When I had tried to google the images for the word "epaulet" most of the pictures that popped up were the very decorated ones - mostly oblong gold braided stripes or very massive ones with fringes. enter image description here

enter image description here

I did the same with the word "shoulder board". The results looked mostly like this: enter image description here

However, in both cases, there were also lots of other types. For instance, the epaulets were just plain boards (similar to the last picture).

You know, at first, I thought the epaulets are the ones that are more fancy but then I noticed that people use them quite interchangeably. Moreover, Wikipedia says both words are equivalents + offers other 3 words with the same meaning: a shoulder mark, rank slide and slip-on.

My question is, is there any difference in appearence between the epaulet and shoulder board?

  • 1
    The epaulet attaches at both ends (one side could be unbuttoned) with space under it for parking a pair of gloves. The shoulder board is stitched down, perhaps on the epaulet, without a utilitarian purpose. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 14:55
  • And presumably the rank-slide and slip-on are rank indicators that can be slipped onto the epaulette by unbuttoning it?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 15:18

2 Answers 2


From Wikipedia:

Epaulettes are fastened to the shoulder by a shoulder strap or "passant", a small strap parallel to the shoulder seam, and the button near the collar, or by laces on the underside of the epaulette passing through holes in the shoulder of the coat. Colloquially, any shoulder straps with marks are also called epaulettes.

Also from Wikipedia:

A shoulder mark, also called an epaulette, shoulder board, rank slide, or slip-on, is a flat cloth sleeve worn on the shoulder strap of a uniform. It may bear rank or other insignia.


The shoulder strap or passant is part of the primary garment.

The epaulette, rank slide, or slip-on is attached to the shoulder strap or passant.

The shoulder board may be attached to the shoulder strap or passant, or it may be attached directly to the primary garment, without a shoulder strap or passant.

  • The terms are interchangeable. Somebody at Wikipedia does not know that Epau if French for shoulder. After the Norman invasion, French words were considered more refined than Anglo-Saxon words.
    – Theresa
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 2:28
  • 1
    In the British Army at least, epaulettes are fringed and detachable whereas 'twisted shoulder-cords' are those gold braid shoulder knots. A shoulder board is just a flat board.
    – JDF
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 13:21

What I've noticed is that shoulder boards are stiff flat boards, shoulder marks/slip-ons are the slides that, well, slide on to the strap. Epaulettes would be the fringed accessory. I've heard epaulettes being used for all three.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. This repeats a lot of information found in the other researched answers, so please take the tour of the site and see the FAQ to help.
    – livresque
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 0:46

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