterned kevlar vest, and a sold green helmet (or even a helmet colored with the Army's ACU digital camo can be a sight to behold, even before they then don a bright reflective belt for safety's sake. Remember, of course, that old gear is often used for training, while they would save the newer stuff for when they actually need it.
Another modern example, the U.S. Army's combat uniforms (the Army Combat Uniform, and before it, the Battle Dress Uniform and Desert Combat Uniform) all feature a patch with a reflected United States flag on their right shoulder note It is depicted the way the flag would actually appear if a soldier were carrying it. The flag typically goes on the right side because that is the position of seniority when more than one soldier are marching side by side. If the soldier is moving forward, as if he were advancing, the flag would trail behind him, and would thus appear reversed from the right side, because the blue field is always closest to the flagpole. Of course, if you had a strong wind at your back, the flag would be the other way. The same observation can be made with aircraft bearing the US flag, when viewed from the right. When deploying into a location where red, white and blue blend in poorly, it's switched out for a less visible monochromatic version.
A more prominent example is the ACU uniform itself, which many soldiers complain is noticeably more visible than the older BDU/DCU color schemes. The Army is already fielding a replacement for a uniform that has only been in issue for a few years, using a camo pattern not entirely unlike the old woodland pattern, but with more brown and tan. The Air Force, having problems with their own ABU fatigues (thick permanent-press uniforms using an unrealistic "tiger stripe" camouflage pattern in urban colors), is also issuing the new Army uniform. Both services are only issuing it for use in Afghanistan, however.
The Swiss Guard both plays this straight and subverts it. Official, well know uniforms is colorful as a peacock. Work uniform is much more practical.
Not to mention that looking like a Renaissance Faire reject is a great way to sucker a would-be papal assassin into dismissing you as harmless window-dressing. At least, until you pull a modern sidearm out of those poofy sleeves...
Admiral Horatio Nelson wearing one of these led to his being shot by a French marksman at the cusp of his greatest victory at Trafalgar.
Although what rendered him conspicuous was probably less his officer's uniform than the decorations he wore.
The US Navy loves this trope:
Dress uniforms (the blue and the white sailor outfits) are explicitly meant to attract attention and their antique style stands out far more than other services, plus they tend to be required in any sort of public relations arena where other services still wear less formal uniforms.
The new Navy Working Uniform or NWU. Similar to the new style of camouflage worn by the Marines, with a digital pattern of the standard fatigue design, the NWU is meant to evoke the style of tactical gear worn by other services. All well and good except for the color, a blend of blue and grey. For extra mileage officiers and senior enlisted have spots of gold coloring on them. Arguably subverted however, NWUs are meant to be worn in a shipboard or industrial environment and are designed not to hide the sailor, but to hide any paint or oil stains the uniform accumulates. Thus, while they might "look" more military than the utilities they replaced, they would be almost useless in an actual tactical environment.
They ended up looking almost exactly like Russian riot police (OMON) in their white-blue-gray "city" camo.
US Navy flight-deck crews work in an environment which is loud, dangerous, often poorly lit, and very busy. Since being spotted by the enemy is not an issue, the various work groups wear brightly-colored jerseys in a rainbow palette◊, so they can easily spot and identify each other.
Averted with the parts of the Navy (like the Seabees and SEALS) who work where they might actually get shot at, generally with a copy of the more traditional fatigues from another service.
Subverted with Britain painting some recon planes pink during World War II. While they stood out garishly on the ground, when flying dawn or dusk flights the pink was actually the most effective camouflage color. In a similar manner the Long Range Desert Group 'Pink Panthers' look a bit stupid if seen outside of a desert.
Similarly-garish was the "dazzle" camouflage of WWI and WWII. Naval vessels were painted with big, blocky intersecting stripes. The point wasn't concealment but rather confusion as the odd lines and shapes made it difficult to determine the range and heading of the ships so painted.
It turned out that transforming ships into sea-going zebras did not have the desired effect and in World War 2 this type of camouflage was not attempted again. However, the Royal Navy then did develop a special Western Approaches camouflage where ships were painted mostly white with a few light green and light blue areas. This was actually a pretty effective colour scheme for the North Atlantic.
British police officers are frequently seen wearing bright yellow jackets or tabards with reflective panels over their regular duty uniforms. They provide a highly visible presence while on foot patrol and reduce the chances of being run down by a passing car during traffic stops, but can be something of a disadvantage when trying to approach the scene of an emergency call covertly.
Pretty well all police, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency responders are required (or are in the process of and will soon be required) to wear some form of High Visibility Clothing (either as part of the clothing itself, or as a vest worn over it) in situations where they are supposed to be seen. Even, amusingly, military personnel if their duties dealing with civilians require it. Nothing like seeing someone in the latest digital camouflage wearing a bright orange vest with reflective stripes.
The current (well, for the past 20 to 30 years in the USA) trend for police to be more "militarized" and wear military style uniforms (either very dark blue or black, or out and out camouflage) conflicts with the idea that police are supposed to be easily identifiable. If someone is pointing a gun at you or breaking into your house, you might think that it would be a good idea for you to be able to instantly identify if they are police or criminals.
UN peacekeeping tend to wear rather ordinary fatigues, but with sky blue helmets (Commonly with "UN" in white letters) and berets. Also, all their vehicles, including tanks, are painted bright white, with UN or the UN logo on them.
Some units of the British Armed Forces, most notably the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines, have equally vibrantly-coloured berets as part of their uniform. These are often worn on foot patrols during counter-insurgency operations, partly because civilians find them less intimidating than helmets but mostly because the Taliban -and the IRA before them- have learned that those berets mean serious professional opposition.
According to an urban legend, around the time of the Vietnam War, some high-ranking idiot(s) in Taiwan's military had the bright idea of making their newly-bought tanks look more impressive by painting over the camouflage paint job... with metallic paint of the sort one might see on a brand new Ferrari. By the time their superiors found out, it was too late and the repainting was already done. So when those superiors told them what a stupid idea it was, they sanded off the paint, including the original camouflage paint, leaving the shiny metal underneath exposed. Hardly an improvement.