MANCHESTER, N.H. — For as long as men have fought, they have preened. A uniform is no less a form of costume than a tutu is. Plumes, banners, frogging, epaulettes, braid, medals: The list of military regalia is as long as the line of battle at Waterloo. The invention of the machine gun instantly made clotheshorses and cavalry horses equally obsolete on the battlefield. Until then, though, the soldier has been the most dandified masculine archetype. Camo and olive drab are very much a recent development in the history of military clothing and accessories.
That history makes the Japanese samurai all the more impressive aesthetically. With all due respect to knights and zouaves and janissaries, no martial tradition can rival the samurai for enduring style. What other warrior class ever carried a gunpowder flask shaped like a pear, let alone made from (among other materials) hawk eggshell, lacquer, ivory, and silver?