When the American colonies were assembling rebels to fight for independence, soldiers came together from far-flung areas to build an army from scratch, without established customs, units, or uniforms. General George Washington needed to assert his authority among those who did not know him. That's why he bought a wide blue ribbon to wear as a sash. It was an old convention for designating a rank of authority. However, it did not last.
Historians suggest that Washington may have indeed stopped wearing the moiré silk ribbon shortly after he purchased it, uncomfortable with the sash’s resemblance to decorations of British and French officers. The sash looked too much like a symbol of hierarchy and aristocracy for a general intent on bringing democracy to the Continental Army. Even though the ribbon served a formal military function—asserting Washington’s authority to his troops and giving him diplomatic standing with other countries—it was deemed too haughty for the would-be democracy even by his French allies. “[His uniform] is exactly like that of his soldiers,” observed the Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, a French officer assisting the Continental Army, in a 1779 letter shortly after Washington stopped wearing the sash. “Formerly, on solemn occasions…he wore a large blue ribbon, but he has given up that unrepublican distinction."
Washington eventually gave the sash to artist Charles Willson Peale, who painted his portrait several times, including the two paintings shown here. After that, the ribbon went on its own adventures for centuries before being rediscovered in 2011. Read about the legendary lost and found sash at Smithsonian. -via Digg