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Earned Stripes

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Captain Malcolm Reynolds: Beg pardon, but would you be Warrick Harrow?
Sir Warrick Harrow: Sir Warrick Harrow. The sash.
Mal: [blankly] The sash.
Sir Warrick: It indicates lordhood.
Mal: And it's... It's doing a great job.
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Sometimes when a person is acknowledged for their deeds or their mastery, they are given a means to tell everyone at a glance. When you literally 'earn your stripes,' you get a physical change in appearance that indicates your rank.

Usually this is a costume change like a new uniform. If not a whole new outfit, then a subtle change of accessory, or another customization can do the trick. Other times it may be a bodily change like ritual scars, tattoos, or a haircut. They can be bestowed in an Awesome Moment of Crowning or graduation ceremony.

Earning them may be done by proving your valor in a real life situation, or passing a controlled set of trials and exams. Rookies look forward to the day they can wear them. We may follow a character as they go through the process, and learn the meaning behind the stripes instead of just idolizing the appearance and perks. Pride at proving themselves worthy of stripes is often its own reward.

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The point is when you see a person wearing these stripes you know they demand respect. And wearing them without earning them properly is a social taboo, extremely disrespectful, and can even be a Berserk Button for members of the culture. Similarly earning them and refusing to wear them is a major symbolic rebuke to the ones bestowing it.

Supertrope to Color-Coded Patrician, and Hat of Authority. Often overlaps with Prestige Class. Compare Power Makeover when the power itself causes the transformation rather than ritual. Contrast Slave Brand, where a mark is given to indicate that you're lower on the totem pole, and is often by forced on rather than granted by merit. See Insignia Rip-Off Ritual for when the stripes are no longer deserved, regardless of which side does it.

Needless to say, this trope overlaps heavily with Field Promotion.

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Examples

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Naruto
    • Ninja recognized by their clan for graduating the academy are given headbands, a piece of cloth with a metal plate that has their nation's symbol engraved on it. The traditional use is a forehead protector, but it's been used as a belt, necklace, armband etc. Missing Nin who are no longer recognized by their clan will either strike through the symbol or stop wearing it entirely. The first episode focused on the title character's feeling of neglect when he was the only one in his class not to earn a headband and be praised by his parents. He then defies all expectations and earns one by perfecting a master level version of the basic technique he failed at.
    • Further, only ninja ranked Chunin or higher can wear the greenish flak jackets. Shikamaru, being the only one of his class to pass the Chunin Exams, first wears it during the Sasuke Retrieval mission. After the time skip a few others have chosen to wear it too.
  • Downplayed in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Misato gets a promotion but doesn't say anything about it. Only Kensuke, a military otaku, notices the change in her ranks, and Shinji is surprised when he congratulates her on it.

     Film  
  • The Incredible Mr. Limpet. At the beginning of the movie Henry Limpet's brother-in-law George Stickle has just been promoted to Machinist's Mate Second Class in the U.S. Navy, and shows off the stripes on his uniform sleeve to Henry. He receives a promotion to Chief Petty Officer during the course of the film and does it again.
  • The Mummy Trilogy: The Medjai order have tattoos that denote their being part of the order and where they stand in it.
  • Star Wars: Humans (and aliens with human like hair) wear rat-tails as padawans. When they are promoted to Jedi Knight the rat-tail is cut off and they're free to wear their hair however they want to. Though we don't see the process in the films themselves, in Episode I Obi-Wan has the padawan haircut, which Anakin wears in the last scene. By Episode II Anakin still has it and Obi-Wan doesn't. And by Episode III they've both grown their hair out.
  • Subverted in Good Morning, Vietnam, where Sergeant Major Dickerson (Army) tries to intimidate Airman Cronauer (Air Force):
    Dickerson: Do you see anything on this uniform indicating an officer? (Points to his rank insignia) What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?
    Cronauer: End of an inning?
  • Discussed in The Karate Kid (1984). Daniel's Eccentric Mentor Kesuke Miyagi is an Old Master of classical Japanese karate, having learned it as a child on Okinawa before immigrating to the US before World War II, but is dismissive of American martial arts sports' use of belt color to denote skill level. At the tournament he only describes Daniel as a black belt to get him past the door, since it's only open to brown belt or above.
    Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
    Miyagi: Canvas. J.C. Penny. Three ninety-eight. You like. (laughs)
    Daniel: No, I meant...
    Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.

     Literature  
  • The Ciaphas Cain short story "Sector 13" ends with one of the Mauve Shirt guardsmen who were accompanying Cain complaining about his new stripes (as he doesn't think they feel right), but is reassured when Cain points out he'll soon manage to lose them.
  • In Nomads of Gor the men of the Wagon Peoples earn scars which are then worked into their faces by professional scar-makers, each scar colored to signify something. The first is the red Courage scar, no other scars may be earned until you get that one.
  • Within the Midlands cultures in the Sword of Truth series, hair length indicates social status, at least for women. In this case, the longer, the higher rank. Extremely powerful women like the Mother Confessor have hair that risks brushing the ground.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • The Aes Sedai and Aiel Wise Ones both have shawls that identify one as a fully-trained initiate.
    • Cairhienin nobility wear horizontal slashes on their clothing. The selection of colors indicates their house affiliation, and the number of slashes shows their rank.
    • The Seanchan change their hair to indicate inclusion in the "Blood", those who claim to be descendants of the last great empire-builder. Low Blood shave their temples, high Blood shave one whole side of their heads, and members of the royal family are completely bald. When someone loses rank, which happens often, they have to cover their head until some of the hair grows back. Similarly, they paint specific fingernails in their House colours to indicate their rank.
    • Inverted with certain mainland military units that came to serve under the Seanchan after the Seanchan conquered them. The Seanchan added brightly colored patches to the garb of troublesome or undisciplined units, which they thought was this, but was actually a warning to anyone around them that they were unreliable and too stupid to be trusted.
    • The Sharans, seen only in the last book, use tattoos on the back to indicate rank, both military and social, since they are a militaristic society. All clothing and armor has a hole in the back to expose this tattoo. The combination of these facts mean a leader must be a Frontline General in order to be recognized, and soldiers put themselves at risk if they try to run away. Moreover, larger and more complex tattoos signify lower ranks, meaning status can only be lost, never gained.
  • In the Star Wars Legends expanded universe, the stripes down the sides of Han Solo's trousers are said to be Corellian Bloodstripes, marking him as a recipient of one of his home planet's highest honors for courage under fire.
  • Kris Longknife: Kris gets battlefield promotions in both of the first two books, with Admiral Crossenshield pulling her new insignia out of a drawer. Several years later in Emissary, Kris pulls rank on the Armchair Military admiral commanding her escort when he makes a foolish decision, noting "there are five stars on my flag to your three."

     Live Action TV  
  • By the end of Adam-12, Pete Malloy was promoted to Officer III (two stripes) and then appointed Officer III+1 (the addition of a star), indicating his status as senior lead officer in the district, with all other officers looking to him for guidance when there's no one more senior present.
  • In the Firefly episode "Shindig", Mal crashes a high society ball on Persephone to make contact with a local nobleman for a smuggling job, and is rather testily informed that the red sash that Sir Warrick Harrow wears marks his status as a lord.
  • M*A*S*H
    • In one episode a male nurse with the rank of sergeant is given an unofficial, honorary field promotion to 2nd Lieutenant for the last three weeks of his tour of duty. Major Houlian donates her old Lieutenant bars to pin on him.
    • In a late episode Klinger earns a promotion from Corporal to Sergeant and has a brand new set of stripes on his arm.
  • Power Rangers: Red denotes the leader of a Power Rangers team. Certain members of the team have earned it through their actions, Tommy being the first to come to mind. The series sometimes subverts the earning it part with Rookie Red Rangers however, and on at least one occasion Red was an ordinary member and White (also Tommy) outranked him.
  • Star Trek
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series, officers wear stripes on their sleeves to denote rank.
    • Media beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation denote a Starfleet officer's rank by the number of collar pips, from a single gold pip for an ensign to four pips for a captain. Admirals wear two sets of pips on a rectangular plate with a gold border (one plate on each side of the collar), and starting with Star Trek: First Contact they get a more elaborate uniform jacket with gold piping.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Bajoran Militia rank insignia consists of a collar pin of Bajor's insignia, with segments removed or added for lower- and higher-ranked personnel. Generals have epaulets added to the standard uniform.
      • Rank-and-file Cardassian soldiers have a bare black uniform. Guls (roughly equivalent to a Starfleet captain or rear admiral) have a panel of Cardassian script on the right side of the breastplate. Legates (similar to a 4-star) have the text and a Cardassian insignia on the left side of the breastplate.
      • Chief O'Brien, a senior Starfleet non-commissioned officer, starts out uniquely wearing only a single black pip. Later in the series he's given a unique collar badge inspired by real-life naval chief petty officer insignias, with three stripes and two dots indicating his actual rank to be senior chief petty officer (E-8).
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Samantha Carter is promoted twice during the series (from captain to major to lieutenant colonel) with an on-screen ceremony where her old rank insignia is removed and the new one applied.
    • No one makes a big deal of it, but Sergeant Harriman (aka "Walter") goes from being a US Air Force Master Sergeant (E-7) to a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) and by the end of the series' run, he's become Chief Master Sergeant, making him the senior non-commissioned officer at Cheyenne Mountain. His shoulder stripes change each time to match his new rank. Despite his rank, O'Neill usually referred to him by his first name, and Mitchell called him "Sarge". Either is inappropriate, but accurate of the treatment of non-coms by officers.
  • Bob Brown from The Unit was promoted from Staff Sergeant to Sergeant First Class and had a small promotion ceremony where Colonel Ryan ripped off his old insignia and stuck on the new one, with a playful light punch to the chest to signify the joy of the occasion (in the pre-PC days of insignia pins, the punch would have been much harder and delivered with the intention of drawing blood).
  • Dad's Army: In "A. Wilson (Manager)?", when Sergeant Wilson is promoted to Lieutenant of the Eastgate platoon, he supposedly walks around town in officer's uniform trying to find servicemen to salute him. Due to a paperwork mix-up, every other member of the platoon (except Pike) receives a letter telling him he has been promoted to sergeant. They all show up at parade wearing sergeant's stripes and Hilarity Ensues.

     Tabletop Games  
  • Paranoia adventure Alpha Complexities. If the PC Troubleshooters manage to obtain evidence of the treasonous activities of the High Programmer Iwant-U-DED-5 and kill him, their briefing officer Jed-I-OBI-1 will be promoted to Ultraviolet level and put on a white robe to show his new security clearance.
  • Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer:
    • While very few forces of Chaos use standardized uniforms, it's a safe bet that the more outlandish mutations a Chaos character has, the higher favor he holds with the dark gods (for example, Slaaneshi cultists with a half-male half-female chest are held in high esteem). However, accumulating too many can turn him into a gibbering Chaos Spawn, a near-useless combat unit.
    • While the Imperial Guard uses something like modern military rank insignia (albeit with a lot more Bling of War), the Space Marines use their own, but generally the higher up they are the more gold there is on their armor. Space Marines even have service studs embedded on their faces, one for every century of service.
    • While Orks have indicators of rank like amount of defeated enemy heads on their spikes, the easiest way to tell who's in charge is through size. Humans confused them for a while until they learned to taget the biggest hat.

     Video Games  
  • Finishing Journey for the first three times will place progressively fancier decorations on your avatar's robe, letting other players recognize you as a seasoned traveler. The White Robe is awarded for finding all the glyphs, indicating to everyone that you know this game in and out. A version of And Your Reward Is Clothes that's visible to other players online.
  • Star Trek Online
    • Reaching the rank of rear admiral, lower half as a Starfleet Player Character unlocks a waistcoat in your uniform selection.
    • The official version of the Odyssey style puts admirals in a longer version of the uniform jacket that does not get tucked into the pants, and gives them metallic braid at the cuffs and around the divisional color bar. They also wear a belt buckle of the Federation's starfield-and-laurels insignia. Meanwhile starship and station commanders wear a version of the officer service uniform that has white shoulders, whereas ordinary officers get dark grey. Another color combination denotes enlisted personnel.
    • The Klingon Defense Force denotes ranks with progressively more elaborate metal sashes. The Romulan Republic uses pauldrons and capes of increasing complexity.

     Web Comics 
  • In Hero Oh Hero, the suspiciously video-gamelike Dungeon Crawls which Raulians use to gather resources have classes which individuals can level up in. Getting a new level in a given class leads to a snazzier colour scheme, as Sari demonstrates.

     Western Animation  
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, when airbenders are recognized as masters they are give blue arrow tattoos that follow chi lines from their forehead, to their hands and feet. Aang was one of the youngest to ever wear tattoos at age 12, until his grand daughter Jinora earned them at age 11 in The Legend of Korra.
  • Inverted in the "Private Bugs Bunny" short "Forward March Hare" where his Drill Sergeant Nasty gets demoted throughout the course of the film due to Bugs' incompetence. As the film goes on we see fewer and fewer stripes on his sleeve. By the end he's a Drill Private Nasty.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Some hairless characters invoke the system through jewelry. Ahsoka wore a line of beads on her head that emulated the rat-tail, and removed them when she was expelled from the order.

     Real Life  
  • Military ranks often come with literal stripes on the sleeve and shoulder of their uniform as well as badges. For instance Naval ranks are indicated from low tiers like Ensign (one medium stripe) and Lieutenant Junior (one medium and one thin) to Fleet Admiral (one thick and four medium).
    • In addition to the enlisted rank chevrons, the United States Army has the Overseas Service Bar, with each one representing six months of service in a combat zone.
  • Martial arts schools sometimes use belt systems to indicate rank. Usually from white belts being basic trainees and black belts being masters. White being the absolute beginner rank is true of European and US schools, but not in Japan, where newbies start out with a light blue belt and white is the next rank up.
    • Some old masters revert to wearing a white belt as a way of symbolizing that they've taught everything they can and now it's time for them to become students once again.
  • In many Native American tribes warriors had to earn their eagle (or other high-status) feathers. This is part of the reason outsiders shouldn't don war bonnets as part of a costume.
  • Skydivers habitually wear the parachute closing pin as necklace. The unofficial rule is that one may wear it only after his or her first free fall. Wearing one signifies one has passed the elementary training and is dedicated to the sports.
  • In Chinese elementary and secondary schools, student prefects are generally marked with red stripes on their uniforms. The ranks go from one stripe (class prefect), to two (grade prefect), and generally top off at three (head boy/girl). So wearing ''five'' stripes is generally considered grounds for some heavy mockery.
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