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Captain Ramius? Snazzy. The real Russian navy? Kinda blah.
Uniformed military personnel featured in fictional works wear various military uniforms as a way of identifying which country's service branch they are from and what their ranks are. Their uniforms will usually try to replicate those seen in Real Life, but they tend to feature small inaccuracies even if they get the general look right (and even that's not guaranteed). So what causes these mistakes or inconsistencies?
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In most cases, the production doesn't have the necessary budget or time to justify getting the costumes right. The same goes for traveling to a country to film scenes with the correct uniform due to logistics or restrictions some countries have with regards to the uniforms being used by their soldiers, due to national security requirements. In other instances, the production hasn't done enough research to find out the correct uniform or get all the details right. There will be some cases where a completely wrong uniform is used, but they think the viewers won't notice it.

Sometimes, a uniform is accurate as far as its design goes but is still inaccurate as depicted because it's being worn improperly (such as a character wearing a hat when regulations would require them to be bareheaded, or vice-versa), worn out-of-season (such as a navy officer wearing dress blues in the middle of summer, when dress whites would be worn), or otherwise anachronistic (such as wearing medals or ribbons for a war that hasn't happened yet when the film takes place).

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In some instances, uniform inaccuracies can be a form of legally going around the law.note 

Having the wrong uniform can be avoided if the production is Backed by the Pentagon in some capacity or if the production team did the homework in researching the kinds of uniforms used during a certain time period.

A Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Military and Hollywood Costuming. Artistic License – History comes into play if a historical work is involved. Like Hollywood Cop Uniform, this trope is most common in live-action visual media. See Tanks, but No Tanks for situations when military vehicles are incorrectly portrayed for similar reasons.


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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Basic features several errors, including:
    • A female soldier wearing a Ranger tab. There were no Ranger-qualified females at the time (or female Rangers, for that matter).
    • The rank of Samuel L. Jackson's character changes (up and down) depending on the scene.
  • In The Blue Max the costume design department perhaps attempted to show off their work - only to fail miserably, dressing every German pilot into the uniform of the Prussian 1st Uhlan Regiment - which Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a. The Red Baron) usually wore, but which was certainly not general issue in the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). Also, the German aircraft are depicted sporting the curve-sided cross (cross pattée) insignia, which is incorrect for the period post-March 1918, and also using armament without any ammo feed. Apparently Rule of Cool reigns supreme.
  • While most uniforms in A Bridge Too Far are accurate, General Bittrich's adjutant and interpreter Matthias wears a field gray Einheitsfeldmütze with a mismatched black fabric insignia patch.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger:
    • Despite being awarded the Medal of Honor, Steve never wears the appropriate ribbon - possibly justified, since the USO arranged his exemption from the usual regulations regarding his uniform.
    • The various awards seen on Captain Rogers' uniform are described here. While most are plausible (or fictional) one inaccuracy stands out. Steve wears an American Defense Service Medal - an award specifically for those who were in active service prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor - despite the movie showing him enlisting long after the US entered the war. Note that this may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, as in the comics Steve did enlist beforehand.
    • The campaign award that Steve is eligible for - the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal - is missing from his uniform. Note that this is actually an aversion: while the award was authorized in 1942, the actual medal design was not finalized - and thus none were issued - until after the war.
    • The Red Skull, when he was still a member of the Nazi Party, wears an Allgemeine SS uniform with SS-Obergruppenführer (3-star General rank) collar tabs, but a SS NCO peaked cap (black chinstrap, not the silver-braid chinstrap of officers) and no visible shoulder boards. This would be an unacceptable breach of uniform regulations and etiquette for a German officer, but given his attitude towards his fellow Nazis (which got him Reassigned to Antarctica), one assumes that he didn't give a damn whether his uniform was correct or not.
    • Nazi officer Schneider is depicted wearing the SS' all-black uniform, which would've been phased out by the time the movie is set. Bizarrely, the other SS officers in the scene with Schneider are wearing the correct "feldgrau" (gray) uniforms of the era.
  • In Closely Watched Trains, Milos is taken hostage by two SS officers and made to ride in the cab of a locomotive before another SS officer lets him go. Errors abound, including:
    • The two officers on the station platform are wearing black SS uniforms, which would have been phased out (especially outside of Germany) by the time the film takes place (fall 1944/spring 1945). In addition, the officers' rank collar tabs are missing rank pips (or they're NCOs improperly wearing officers' hats with silver cap braids instead of black leather chinstraps), and neither officer is wearing the Sam Browne belt cross-strap or swastika armband. In addition, one of the officers' cap braids is twisted when they enter the locomotive cab, but straight in the scene before.
    • The officer in the cab wears an SS Einheitsfeldmütze with an Army tunic with Litzen collar tabs.
  • In Down Periscope, US Navy officers go back and forth between wearing dress blues and dress whites throughout the film.
  • The Hunt for Red October:
    • Jones, the sonar technician, wears the "crow" of a Petty Officer but is addressed as "Seaman Jones" more than once. The proper forms of address would be either "Petty Officer Jones" or "Petty Officer" by those unfamiliar with his rate, or "STS2" by those who know, by rate being vastly more likely. Possibly "Jones" either by superiors or less formally.
    • The officers of a Russian sub would not walk around in parade uniform all the time. When the sub is deployed, Soviet (now Russian) Navy regulations require all personnel on the boat, both the officers and the ratings, to wear the same fatigues, distinguished only by their position pip on the left shirt pocket.
  • In Hussar Ballad uniforms are historically accurate, except those were parade uniforms, not used in a real war. Rule of Cool, since the day-to-day uniforms looked much less nice.
  • Pearl Harbor
    • General Marshall wears a Vietnam War campaign ribbon.
    • Rafe wears an Eagle Squadron badge, as do the Spitfires. The squadron code 'RF' is for No. 303 Squadron, which was a Polish unit - a very famous one at that. The only Hurricane seen in the film has the correct codes for an Eagle Squadron, 'XR-T' for No. 71 Squadron.
  • Rolling Thunder:
    • When Major Rane puts his Air Force uniform on, his U.S. lapel insignia not only are in the wrong location but are the insignia used by enlisted personnel, not officers. Similarly, despite the character supposedly being a Vietnam War veteran, his uniform lacks the Vietnam Campaign Medal (an award given out to every single soldier who served in that war).
    • Master Sergeant Vohden's uniform has a Fifth Army patch on the right sleeve. A patch on the right sleeve indicates that the wearer served with that unit in combat during a previous war or campaign. The Fifth Army last served in battle during World War II. Vohden, as a returning Vietnam War veteran in 1973, would have been only a year or two old during World War II, if he had been born at all.
  • In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in a fantasy sequence set on a British airbase, Mitty (Danny Kaye) addresses an RAF officer as "Colonel". There is no such rank in the RAF; the equivalent rank is "Group Captain". Incidentally, the officer is wearing the uniform of an Air Vice-Marshal, equivalent to an Army Lieutenant-General, while Mitty, supposedly a Squadron Leader, wears the uniform of a Group Captain! Perhaps justified in that the protagonist is a daydreaming civilian who's obviously clueless about the subject.
  • At one point in the Stargate movie, Colonel O'Neil calls Kawalski, his second in command, "Lieutenant". Not only that, he's credited as "Lieutenant Kawalski" in the credits. The problem? He's wearing silver oak leaves throughout the entire movie, making him a Lieutenant Colonel.
  • Many characters in Top Gun are seen wearing patches from every branch of the US military except the Navy.

    Literature 
  • The RCN novel When the Tide Rises has an In-Universe example when Adele Mundy attends a play loosely based on her own ship's mission in the previous book. She spends most of the performance complaining about the inaccuracies in the production, such as putting the entire cast in the semi-dress 2nd Class uniform when they ought to be in utilities.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Shadows", HYDRA leader Reinhardt and his adjutant wear black Allgemeine-SS uniforms, with several blunders for a supposed unit of the SS, similarly to Red Skull's example from the Captain America movie below. The most glaring errors are missing left shoulderboard on Reinhardt's uniform, right shoulderboard being incorrect (enlisted man instead of a supposed high-ranking officer), and the collar patches being crooked. Additionally, he has both Close Combat Clasp and silver Panzer Badge decorations, a highly unlikely combination.
  • In the episode "The Tale of Train Magic" of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, this trope occurred as a result of Canada Does Not Exist; a soldier on a ghost train featured in a story was depicted wearing a uniform that wasn't quite American- or British-outline.
  • In As Time Goes By, Lionel's memoirs of his service as a subaltern in the British Army in the Korean War are adapted into a mini-series, which is then "modified for American audiences"; as a result, the actor playing Lionel is shown wearing a scarlet Guards regiment-style tunic and bearskin hat.
  • During one season finale in Bones, an Army colonel shows up to recruit Booth to train soldiers in Afghanistan. He immediately recognizes the Colonel as an Army Ranger, presumably due to the 75th Ranger patch on his right shoulder. Instead of a flag. Also, the Colonel is wearing a (deformed) black beret instead of the Ranger tan.
  • The Bridge (US) in the second season has Mexican marines helping Sonya Cross and Marco Ruiz. They're seen wearing Woodland-type camos instead of the digital-type camos used by the Mexican Marine Corps, despite parts of the season using Mexico to shoot production scenes. The camos can't be borrowed since criminals (and terrorists) could potentially take them unlawfully and masquerade as legitimate Mexican marines.
  • In the Fringe episode "The Arrival", a photo is shown of a Marine from an incident in 1987. Not only is he wearing digital camouflage, which was not introduced to the Marine Corps until the early 2000s, but it's ACU instead of MARPAT. What the Marine should be wearing are BDUs.
  • In the Gilmore Girls episode "Chicken or Beef," at Dean Forester's bachelor party, one of his friends, Kyle, is shown to have enlisted in the Navy and is wearing his Dress Blues uniform. While the character has graduated high school just months prior, his uniform is that of a second-class petty officer (E-5) and has two hash marks on the left sleeve. It would be impossible for a high school graduate to obtain this rank in a matter of months, but more to the point the hashmarks on his sleeve mean Kyle has been enlisted for between 8 and 12 years (one hash mark indicates four years of service).
  • The episode "The Second Generation Is a Fresh and Painless Warrior" in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger showed American soldiers confronting Malsheena and the Akibarangers wearing Woodland camos and armed with FAMAS assault rifles. The US Army used the ACU camo from 2005 to 2019. Since the show is a parody of sentai shows, the use of Woodland is not being accurate on purpose.
  • Happens at least twice in Hogan's Heroes:
    • Members of the SS often wear black prewar uniforms (this is especially galling in Hochstetter's case; as a member of the Gestapo, he would have been in plainclothes; in addition, although he's addressed as Major Hochstetter, he wears Different in Every Episode the collar insignia of either a Standartenführer or Oberführer, the equivalent of a full colonel and brigadier, respectively. Finally, in some episodes, he has the SS runes on one side of the collar tabs, while SS officers of that rank would have had oak leaf rank tabs on both sides of the collar.).
    • A recurring senior RAF officer is addressed as "Colonel Crittendon" even though in the RAF the equivalent rank would be a Group Captain; given that the intended audience was the United States, this is a somewhat justified trope as relatively few American viewers would have been familiar with the RAF/Commonwealth Air Force rank structure.
  • Just for Laughs: Gags barely even attempts to use accurate uniforms whenever they have a prankster dressing as a member of the military, often putting them in an olive drab outfit with a patrol cap when members of the Canadian Armed Forces wear CADPAT (a digital camouflage print which the US MARPAT is derived from) and berets (they only wear their round-brimmed tilley caps in the field or on deployment). Likely done on purpose as it's a live-action prank show with real people who don't realize they're on camera, and Stolen Valour is illegal in Canada.
  • Madam Secretary: One episode in season 1 has Henry McCord, a retired USMC aviator, chew out a pair of what from their dress blue uniforms are clearly Air Force lieutenants for badmouthing Secretary McCord while drunk in uniform. A later episode misidentifies the flyboys as having been Marines, whose equivalent uniform is olive drab in color.
  • In the M*A*S*H episode "Hey, Doc!", immediate defence for the 4077th is provided by the British Army. It has been pointed out that the British officer, Lieutenant Chivers, as well as being in his apparent forties (very old for a lieutenant), is wearing an oddly mismatched uniform: his shoulder distinctions make him an infantryman in the Yorkshires, but insofar as his cap badge can be identified, this belongs to the Royal Tank Regiment. He is also assigned to a British brigade that never actually fought in Korea.
  • In the episode "Gaijin" of NCIS: Hawai'i, the regular JMSDF sailors are seen with the same blue NWU type camouflage uniforms used by the US Navy before they were removed from service. While some of the patches are correct (as if they're also used by the JMSDF), the name patch in English with Japanese kanji should not include a sailor's rank. The JMSDF Rising Sun patch is also incorrect. The actual JMSDF blue digital camos have a different shade than the US Navy blue NWUs previously used.
  • Parks and Recreation had one during the "Sister City" episode, where a group of military officers from Venezuela visit Pawnee. To anyone with military experience, it's plain that their Venezuelan Army uniforms are just US Army uniforms loaded with bling. Among others, they're wearing US Army Combat Infantry badges and the medal ribbons on their uniforms are all US military decorations.
  • SEAL Team:
    • There are cases of North Korean scenes where extras playing North Korean soldiers use ERDL/Woodland-type uniforms when actual regular North Korean soldiers use olive drab-type uniforms. While the actual North Korean army use camouflage uniforms, they're only used for special forces units or for some special units designated by the North Korean military with camouflage uniforms getting only more commons after the 2010s. For instance, some North Korean troops assigned to the DMZ use Woodland-type camos.
    • For scenes depicting Mexico, Hyperstealth stepped in to assist the production crew by using their Caiman camo patterns since the actual Mexican Marines couldn't help the production due to national security requirements, similar to the production of the Bridge.
    • The Venezuelan scenes depicting the Venezuelan Special Police show them with what seemed to be grayish-based digital camos. Their actual counterpart, the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police use a variety of digital camos that don't include grayish-type patterns.
  • Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby has a very minor one; Gormsby's medals are upside-down (making them appear in reverse order). But it's enough to make most watchers from a military background flinch.
  • The pilot episode of Space: Above and Beyond depicted the USMC's elite Angry Angels squadron in custom black uniforms and berets. This is deeply frowned upon by the Marine Corps, who consider all Marines to be the same to the point where even unit patches are no longer used.
    • In some episodes the ribbons (a.k.a. fruit salad) on Commodore Ross's uniform are replaced with what appears to be a color printout of the same ribbons mounted on a sheet of cardboard.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The series usually avoided mistakes with US uniforms because they actually listened to their Air Force advisers most of the time. However, one extra in "Children of the Gods" was seen wearing the insignia of both a staff sergeant and a major simultaneously.
    • "The Tomb" is full of mistakes with Russian uniforms. Unlike the USAF, the Russian Air Force does not have ground troops to begin with, so the Russian SG team would have to be from a different service branch. They are also shown wearing black berets, which are worn by Naval Infantry, Russian tank troops, and the now-defunct OMON special police unit.
    • Parodied on the Show Within a Show Wormhole X-treme, where the uniforms look much less professional, yet Jack O'Neill (who was acting as the Air Force advisor for the show) was asked if they were accurate, he said they were fine.
  • None of the Nazi Germany uniforms worn in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Patterns of Force" have the correct insignia, epaulets, or collar tabs for the ranks or positions they are identified as in dialogue. This is generally handwaved by fans saying since it was a replica of the Third Reich set up on an alien world over 300 years after WWII the Federation historian wasn't that fussy with details. It doesn't explain why Kirk and McCoy's uniforms had wrist cuffbands identifying them as belonging to Hitler's special bodyguard unit, though.
  • Ultimate Force
    • Season 3 did not show regular Russian troops with the correct uniforms as they didn't wear Flora camos. Majority almost used Woodland-based camos, but they're actually used by Spetsnaz forces under MVD control.
    • Season 4 has the SAS sent to Colombia to train some Colombian soldiers. They were mostly wearing Woodland camos. Since the season was released in 2006, most of the Colombian military was already using the woodland/desert pixel camouflage uniform.
  • Under the Dome has a dream sequence where a woman sees her Navy husband coming home from deployment, walking down the street. He's wearing a discontinued working uniform and wouldn't be authorized to wear it off base/ship anyway.
  • In the first season of The Unit, the Unit heads to the Balkans to assist French-led peacekeepers (likely KFOR) to detain a Serbian war criminal. Most of the French troops present were seen using DPM-type camouflage and not Woodland-type CE camo.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2: Prominent general Carville is wearing insignia from an ROTC Cadet uniform—badges worn by student soldiers before they graduate college. This was corrected in the Yuri's Revenge expansion.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: Eva Mckenna is a Lieutenant but her dress uniform has sergeant (E-5) chevrons. Field Marshal Bingham, the British commander, wears three American stars when he should have at least have a crown, and crossed batons in a wreath.
  • Far Cry 5 has Jacob Seed's background as a veteran who served in the Gulf War and possibly the Iraq and/or Afghanistan war. He is shown wearing a jacket with a fictionalized version of the U.S Army's 82nd Airborne Division Unit Patch. He remarks that this was his unit during his second interaction with the Deputy. However, the name tape is out of regulation, as the US Military does not put your first initial on the name tape. The jacket he wears has the US tricolor desert pattern which didn't go into circulation in uniforms until 1995.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Medb's alternate costume from the second summer event, "Dead Heat Summer Race, Death Jail Summer Escape", blurs the line between this trope and Putting on the Reich because of her status of God Save Us from the Queen!.
  • When you go to the amphibious ship in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the "sailors" you run into are merely the game's stock military troops, wearing green (not even a color palette swap to blue). Which would still be incorrect for the time period, the sailors would be wearing the classic dungarees.
  • Prototype has the Marine Base Commanders wear the scarlet and gold shoulder chevrons of a First Sergeant (on the utility uniform, no less), are always saluted and addressed as "sir", and, when they are given names, have varying officer ranks.

    Western Animation 
  • Birdman episode "Professor Nightshade" has a U.S. military officer addressed as "Admiral" is clearly wearing an Army uniform.
  • One episode of Dan Vs. has Dan riffing on a lame pastiche of Captain America known as "Sergeant Saskatchewan", a Mountie/Soldier/Superhero hybrid of sorts. For whatever reason he wears the American sergeant rank emblem of three chevrons instead of the Canadian rank emblem of three inverted chevrons with a maple leaf.
  • DuckTales (1987) has Donald being addressed as "Seaman Duck," yet wears a (upside down!) petty officer third class insignia.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has G.I. Joe team member Shipwreck as an E-7 at his introduction, but is pictured wearing "dungaree" uniform: blue chambray shirt and denim bell bottoms. While his rank insignia on his sleeve is correct for an E-7, this uniform would never have been worn by a Chief Petty Officer. Once promoted beyond the rank of E-6, the dungaree uniform was replaced by khakis.
  • Happens at least twice on The Simpsons:
    • In "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", the commanding officer of Springfield Air Force Base is addressed as "Colonel Hapablap", but wears the rank insignia of a brigadier general's (one star; a full colonel would be an eagle, and a lieutenant colonel would be a silver leaf).
    • In "Simpson Tide", Homer and the other Navy recruits have an instructor who wears a USMC or Army-style campaign hat, rather than the garrison cover or "dixie cup" cap a navy instructor would wear.
  • The South Park miniseries "Imaginationland" had the two Army soldiers in charge of the Stargate spoof simultaneously wearing senior Sergeant patches AND General stars. Sergerals?
  • What If...? (2021): In What If…? S1E1 "What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?", Oberstgruppenfuhrer Roeder's uniform is a German Army General's uniform combined with toned-down versions of the SS totenkopf. This is in stark contrast to his Sacred Timeline counterpart, whose uniform was an authentic SS General's uniform.
  • Woody Woodpecker episode "The Reluctant Recruit" has a sergeant in the cartoon constantly trying to stop Woody's escape. While his uniform is mostly correct, his rank chevrons point upside down. They should be pointing upwards.

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