From the Napoleonic Wars onwards the hussar uniform became the most opulent and decorative item of military style to have ever graced the blood and smoke of the battlefield.
The eminent costume historian James Laver described the visual purposes of military uniform succinctly in his book ‘Modesty in Dress’ as:
- enhance the manly feeling of the wearer
- impress and even to terrify the enemy
- distinguish friend from foe
- reinforce the feeling of solidarity and espirit de corps
- establish hierarchy of rank
- protect the wearer without interfering with his movements.
How the light cavalry of European armies came to acquire such a look he also explained. “The history of every war is, or was until recently, the same. When it broke out, the authorities discovered that they had no light cavalry, especially with light cavalry. When it broke out, the authorities discovered that they had no light cavalry for reconnaissance and pursuit (whatever light cavalry there had been having become so cluttered with armaments as to have become heavy cavalry). They were, therefore, compelled to recruit auxiliaries, and these came in general from eastern Europe. The first such recruits (employed by Louis XIV) were Hungarians and, in consequence, all hussars in all the armies of the world until the age of mechanisation wore a fantastication of Hungarian national costume.’ –MODESTY IN DRESS an inquiry into the fundamentals of fashion
Fast forward to the 1960s and Jimmi Hendrix’s early days were defined by his antique hussar uniform bought at the stand “I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet” in Portobello Road. Alice Payne, Lecturer in Fashion at the Queensland University of Technology, notes in The Conversation that around the same time “military regalia made an eye-popping appearance in Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles. Designed for their mock Edwardian-era military band, their acid bright costumes can be seen as cheeky nostalgia for an empire in decline.”
The jacket was again reinvented for the New Romantics by Adam Ant and appears in such songs as his most successful single “Stand & Deliver“. It entered the UK Top 40 at Number One on 9 May, 1981, and remained there for five weeks.
(Left) This more budget-friendly version is available by clicking the image while Farthingale Costumes are argued to make the best reproduction on the market.