Aiguillettes distinguish special and senior appointments, such as Army officers of General rank, Chief of Army, Deputy Chief of Army, members of the Chief of Army’s Senior Advisory Committee, Military Attaché and Aide-de-camp.
Several traditions account for their origin.
One account of the origin is that the Aiguillette denotes the rope and pickets carried by the squires to tether their knights’ horses.
Another authority has it that they were ‘aiguilles’ or needles for clearing the touch hole of very old muskets and that the cords were originally lanyards, which fastened the needles to the soldiers’ equipment.
It is also suggested that the Aiguillette represents the Provost Marshall’s rope with which he hung defaulters.
The most probable explanation is that they were the pins used to secure a pauldron, or shoulder protector, on the cuirass (a piece of armour) of a knight or cuirassier’s plate armour.
Another position on the origin of the Aiguillette is that they represent the pencil that every good Staff Officer had at hand, tied to his person by a piece of string. The Aiguillette of the Japanese is in fact adapted for use as a pencil.
The type of Aiguillette worn depends on the rank of the officer and/or the position or appointment they hold. The appointment also dictates which shoulder the item is worn. Most senior officers wear the Aiguillette on the right shoulder, whilst Military Attaché and Aide-de-camp wear the Aiguillette on the left.
The Governor-General of Australia, as the Commander in Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is also entitled to wear a uniform on which an Aiguillette made of platinum is worn.