Within the six branches of the United States Armed Forces, there have been millions of enlisted members who have served their country and undoubtedly earned their fair share of awards and decorations for doing so. There are medals, ribbons, badges, and other awards often bestowed on our distinguished military personnel in order to honor and display the highlights of a particular member’s career and accomplishments.

 

But how should these awards be stored or displayed? What if the awards are not yours, but those of a family member? What if you’re a collector? How do you know if you’re following the appropriate military codes? This guide will answer some common questions and concerns about the most universal of military decorations: the thin ribbons

The Basics

Military thin ribbons, or ribbon bars, are awards given to service members in recognition of their achievements. Thin ribbons are often given in conjunction with medals, and the colors and patterns will often match those of the suspension ribbons on the various medals. For example, the Purple Heart medal is suspended by a purple ribbon with two vertical, silver stripes on the edges. The corresponding ribbon bar will also be purple with two vertical, silver stripes. 

 

Thin ribbons are often worn on uniforms when the displaying of medals is not possible or practical. There are some awards that are given only in the form of a ribbon bar, thus there is only one display option. Additionally, during working hours and/or combat, it is not practical to wear a number of medals, so thin ribbons can act as a more practical stand-in allowing a quick and efficient show of rank. 

How to Check the Standards

The next question is always about regulations. How can you ensure that your ribbons are being worn or displayed in the correct order? For this, there is an official “Order of Precedence” document for each branch of the military. In general, the awards with the highest status will be placed at the top and those coming from foreign governments or other entities should fall under all US military awards. You should also take care to ensure the ribbons are not being covered by lapels, collars, or pocket flaps. 

 

Thin ribbons should be worn on the left side of the chest in rows of up to three bars. If you want to display the ribbon bar of a deceased family member or comrade-in-arms, it should be worn on the right side along with any awards that are purely commemorative. Any additional details, regulations, and/or exceptions can be found in the various “Orders of Wearing” codes laid out by each department. This is also where you can find the guides for which awards to wear for special occasions. 

Displaying and Storing Options 

As for the physical display of thin ribbons, you have several options. On uniforms, they are typically affixed with a sliding bar system, although depending on the type and age of the award, they might also have magnet or pin fasteners as well. If displaying your ribbons in a case, the sliding bars can be used in much the same way or you can find cases that have cut-outs in place for inserting both the thin ribbon and the corresponding medal.

 

There are vast numbers of vendors selling display cases for all sorts of military memorabilia, but one of the most versatile options is the shadow box. Generally, you can find customizable shadow boxes, which allow for a variety of shapes, sizes, and additions. For example, you might want one shadow box to display an assortment of ribbons, medals, and a folded flag. It is important to remember that even in display cases, the military order of precedence regulations should still be followed.

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