EPAULETTE (a French word, from épaule, a shoulder), properly a shoulder-piece, and so applied to the shoulder-knot of ribbon to which a scapulary was attached, worn by members of a religious order. The military usage was probably derived from the metal plate (épaulière) which protected the shoulder in the defensive armour of the 16th century. It was first used merely as a shoulder knot to fasten the baldric, and the application of it to mark distinctive grades of rank was begun in France at the suggestion, it is said, of Charles Louis Auguste Fouquet, duc de Belle-Isle, in 1759. In modern times it always appears as a shoulder ornament for military and naval uniforms. At first it consisted merely of a fringe hanging from the end of the shoulder-strap or cord over the sleeve, but towards the end of the 18th century it became a solid ornament, consisting of a flat shoulder-piece, extended beyond the point of the shoulder into an oval plate, from the edge of which hangs a thick fringe, in the case of officers of gold or silver. The epaulette is worn in the British navy by officers above the rank of sub-lieutenant; in the army it ceased to be worn about 1855. It is worn by officers in the United States navy above the rank of ensign; since 1872 it is only worn by general officers in the army. In most other countries epaulettes are worn by officers, and in the French army by the men also, with a fringe of worsted, various distinctions of shape and colour being observed between ranks, corps and arms of the service. The "scale" is similar to the epaulette, but has no fringe.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)