Uniforms as Fashion: Tribute or Disrespect?

I confess: I still watch American Idol. And although I may publicly declare that I watch it solely because I value musical talent, I have to admit that I secretly like checking out the fashion statements made by both the contestants and the judges. You never know what crazy outfits will show up on that stage!

Well, last week, one contestant in particular made a fashion statement during his performance that caught the attention of the military community. Elijah Liu, who was voted off the show the following night, wore a Marine Corps jacket with Lance Corporal chevrons on the sleeves.

Liu’s outfit choice was the topic of conversation on this Marine Corps Recruit Depot - Parris Island Facebook page, where nearly 250 comments were left, mostly from people expressing their outrage over the Idol contestant’s disrespect for the uniform. There was also chatter on the American Idol discussion board, as well as on our own SpouseBuzz Facebook page, in which commenters make it quite clear that wearing a military uniform when not in the military is unacceptable.

Our servicemembers worked hard to earn the uniforms they wear. They aren’t simply clothes. Those uniforms are symbols of pride for their service to this country. As one commenter wrote on the American Idol discussion board, “Our military, their uniforms all the way down to their boots, mean something to them, and it stands for honor, respect, belief, admiration in our armed forces. Not as a wardrobe selection.”

The general consensus of these comments seems to be, as Elizabeth stated on our Facebook page: “If you didn’t earn it, don’t wear it.”

But hidden within all those unhappy comments were thoughts that maybe Liu wore the jacket as a tribute to a loved one in the military or as a sign of military support. Or, quite frankly, it’s possible that he had no idea what the jacket signified, and he was simply trying to look cool. In fact, one of the judges even complimented him on his fashion style.

He’s certainly not the first performer to play dress-up in a military uniform as part of an ensemble. Last year another Idol contestant, Paul McDonald, wore a Marine Corps dress blue shirt, upsetting so many people that he publicly apologized for unintentionally offending the military community.

But is it really a big deal?  These singers aren’t trying to represent themselves as Marines. They’re not impersonators claiming to be servicemembers who performed heroic acts, boasting medals they didn’t earn. They’re just in a singing competition, wearing clothes probably suggested by a stylist, an accessory they’ll never wear again. On the other hand, they've never served in the military. What gives them the right to wear a military uniform?

So what do you think? Was the American Idol contestant’s fashion choice a tribute to the military or a sign of disrespect? Would it have been more acceptable if the jacket hadn’t included the lance corporal chevrons?

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