A sash is a large and usually colorful ribbon or band of material worn around the body, draping from one shoulder to the opposing hip, or else running around the waist. The sash around the waist may be worn in daily attire, but the sash from shoulder to hip is worn on ceremonial occasions only. Ceremonial sashes are also found in a V-shaped format, draping from both shoulders to the stomach like a large necklace.
In the mid- and late-16th century waist and shoulder sashes came up as mark of (high) military rank or to show personal affection to a political party or nation. During the Thirty Years' War the distinctive sash colour of the House of Habsburg was red while their French opponents wore white or blue sashes and the Swedish voted for blue sashes.
Since then sashes have been part of formal military attire (compare the sword-belt known as a baldric, and the cummerbund). Thus several other modern armies retain waist-sashes for wear by officers in ceremonial uniforms. These include the armies of Norway (crimson sashes), Sweden (yellow and blue), Greece (light blue and white), the Netherlands (orange), Portugal (crimson) and Spain (red and gold for generals, light blue for general staff and crimson for infantry officers). The Spanish Regulares (infantry descended from colonial regiments formerly recruited in Spanish Morocco) retain their historic waist-sashes for all ranks in colours that vary according to the unit.
Sashes are a distinctive feature of some regiments of the modern French Army for parade dress. They are worn around the waist in the old Algerian or zouave style ("ceinture de laine"). Traditionally these sashes were more than 4 m (13 ft) in length and 40 cm (16 in) in width. In the historic French Army of Africa, sashes were worn around the waist in either blue for European or red for indigenous troops.
The modern British Army retains a scarlet sash for wear in certain orders of dress by sergeants and above serving in infantry regiments, over the right shoulder to the left hip. A similar crimson silk net sash is worn around the waist by officers of the Foot Guards in scarlet full dress and officers of line infantry in dark blue "Number 1" dress. The same practice is followed in some Commonwealth armies.
The present-day armies of India and Pakistan both make extensive use of waist-sashes for ceremonial wear. The colours vary widely according to regiment or branch and match those of the turbans where worn. Typically two or more colours are incorporated in the sash, in vertical stripes. One end hangs loose at the side and may have an ornamental fringe. The practice of wearing distinctive regimental sashes or cummerbunds goes back to the late nineteenth century.
Cross-belts resembling sashes are worn by Drum Majors in the Dutch, British and some Commonwealth armies. These carry scrolls bearing the names of battle honours.
In the United States Army sashes were worn by sergeants and officers from the early days on. In 1821 the red sashes (crimson for officers) were limited to first sergeants and above. In 1872 the sashes were abolished by all ranks but generals who continued to wear their buff silk sashes in full dress until 1917. Waist sashes (in combination with a sabre) in the old style are still worn by the officers and senior NCOs of the Commander-in-Chief's Guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) as well by the West Point Band drum major along with the West Point cadet officers. The drum major of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps also still wears a waist sash, but no sidearms.
At the time of the American Civil War (1861–65) generals of the regular US Army wore silk sashes in buff. Officers were authorized silk sashes in crimson (medical officers: emerald) while red woolen sashes were entitled to senior non-commissioned officers (Army Regulations of 1861). In the Confederate Army sashes were worn by all sergeant ranks and officers. The colour indicated the corps or status of the wearer. For example: yellow for cavalry, burgundy for infantry, black for chaplains, red for sergeants, green or blue for medics, and grey or cream for general officers.
Until 1914 waist-sashes in distinctive national colours were worn as a peace-time mark of rank by officers of the Imperial German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies, amongst others. Japanese officers continued the practice in full dress uniform until 1940.
Modern civilian and cultural use
With the genesis of complex systems of military and civilian awards during the 18th century in most European countries, sashes became a distinguishing part of decorations and are mostly worn along with medals or orders. Today most of the European royal families wear sashes as a part of their royal (and/or military) regalia. Some orders such as the Légion d'honneur include sashes as part of the seniormost grades' insignia. Likewise, Italian military officers wear light blue sashes over the right shoulder on ceremonial occasions.
In Latin America and some countries of Africa, a special presidential sash indicates a president's authority. In France and Italy, sashes, featuring the national flag tricolours and worn on the right shoulder, are used by public authorities and local officials, such as legislators, in public ceremonial events.
In the United States, the sash has picked up a more ceremonial and less practical purpose. Sashes are used at higher education commencement ceremonies, by high school homecoming parade nominees, in beauty pageants, as well as by corporations to acknowledge high achievement.
In Canada, hand-woven sashes (called ceintures fléchées and sometimes "L'Assomption sash" after a town in which they were mass-produced) were derived from Iroquoiuan carrying belts sometime in the 18th century. As a powerful multi-use tool this sash found use in the fur trade which brought it into the North West. In this period the weave got tighter and size expanded, with some examples more than four metres in length. Coloured thread was widely used. Today it is considered to be primarily a symbol of the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion Patriotes and the Métis peoples.
In Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, the sash is a symbol of the Orange Order. Orange Order sashes were originally of the ceremonial shoulder-to-hip variety as worn by the British military. Over the 20th century, the sash has been mostly replaced by V-shaped collarettes, which are still generally referred to as sashes. The item is celebrated in the song 'The Sash my Father Wore'.
Sashes are also worn by Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Beauty Pageant Participants. Badges are sewn onto the sash, to indicate achievements of the Scout.
Sashes are part of the diplomatic uniform of many countries.
Many modern schools of Chinese martial arts use sashes of various colors to denote rank as a reflection of the Japanese ranking system using belts.
Sashes are indicative of holding the class of Grand Cross or Grand Cordon in a chivalric order or an order of merit. The sash is usually worn from the right shoulder to the left hip. A few orders do the contrary, according to their traditional statute.
Orders with the sash worn on the left shoulder
- Denmark : Order of the Elephant
- Iceland : Order of the Falcon
- Kingdom of Serbia : Order of the White Eagle
- United Kingdom : Order of the Garter
- United Kingdom (Scotland) : Order of the Thistle
- South Korea : Grand Order of Mugunghwa
- Thailand : Order of the Royal House of Chakri 
- Thailand : Order of Chula Chom Klao 
- Thailand : Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) on left shoulder but Knight Grand Cross (First Class) : right shoulder, for :
|Federation of Malaysia|
|The Most Exalted and Most Illustrious Royal Family Order of Malaysia
Darjah Kerabat Diraja Malaysia
|The Most Exalted Order of the Crown of the Realm
Darjah Utama Seri Mahkota Negara
|Sultanate of Kedah|
|The Most Illustrious Royal Family Order of Kedah
Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat Mulia Kedah
|Sultanate of Kelantan|
|The Most Esteemed Royal Family Order (Kelantan) (Al-Yunusi Star)
Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat di-Hormati (Bintang al-Yunusi)
|Sultanate of Negeri Sembilan|
|The Most Illustrious Royal Family Order of Negeri Sembilan
Darjah Kerabat Neegri Sembilan Yang Amat di-Mulia
|The Order of Negeri Sembilan - Darjah Negeri Sembilan|
|Darjah Tertinggi Negeri Sembilan||DTNS||Paramount|||
|Darjah Mulia Negeri Sembilan||DMNS||Illustrious|
|Sultanate of Pahang|
|The Most Illustrious Royal Family Order of Pahang
Darjah Kerabat Yang Maha Mulia Utama Kerabat di-Raja Pahang
|DKP||Member (Ahli)|||
|The Most Esteemed Family Order of the Crown of Indra of Pahang
Darjah Kerabat Sri Indra Mahkota Pahang Yang Amat di-Hormati
|DK I||Member 1st class|
|Sultanate of Perak|
|The Most Esteemed Royal Family Order of Perak
Darjah Kerabat di-Raja Yang Amat di-Hormati
|The Most Esteemed Perak Family Order of Sultan Azlan Shah
Darjah Kerabat Sultan Azlan Shah Perak Yang Amat di-Hormati
|DKSA||Superior class|||
|The Most Esteemed Azlanii Royal Family Order
Darjah Yang Teramat Mulia Darjah Kerabat Azlanii
|DKA I||Member First Class|||
|Sultanate of Perlis|
|The Most Esteemed Royal Family Order of Perlis
Darjah Kerabat di-Raja Perlis Yang Amat Amat di-Hormati
|The M. Est. Perlis Family Order of the Gallant Prince Syed Putra Jamalullail
Darjah Kerabat Perlis Baginda Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail Yang Amat Amat di-Hormati
|Sultanate of Selangor|
|The Most Esteemed Royal Family Order of Selangor - Darjah Kerabat Selangor Yang Amat di-Hormati|
|Darjah Kerabat Selangor Pertama||DK I||First Class|||
|Darjah Kerabat Selangor Kedua||DK II||Second Class|||
|Sultanate of Terengganu|
|The Most Exalted Supreme Royal Family Order of Terengganu (10/03/1981)
Darjah Utama Kerabat di-Raja Terengganu Yang Amat di-Hormati
|DKT||Member (Ahli)|||
|The Most Distinguished Family Order of Terengganu (19/06/1962)
Darjah Kebesaran Kerabat Terengganu Yang Amat Mulia
|DK I||Member 1st class
Ahli Yang Pertama
Classified examples of current orders' sashes
|Colours classified in
the order of the rainbow :
- Rinaldo D'Ami, "World Uniforms in Colour - the European Nations", ISBN 0-85059-031-0
- José Bueno, Ejército Español, Uniformes Contemporáneos",ISBN 84-7140-186-X
- André Jouineau, "The French Army in 1914", pages 45-63, ISBN 978-2-352-50104-6
- John Gaylor, "Sons of John Company - the Indian and Pakistan Armies", ISBN 0-946771-98-7
- Fredrick Todd, "Cadet Gray: A pictorial history of life at West Point as seen through its uniforms", Sterling Publishing 1955, p. 40
- West Point Band
- Ritta Nakanishi, "Japanese Military Uniforms 1930-1945, 1991 Dai Nippon Kaiga
- Royal Cabinet Website Archived 2008-04-24 at the Wayback Machine
- Royal Cabinet Website
- Royal Cabinet Website, Order of the White Elephant Archived 2005-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
- Royal Cabinet Website, Order of the Crown of Thailand Archived 2007-07-17 at the Wayback Machine
- General visual table of decorations
- Selangor Official Website, DK II
- Craig, John (1849), A new universal etymological technological, and pronouncing dictionary of the English language, p. 620
- Metcalf, Allan A. (1999), The World in So Many Words, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-95920-9
- Media related to Sashes at Wikimedia Commons